What I'm reading now: Another Belated Edition, 11 May 27

The door between--Ellery Queen
Towards zero-- Agatha Christie
Eve-- Iris Johansen
Plot it yourself--Rex Stout
To die for-- Linda Howard
Death of a cozy writer-- GM Malliet
This is your brain on music-- Daniel J Levitin (non-fiction)
HeartSick-- Chelsea Cain

I know-- late two weeks in a row. It's not my fault, though, not really. My husband came home from work earlier than usual on Friday, and Husband trumps blog every time. I try to keep my priorities straight, and Husband is definitely high on the list.

So... this was a week for cozies and classics. Oh, and one re-read.
Under cozies-- Death of a cozy writer (no surprise there), and Towards zero. (A cozy, for those in the peanut gallery who aren't as fanatical about mysteries as I am, is a subclass of the mystery genre. Standard elements of the cozy are (more or less in order of appearance): a death that takes place off-stage, and usually happens quickly, painlessly, and/or with minimum gore, usually to someone who seemingly deserves it; an almost complete absence of graphic detail, violence, bad language, and/or adult situations; an amateur sleuth, usually female, who is usually dismissed by the local police, but often has a friend/loved one who is involved in law enforcement who gets her inside information; a village-type locale of interesting but largely "normal" people (with a few eccentrics); an emphasis on plot and character development. Agatha Christie is considered the Queen of cozy mysteries, but there are hundreds of others. If you don't believe me, visit, which is the source for a lot of these points.)
Classics-- Towards Zero (I know, but the categories overlap. A lot of the early classic mysteries were cozies.), Plot it yourself, The door between.
The re-read--To die for, by Linda Howard. Linda Howard got her start writing romances with a whiff of suspense, and now she writes highly suspenseful books with a shot of romance.  In To die for, she adds humour to the mix, by giving us a first-person narrator who is a high-maintenance, somewhat self-absorbed blonde former cheerleader who now owns a fitness facility. She sounds unlikeable in this description, but she's quite charming, and funny, and there are depths to her  that start to come to light once someone tries to kill her in the employee parking lot. (For those of you who are sensitive, there is more than just one fairly extensive sex scene-- be warned-- but I really enjoyed the book in spite of that.)

This is your brain on music, by Daniel Levitin. I finally finished it. I found it quite interesting, although it was a lot to absorb-- too much for one sitting. Levitin looks at the responses of the brain to music, whether listening to it, making it, or the effects of having studied it. The brain, Levitin tells us, makes use of the same portions of the brain as processing emotions does, and it also uses the same areas as certain types of motion do. He studies the way the brain responds to rhythm, including the reasons why a drum machine will never replace a good drummer, and tells us that taking music lessons, even for a short time, in one's childhood, increases the size of certain portions of the brain. (If you're keeping score at home, I keep saying "certain portions of the brain" because I don't remember the correct names, and the book is buried somewhere in my pile of already-read books.)

And the bonus round: Ellery Queen vs. Rex Stout. Ellery Queen is the name of both the author and (almost always) the detective in his books. Rex Stout is the author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. Both were written in the golden age of American detective novels; both Queen and Stout are pseudonyms. Both are tightly-plotted, well-crafted mysteries. Ellery is an author of detective mysteries whose connection to cases is either his father, who is a detective inspector in the New York police, or later his fame as an author of detective fiction and an amateur sleuth. Wolfe is a vastly eccentric overweight (400lbs and counting, which is mentioned every second book or so... at least) private detective whose secretary and right-hand man, Archie Goodwin, does all the legwork. (Archie is very smart, but Wolfe is a genius.) Both series have spawned television series, with varying levels of success. Both are good reads, but I think my preference is for Rex Stout. (Maybe it's just a lingering irritation from reading the very earliest Ellery Queens, where, just before delivering the solution, Ellery breaks the fourth wall and issues "A Challenge to the Reader", where he states that all the clues have been laid out for you, the reader-- can you figure it out? (When you think about it, it's something of a forerunner to the Encyclopedia Brown kids' mystery series, where the story runs right up to the point of solution, there's a question in a different font, and then you have to turn to another page for the solution. For some reason, I liked those, though.))

