Elizabeth: What Have You Been Reading?

CarpeLibrumToday’s post almost remained unwritten.  I blame Galavant.  The show is streaming on Netflix and, since I’d heard great things about it, I decided to watch an episode after work before settling down to write.

Next thing I knew, I’d gone through six episodes.  If you’re fond of stories where the characters periodically break into song for no reason, I definitely recommend it.  Just be careful.  The episodes may only be about 20 minutes, but they’re addictive.

I told myself I was watching to “study story” but even I didn’t buy that.  I was watching strictly for fun, which isn’t such a bad thing to do.

This week was about more than entertaining television though.  Getting back into writing mode has also meant getting back to reading.  Here then is what I’ve been reading lately:

A new author

First up was The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw.  I picked this up during a three-hour browse through Blackwell’s bookstore earlier this summer.  I was enchanted by the idea of a story about operating a bookshop out of one of the narrowboats I’d seen populating the waterways around Oxford.  One of the hazards of choosing a book by its cover and interesting title, however, is that what you thought was a work of fiction might actually be more of a memoir.   Lesson learned on that one, but I kept reading, since the book had potential.

Unfortunately, this impulse buy did not turn out to be the book for me.  There was far too much introspection and discussion of navigating the locks (apparently, quite a challenge for a single person in a narrowboat), and not nearly enough details about the actual operation of the bookshop and the interactions along the way.  I skipped right over the twenty-five page section about two-thirds of the way through the book, which was in the POV of the boat.  I had to give the author/bookshop owner kudos for embarking on her enterprise and for the creative ways she bartered for necessities during her six month journey floating up and down the waterways selling books, but the story was a thumbs down for me.

Something I can’t believe I never read before

Next up was a book by A. A. Milne.  While I was very familiar with his Winnie the Pooh stories in all their incarnations, I was not aware that Milne had written a detective story until I encountered The Red House Mystery.  Published in 1922, it is a classic locked-room mystery set in an English country house.  I liked the pacing of the book.  Things happened, like the dead body around page 9, but it never felt like it rushed or dragged.  In traditional country house story fashion, there was an interesting cast of characters and a charming setting.  Tony Gillingham, the amateur investigator in the story, works through potential theories in a methodical fashion, but never takes himself too seriously.  Though I didn’t quite figure out the solution to the mystery completely correctly before the ending of the book there were enough clues to provide a sporting chance.  I liked the fact that the book didn’t take itself too seriously.  Sure there was a murder, but there was also fun and banter and entertainment.    I wish Milne had written more stories like this.

“Yes.  Well, if any of ‘em should happen to be murdered, you might send for me.  I’m just getting into the swing of it.” ~ Tony, The Red House Mystery

A New Book by a Favourite Author

The last book (and current) book on my reading list is Rachel Gibson’s Just Kiss Me.    I’ve read a number of other books by Gibson including See Jane Score, which combines two of my favourite things:  romance and hockey.  I prefer the writing and style of her earlier books rather than her more recent ones, but when I saw Just Kiss Me on the shelf at the store recently (on sale!), I thought I’d give it a try.

So far I’m only part way through the story of Vivien Leigh Rochert and Henry Whitley-Shuler, so no definitive thumbs up or down yet.  The story has a very southern feel, with a relaxed pace.  What I have noticed so far is that I’m having trouble getting involved enough in the story to stop being distracted by how it is crafted; possibly a lasting side-effect from the McDaniel program.  My mind is mentally drafting conflict-boxes instead of being drawn in by the characters and their relationships.  Hopefully, that’s because I’ve only had short bursts of time to read, rather than because of the story itself.  I’ve set aside a nice long reading block this weekend to counteract that.  I’ll report back later on how it all works out.

So, what have you been reading (or trying to read) recently?  Any recommendations to add to my overflowing queue?

12 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What Have You Been Reading?

  1. I loved Galavant. I found it by accident, and I was riveted. At the start of the second season, they rebroadcast all of the first season. It was hog heaven. If you’re just starting Season 2, you’re in for a treat.

    This week I finished two mysteries, The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves is set in England’s North Pennines, Northumberland. It’s a longish psychological study, heavy on setting—geographical and weather—and mood. It’s the first of Cleeves’s books featuring her detective Vera Stanhope, a series that has been made into a BBC television series. I enjoyed this one a lot; there are many plot threads, the details are terrific, and every nuance is explored. I never saw the ending.

    The other mystery I read is A Cold-Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow. It’s half the length of the Cleeves novel, and it really clips along. It’s set at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska on one of the oil exploration sites. The research seemed meticulous. The setting is also a big player in this one—the buildings, which play a big role in how people interact, and the (winter) weather. Stabenow’s detective is Aleut, which brings an interesting sensibility to the story.

    Cleeves is a new author for me, and finding another author I like is always good. I’ve read Stabenow before; she (like Cleeves) has another detective series, and I’ve always enjoyed her books. So—enjoyed an author with whom I’m familiar, and found a new one. Can’t ask for more than that!

    • Sounds like mysteries are in this month. I’ve not heard of either of these stories – I’ll have to check them out.

  2. I’m super-sore about Galavant. It’s filmed in the UK and the cast is largely British, but it’s not available over here and there’s no sign that’s likely to change. So I still haven’t seen it, and it sounds exactly my cup of tea. Grrrrr.

