Mini Reviews: Ruth Rendell, Lauren Graham, Marlon James

416MKFJY97L._SX292_BO1,204,203,200_Kissing The Gunner’s Daughter (Inspector Wexford #15) by Ruth Rendell:  Ah, there’s nothing like visiting an old friend, and after having read 14 previous Wexford mysteries, I consider the erudite Reg Wexford an old friend indeed.  It’s odd to say that murder mysteries are my comfort reading, but it’s true all the same.  This one starts out with a grisly (for Rendell) crime scene: three murder victims, including famed author Davina Flory, shot in the middle of dinner, with her teenage granddaughter, Daisy, the only survivor. Robbery gone wrong, or something more sinister? Meanwhile, Wexford’s favorite daughter, Sheila, is seriously dating a self-important ass, and Wexford is trying navigate this tricky terrain, desperate to hold onto his good relationship with her while wanting her not to settle.  I liked this mystery, but at 378 pages it felt a bit too long for me.  And for the first time I started to figure out who was behind the murders before the Inspector did.  I could have used more Mike Burden, Wexford’s no-nonsense sidekick, but all in all this was an entertaining mystery.  I’ve got nine more of these books, according to Goodreads.  I don’t read series in quick succession like some people do, so I imagine that it will take me 2 or 3 more years to complete the series.

Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls And Everything In Between by Lauren Graham:  I listened to the audio book version, read by Lauren Graham herself, and it was delightful.  (It was also my first downloadable audio book checkout from my library system’s Overdrive catalog – go me!  Embracing “new” technology!)  If you’re not a fan of “Gilmore Girls,” you can skip this one.  But if you are, you MUST read or listen to it.  Ms. Graham writes about her unconventional childhood, her days in acting school programs, auditioning and trying to make it, and most pleasingly to this fan, goes into great detail about both of her times playing Lorelai Gilmore. Just a charming, self-deprecating woman letting us fans in on what it was like to be a part of such a magical show.  I especially liked her smartly done skewering of ridiculous Hollywood body standards for actresses.  Ms. Graham seems genuine and humble, and this was a fun, breezy, entertaining celebrity memoir.

512--x+XDfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_John Crow’s Devil by Marlon James: So, how much do we owe our favorite authors?  If you’ve followed me for a while you know that I ADORED both of Marlon James’s other novels, A Brief History of Seven Killings and The Book of Night Women.  Hopes for this one, his debut novel, were high, I admit.  At just over 200 pages, it was a total slog for me, I’m sorry to say.  It’s a story about two warring priests in 1950’s Jamaica, wrestling for control of the souls in a small village called Gibbeah.  Filled with biblical imagery and passages, it is also one of the most brutal, relentlessly violent books I’ve ever read.  However, there were some beautifully written passages, hinting at the mastery of his later works.

People had a way of carrying afflictions like possessions, thinking suffering was the evidence of life.

She hated him.  Her spirit rose and fell with his and she hated him.  Because of Bligh, the Widow’s heart was undoing her.  They had struck a deal, heart and mind, and now heart was cheating out.  It had begun by tricking her into doing things like adding more sugar to the limeade and looking at old dresses in red, yellow, blue.  She wished she could punch a hole in her chest and yank the frigging thing out.  The Widow has grown accustomed to death; the mossy, mothy grayness of it.  God had taken away every man who had unfroze her heart.

I made myself finish this because I loved James’s other novels so much.  If it hadn’t been him, or if this had been the first novel of his I’d read, it would probably have been a DNF. It was leaden, joyless, and his characterization was lacking.  I still don’t know what the point of the damn thing is, quite frankly.  Still, I gave it three stars on Goodreads, because I just can’t give him less.  So I’m wondering, do we treat lesser books by our favorite authors differently?  Do we grade them on a curve?  Or am I just a big softie?

How about you?  Do you tend to devour series quickly, or do you parse them out sparingly?  What’s the last good audio book you listened to?  Have you ever made yourself finish a book out of loyalty to the author’s previous work? I’d love to read your thoughts.

(Sort Of) In Progress

My son starts kindergarten Tuesday.  His dad and I are feeling all kinds of feelings, as you can probably imagine.  Excitement, nervousness, sadness, disbelief all rolled up into one state of what I call general “floopiness.”  Consequently, I can’t seem to concentrate on reading.  I finished Lumberjanes Vol. 1 on July 15 and since then I’ve been reading things in dribs and drabs.  (It was cute, by the way.  I’ll definitely get the second volume and see how I like it.)  I find myself wanting to watch movies and The Great British Baking Show on PBS more than I want to pick up a book.  (I am slightly obsessed with that show – it’s everything delightful!  Beautiful, intricate baked goods, humble, adorable British people who seems to genuinely like one another and want one another to do well – I just love it.)