Anyway, I have more books to read, and more importantly, my Husband to cuddle. More next week, and I might even be on time.

What I'm Reading Now: Belated Edition, 11 May 21

The procrastination equation: how to stop putting things off and start getting things done-- Piers Steel (non-fiction)
Crunch time--Diane Mott Davidson
Sweetheart-- Chelsea Cain
The wire in the blood-- Val McDermid
Neuropath--Scott Bakker
Be different: adventures of a free-range Aspergian-- John Elder Robinson (non-fiction)
Alone together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other-- Sherry Turkle (non-fiction)
Kiss me, kill me-- Ann Rule (true crime)

I don't know why I've been reading so much non-fiction recently, but it's been most enjoyable. (Well, with the exception of Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I had no objection to her writing, but I found the subject of the book, Louis Zamperini, to be... an unsympathetic character. Then again, I may not have given him a proper chance, but I have other books I'd rather be reading.)

I have to say something about The procrastination equation: how to stop putting things off and start getting things done, by Piers Steel. Steel is a professor at a Canadian university, and he's been studying procrastination and motivation for most of his professional life. In this book, he's pulled together a lot of data, and processed it into some easily-understood causes for procrastination, and comes up with strategies against them. Steel has an interesting, down-to-earth writing style, and it makes me want to sit in on one of his lectures. Now, I have to admit that reading the book did not cause an "Eureka! I'm cured!" moment, but I've learned a few things, and at one point, I did put the book down and go do a few of the things I'd been putting off for a while. For that alone, it was worth reading.

Neuropath, by Scott Bakker, was one of the creepiest books I've read in a long time. It's a thriller that includes a serial killer, and the serial killer is probably the least disturbing parts of the book. It's not so much the graphic violence, or the R rated scenes... it's the whole philosophy: what is real, anyway? If neural stimulation can cause us to feel lust, love, faith, fear... are any of them valid? Neuropath was very well written, but I don't think I'll be reading anything else of Bakker's any time soon.

Sweetheart, by Chelsea Cain, was another thriller I read this week. To my chagrin, it's not the start of the series (it's the second; the first is Heartsick), and this is a series where each book builds on the one previous. I did figure out what was going on, but I kept feeling like I was missing important information. The basic story: detective Archie Sheridan is barely holding himself together with the help of Vicodin. He’s trying to reconnect with his family and get over his obsession with  with incarcerated serial killer Gretchen Lowell, but it seems doomed to failure. Reporter Susan Ward is trying to break the biggest story of the year, but it’s being suppressed by the higher-ups. Then Gretchen Lowell escapes... Yes, I plan on reading the others.

Crunch time is the latest in Diane Mott Davidson’s mystery series featuring caterer Goldy Bear (Schulz).  This time, a private investigator is shot, and his house burned to the ground. Which of his cases pushed someone to murder? Then there’
possible adultery, an animal-rights activist with only eight fingers, a Cuban people-smuggler, and a lot of marijuana... It read like a bit of a mish-mash that never really cohered, but for all that, it was stial a decent read. As a bonus, it includes recipes. I didn’t try any of them, but I got my second-favorite brownie recipe from Davidson’s second Goldy Bear mystery, Dying for chocolate. My advice? If you're not obsessive about reading entire series (as I often am), read the earlier Goldy Bears, and leave Crunch time for some day when you don't have anything better to read.

What I'm reading now: 11 May 13

The distant land of my Father-- Bo Caldwell (literary fiction)
Little princes: one man’s promise to bring home the lost children of Nepal--Conor Grennan (non-fiction)
Target--Simon Kernick (couldn’t get into it)
13 things that don’t make sense: the most baffling scientific mysteries of our time--Michael Brooks (non-fiction)
Think of a number--John Verdon

Think of a number--John Verdon

 I thought it was a rather original twist on a thriller concept: someone tells you (via a letter) that they know everything about you, and proceed to prove it by not once, but twice, predicting which random number you're going to choose. Not long after that, you die a strange and violent death... Dave Gurney, a retired homicide detective, gets pulled into the middle of this mystery by a friend who receives just such a letter, and is incapable of letting it go, despite opposition from the cops running the case and from his wife. There's wonderful character development here, and a beautiful depiction of a marriage that's dying, but might, just might, be saved. It's an excellent read, and the second Dave Gurney mystery is due out this summer.