    In the last week or so I read Magic Binds, the ninth book in Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. In truth it was a re-read, because I was lucky enough to beta read the book, but that just added to the fun. If you’re a Kate Daniels fan, chances are you’ll have read it by now. If you’re not familiar with the series, this is the penultimate book in Kate’s story so it’s not the place to start. I’d recommend Ilona Andrews though – the Innkeeper books (Clean Sweep and Sweep in Peace), or Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy, the first book in a new series). Or try the first Kate Daniels book and prepare to binge ;-).

    I also read The Leopard King by Ann Aguirre, a paranormal shifter romance by a new-to-me author. I liked the author’s voice, and I found the characters very relatable, but I’m not sure whether I’ll read the sequel (The Leopard King is the first in a new six-book series). There were three main elements to the story – an emotional relationship plot (a sort-of shifter marriage of convenience) which I thought was very well done; a mystery plot which I found over-complicated, mainly because there were too many characters and factions involved, and that was because the author lined up the other five series heroes and most of the heroines all in one go; and lots of sex scenes – for me, too many. I thought they were realistic, hot and well-written, but after the first one or two they just showed the physical compatibility of the H&H – they didn’t really move the plot along and they took up a lot of story real estate which also contributed to the feeling of the mystery plot being squashed into too few pages. YMMV and all that.The writing was good. Probably the author’s fan base likes that recipe 😉 .

    I’ve just bought a couple of non-fiction books for research/worldbuilding purposes, so going forwards I expect they’ll be my bedtime reading for quite a while.

    • Sorry about Galavant. Next time you’re in the states, we’ll have to make sure you have an opportunity to see it. At roughly 20 minutes an episode, it’s not a huge time commitment.

      My reading list has a number of non-fiction books on it as well; “research” material I picked up while on vacation. The trick for me is not to get lost in those, at the expense of writing. As for your reads this month, you hit upon something I’ve noticed more and more – authors “front loading” a lot of information in the first book of a series, to set up the following books. If it’s done well, it’s not a problem, but when it slows things down or confuses things then it’s a problem. I’ve actually started looking for titles that are *not* part of a series, just because stand-alone books feel like more complete stories to me. They are hard to find though; seems like everyone is writing a series these days.

  3. I’ve just been terrible about books, but I have been reading a discography (I guess that’s what you’d call it; it’s not really a biography) about David Bowie. One wouldn’t think it’d be gripping reading, but . . . David Bowie led a topsy-turvy life, overcame some self-damaging behavior, and was always-always-always creative. I’ve been reading the book for several weeks, and it’s led me down a lot of internet rabbit holes as I do research for lyrics and other viewpoints on the same events.

    I’m at one of THOSE points in my life where I’ve got about three books open here and there, dipping in when I have time. None of them are fiction . . . which I feel I should feel sad about, but can’t quite get there. I’m having a good time!

    • No need to feel sad about non-fiction reading, especially if you’re having a good time🙂. I haven’t read many biographies. I hesitate because I don’t want to wind up finding out something about the person that will negatively influence how I view their work. David Bowie does sound fascinating though, especially in regard to his creativity.

      • By most accounts, he’s very much the Reformed Rake character in so many romances. Totally wild, went through a period of dissipation, but was (at some level) a very “good boy” who wanted to do the right thing. He also loved books. He was a flawed genius, and his story seems to have had a happy ending when he found his second wife, and completed his family. Of course, he dies in the end, but we all do . . . and almost all of our characters do, too. But . . . some part of him lives on, vividly.

        (-: Yeah, I’m having a very good time.

  4. This month was all about new books by old authors. The month started out with “Mr. Mercedes” by Stephen King. Unlike almost all of his other novels, this one had not even a taste of the surreal or the macabre. It also, to my mind, lacked most of the commentary about what makes us human, and so was only a well-written private detective procedural.

    The middle of the month found me reading the last 4 in the Iron Druid novels. These novels make me long for a really strong editor. With the help of someone like Jim Baen, the novels could be fantastic. Instead, they’re meandering and feel more bloated than I expect to be after Thanksgiving dinner.

    The highlight of the month were 4 new novels from Gail Carriager. Her version of the steampunk universe, introduced in Soulless and now spanning 10 novels, is one of the most consistently *pleasant* places to visit in all of the Bookiverse. Carriager has managed miracles, having created novels that are appropriate for teens without being painfully “young adult”, having stuck to the rules of Steam Punk without succombing to cliches, and capturing the sort of playful dialogue and comedy-of-manners style that I thought required the author to be both British and dead.

    Tl;dr — Go read everything Gail Carriager has written.

    • Sold. which Carriager book do I start with?

      Also, the Bookverse seems to be over-full of entries that could do with some serious editing. I’m reading one right now.

      • Scott’s right, they’re all good, but I’d start with Soulless, Elizabeth and Kay. I love Gail Carriger’s voice. Her modern take on a classic British comedy of manners might partly be explained by one of her parents being an expatriate Brit. Whatever the reason, I second the recommendation!

    • Gail Carriager reminds me very, very much of Elizabeth Peter’s books. The main character is a lot like Amelia Peabody, but I don’t think she really found a “Emerson” to bounce off of in the first two or three books. It’s been awhile since I read them, so I may be misremembering.

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