I had to return Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl to the library today – woe is me!  I was only 164 pages into it, but it still has a pretty lengthy holds lists.  I couldn’t keep it any longer in good conscience.  I really am enjoying it.  She’s a marvelous writer, marrying memoir with passion for botany.  She makes botany really interesting!  She makes me want to plant trees!  I may go ahead and buy it before a copy makes its way back to me at the library.

16158542I’m listening to The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown on CD in my car.  It’s the sort of thing that I probably wouldn’t pick up to read in paper form, but Michael Kindness’s glowing recommendation on Books on the Nightstand persuaded me to try the audio book.  Oh, and the fact that it’s narrated by the late Edward Herrmann, a.k.a. RICHARD GILMORE from Gilmore Girls!  As promised, he does a fantastic job narrating.  I’m a little over halfway through and think I’ll be able to finish before I must return it to the library.  (More holds!) It’s pretty fascinating, weaving the biography of one of the young boatmen in particular with history of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the rise of the Nazis in the lead-up to the 1936 Olympics.  I am enjoying it much more than I thought I might!

9781481440875_custom-83c869fee28f9137f21e4e8c5eae3529468e813a-s300-c85I’ve started Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon but haven’t gotten far.  It’s definitely intriguing.  Some sort of shapeshifting alien has landed off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, and a diverse cast of characters are all dealing with the aftermath.  I think I’ll try to get back to this one tonight!  And I’m also halfway through Fables Vol 9: Sons of Empire .  Graphic novels seem to be about my speed these days with my short attention span.

So it seems that I’ve got a case of what Stefanie from So Many Books calls “The Middles.”  I predict that in a few weeks, when my family settles into our new schedule, I will bounce back with more focus and a renewed zeal for reading.  I hope that you all are having a good summer!  Tell me what you’re currently reading in the comments.  Or if you’re like me and having trouble concentrating, what is holding your interest these days?

Busting Through the Mini-Slump

I think I’ve busted out of my mini reading slump.  For about a week I was adrift.  I couldn’t sustain any momentum in reading.  I picked, I dabbled, I put books down. I was tired; I slept. I watched Downton Abbey and General Hospital.  I frittered away time on the internet. Inwardly, and melodramatically, I wondered if I could trust myself to choose books anymore.

And then I finished a book!  It started slowly, but quickly picked up the pace and ended up being really fun.  It’s a Teen/YA book called The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, the first in a series called The Shades of London.  It’s a ghost story and a mystery, with a smidgen of teen romance in it – nothing cringe-inducing, though.  And it didn’t have any of the teen angst that sometimes is too much for this grumpy almost-forty-year-old reader to take.  I look forward to reading the other two in the series.  I don’t read a great deal of Teen/YA fiction, but I like to read a little bit to be able to recommend titles to my library patrons.

Speaking of YA, I’ve read (or listened to) probably the BEST novel of that kind that I’ve ever read.  It’s Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Alexie read the book himself, and he was amazing.  It took me forever to listen to, simply because we had a lot of bad weather in February and I wasn’t driving to and from work like I normally would to be able to listen to it.  (And at this point I’m a CD audiobook listener.) This book alternately pierced my heart and made me cackle out loud more than once. There’s a scene between the main character and his one of his friends in the school library (which I call the “metaphorical boner scene”) that I had to listen to three times because it was so funny and perfect.  Part-Time Indian centers on Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a 14 year old member of the Spokane Indian tribe who lives on the reservation with his mom, dad, and older sister.  Junior is smart and hilarious and wants bigger things than life on the res can give him, even as that causes him great guilt. This is a terrific book for reluctant teen readers, but it does have a good deal of cursing in it, and heavy themes, so be warned about that. But Junior and his family and friends sparkle with life and wit and charm, even in the midst of some truly heartbreaking events.  If you’ve ever felt like an outsider at any point in your life, you will relate to this book.  This is a read I’ll never forget.  It earned its spot on my “Favorites” Goodreads list.

Spring is coming!  Warmer weather, green shoots emerging from the earth, changing the clocks forward…  the signs of the new season are out there.  Maybe my slump was induced by the last gasp of winter – one can only hope!  Happy reading, everyone!