Little Princes: one man’s promise to bring home the lost children of Nepal--Conor Grennan
Conor Grennan is about to blow his savings on a year traveling the world, but in order to look less self-absorbed, he decides to spend a few months volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal-- the "Little Princes" of the title. He knows nothing about kids, nothing about Nepal. Both manage to win his heart, and he finds himself setting out to reunite families with children taken from them by people traffickers. Grennan seems to have got past his need to make himself look good, and gives us an honest picture of Nepal, the children, and his own efforts to make a difference, however small. It's a good story, well-written, and well worth reading.

This weekend is the library book sale, and I went out and bought books... nineteen or twenty, plus about a dozen movies for my favorite videophile. All but five of said books were mysteries, and two of those five were purchased for other people. Oh dear, is my bias showing? Happily for me, I was able to buy at least one of the books I wanted to replace after they got water-damaged last spring. As for the others, well, I wasn't able to collect them all at once, so there's no reason to suppose I'll be able to replace them all at once.

What I'm Reading Now: 11 May 06

Another week, another list of enjoyable reads...
The mermaids singing--Val McDermid
This is your brain on music--Daniel Levitin (non-fiction; in process)

Clouds without rain--P.L. Gaus

A true princess--Diane Zahler (Junior fantasy)
Faithful Place-- Tana French
Love you more-- Lisa Gardner

Faithful Place, by Tana French. This is, as far as I can tell, a stand-alone novel. Frank Mackey has left his old life behind, growing up poor and on the wrong side of the law in Dublin. But his old life is about to drag him back in... He was going to run away with Rosie  back when they were both eighteen, but Rosie never showed at their meeting place, and Frank assumed that she'd run off without him. Now, twenty-two years later, her suitcase has been found...
No one wants him involved in the case-- not the cops assigned to it, because he's got personal involvements in the case that could get tricky. Not his family and old neighbors, because Frank's a cop now, and you can't trust a cop to do right by you. And certainly not that someone who knows more about Rosie's disappearance than he or she is letting on. But Frank isn't going to let any of that stand in his way. He owes it to Rosie, and to himself.
French's writing is excellent: her characters are vividly real, and the relationships are as messy and convoluted as any that life can serve up. The plot never lets you catch a breath-- I had to finish the book in one sitting.
I'll be reading more of hers.

A true princess, by Diane Zahler. As you may have noticed, I have a weakness for fairytale retellings, and for fairytales in general. This one caught my eye at the library, and I decided to take it home, even though I rarely read anything more junior than young adult fiction. ( classifies A true princess as ages 9-12). It starts off with Lilia, a servant girl, running away rather than have her stepmother all but sell her to a new master. It ends... happily ever after, of course. In between, there are elves, an enchanted wood, a test for any princess who wishes to marry the prince, falcons, changelings, Odin's hunt, and a quest to find an enchanted jewel. It doesn't sound like any fairytale you've heard before, does it? And yet, Zahler finds a way to turn the fairytale of The Princess and the Pea into something new and charming. It's a lovely book, and now that I know that Zahler has also put her spin on the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (as you may remember, a favorite of mine) in her first fiction title, The thirteenth princess, I'm determined to hunt that one up as well.

Just a side note on the P.L. Gaus Amish mysteries: I've noticed that, although the series hasn't had a lot of notice yet, those people who read one of the mysteries almost always come back and ask for all the others...

And another side note: once I finally finish reading This is your brain on music, I'll make sure to review it. I have a few other non-fiction titles in my to-read stack, so that should get interesting.