What I'm Reading Now: 11 June 04

Even more five-minute mysteries--Ken Weber
Best of five-minute mysteries-- Ken Weber
My cat saved my life-- Phillip Schreibman
The night season-- Chelsea Cain

I haven't read much this week, although it's not for lack of reading material. I keep bringing books home. I've been doing some spring cleaning instead. I've been finding it oddly compelling and, at moments, quite enjoyable. This is not to say that I'll be trading in my books for a mop anytime soon...

Even more five-minute mysteries and The best of five-minute mysteries are part of the --you guessed it-- five-minute mystery series. Ken Weber is a Canadian writer who started out writing these short puzzles to catch the interest of a class of "difficult" students, and found that students from other classes, as well as fellow staff members, came begging for more. In the span of a few pages, Weber sets the scene (frequently the scene of a crime, or possible crime), including facts material and immaterial, and poses a question at the end. Do you spot the same clues that the detective in the story did? It's another version of Encyclopedia-Brown-for-adults, right down to the solutions being given at the end of the book. This is not an easy format to master, but Weber manages to fit a lot into a very limited space, creating brief glimpses of interesting people and places, as well as situations.
I found these at the library book sale, and bought them for my husband. (I read them aloud to him while he's doing things that don't require too much attention, and he sees if he can solve them. He has an excellent track record, by the way.) I endedn up reading them myself, without him. It's like eating toffee peanuts: you're only going to have just one more... and then, suddenly, they're all done.
I'm looking forward to reading them with my husband, later, and I will definitely consider finding the others.

My cat saved my life, by Phillip Schreibman, was a birthday gift which languished in my reading pile for a bit before I read it. It's a memoir of sorts, about how the author rescued a kitten from the alley, and she, in turn, helped him carry on in spite of depression, and find a way of coping with the fact of death. Now, I love cats, but I have come to the realization that that is exactly why I should never read memoirs about cats. Almost without fail, the author finds it necessary to include a chapter on the cat's death, and this always devastates me. Granted, in this book, it was necessary, even pivotal, for Schreibman to talk about Alice's death and his grieving, because that was part of the process of saving his life. I will also add, in the interest of fairness, that Schreibman did say, at the beginning of the appropriate chapter, that this was the chapter in which Alice died, and the sensitive should skip it. (I should have done so. I really should have done so.)
This is not a book for me. It's very well-written, certainly, and could well be helpful if you're grappling with how to face loss and death. I'm not sorry I read it, but I will not be reading it again.

The night season, by Chelsea Cain, is the fourth book in her series about Archie Sheridan, the detective who has been damaged by deep involvement in a serial-killer investigation that ended in his abduction and torture by said serial killer. In this entry in the series, bodies found in the rising river turn out to be not drowned, but poisoned. With the city on high alert due to threat of catastrophic flooding, Archie and reporter Susan Ward try to find the killer and a mysterious boy before more people die.
I've been reading this series out of order, which I don't recommend. (I still need to read the third one.) Cain's writing is excellent; when her characters do crazy things, it's for very understandable reasons. She weaves in a second plotline, of a past flood, with a tidy touch, and in the end, every character and every story tendril fits together with impressive neatness. However, this is a mystery series, so Cain sets out one or two tiny hints of something to come, just to keep us waiting for more... and it's working.

What I'm Reading Now: A Nod to the Inevitable

Apparently Friday is not a good time for me to try updating my blog. Official update day is now Saturday.

We'll see how long that lasts...

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 cozy-mystery.com, 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.