Thursday, July 7, 2011

still here...still running away

I have been afflicted with severe wanderlust as long as I can remember and often look to books for some satisfaction.  I can recommend an outstanding remedy for this particular malady-the Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong.  This series is set in modern Shanghai and completely surrounds you with the sounds, smells, tastes and behaviors of another place.  And Chen and his associates have their own unique take on crimes and their solutions.  Chen, in particular, walks a fine line as the son of a Confucian scholar and a writer and poet and fluent English speaker.  For those of us who don't know all there is to know about Mao and the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath, the word is illuminating.  This series is one of those outstanding combinations of plot and character with lots of moral ambiquity and no easy answers.  Start with Death of a Red Heroine and feel your obsessions with daily life ooze away-and learn about Confucius, Chinese poetry and T S Eliot at the same time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

the fretter returns

     Amazingly enough,  the phone is still not ringing and email is all ads...  I will confess to devouring many romances in my misspent life-gothics, bodice-rippers, chick lit, you name it but my patience has ebbed in recent years.  HOWEVER, I have a hot one for you-Bride of the Living Dead by Lynne Murray.  Guaranteed feel-good reading...
     This book is everyday life at its most irritating, funny and wonderful.  The cast of characters leaves nothing out.  Even the most unlikeable, or the others being unlikeable, are completely believable and you become absorbed into the plot.
     You have Daria and Oscar, who meet and fall in love.  Then friends of both that anyone would kill for.  Then two dysfunctional families, including a control freak sister and a crazy uncle.  Then a REALLY crazy ex-wife.
     The plot centers on Daria and Oscars wedding and the planning thereof and includes ALL the zaniness you would expect.  I won't give away any more-just read it!

Friday, May 28, 2010

another blast from the past

     I always get a thrill when I discover that a publisher has decided to reissue one of my favorite authors-like maybe I wasn't too crazy to enjoy these books so much.  Recently, this happened with one of my MAJOR favorites-Gwen Bristow.
     Three of her books have been put back into print and my fave remains the first one I read-Celia Garth.  A classmate loaned me this book when I was eleven and it has never lost its attraction.  This is Charleston, South Carolina during the Revolutionary War with all the usual suspects but Celia is special.  She gets nicknamed Sassyface for good reason.  
     Celia is an orphan trying to look after her self by becoming a seamstress but she soon gets caught up in the war by adding spying for Francis Marion to her resume.  The combination of history and real life is irresistible.
     All Bristows books are historical novels that put you right in the middle of the action.  Two others have now been added-Jubilee Trail  and Calico Palace.
Hopefully, her Plantation Trilogy will soon join them.  Nothing seems to make history go down smoother than a cast of believable characters coping with LIFE-and these books can put things into perspective.                              

Thursday, May 27, 2010

running away

     I started this blog because I remembered a coworker telling me that Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe) had gotten her through a nasty divorce.  The past two weeks have been one of those bleak periods of waiting for the phone to ring (it didn't) or an email (nope) so I reverted to an OLD favorite-Dick Francis.
     People have some strong opinions about rereading both pro and con-I have always succumbed but tend to not allow myself this guilty pleasure too often.  However, there are some Dick Francis books that ALWAYS deliver.  In brief, it's two series-Kit Fielding and Sid Halley.
     Mr Francis wrote two books about Kit-Break In and Bolt-and they are addictive.  Kit is a champion jockey with an identical twin sister and an owner for which he rides who is fascinating and, of course, a lover who is the owner's niece.
     There are three Sid Halley books-Odds Against, Whip Hand and Under Orders.  Sid is another champion jockey who is so badly injured in a fall during a race that he has to put the pieces of his life back together quite differently.  There is also an ex-wife, a wonderful ex-father-in-law and a crazy judo-practicing sidekick.
     The magic of these books is the Francis gift of creating ordinary characters, throwing them into grim situations and then getting them out without special effects.  They make it impossible to believe that you can't figure your way out of whatever hole you've gotten into.  Life instantly becomes tolerable.
     I can unreservedly recommend any Dick Francis book but these five are "the best".  Go for it... 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A postscript...and an 834 page comic book

     Well, the library did cough up the first of the Jack Irish books by Peter Temple,Bad Debts.  This series is set in Melbourne and features an angst ridden lawyer trying to keep his head above water-and alcohol-and trying to stay ahead of way too many low life aquaintances.  The book begins as a combination of P G Woodhouse and Dashiell Hammett but the noir wins out-although the humor lurks ALWAYS.  Three words-READ THESE BOOKS.

     Now on to present business-manga.  I have tried quite a bit in my day and always found it distracting and charming.  However, during a recent trip to the library Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi leapt off the shelf at me.  When 834 page books leap I pay attention.  I had to restrain myself from gobbling it up too fast since, like all manga, it is full of detail.  This is an autobiography of a renowned manga artist and begins with his childhood in postwar Japan and his obsession with manga and goes through his career with different publishers and different circles of fellow artists.  I felt compelled to get books on the history of manga and, of course, other volumes by other artists.
     I wish I easily explain how the alchemy of art, plot and character works on you while you read manga but all I can say is that you are transported.  Even the light romances pull you out of yourself.  Drifting Life is by far the most serious I have attempted and is the most rewarding.  This portrayal of artistic struggle and modern Japan has not been duplicated.A Drifting Life        

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Brain Benders

     I do sometimes search out a book that takes no prisoners to combat the feeling  of strolling around under water.  I have recently found two such.
     First-Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.  I will admit to mostly avoiding Science Fiction for no good reason but this author refuses to stay in any pigeon hole.  Every word he writes is important and you are compelled to miss nothing.  At best, you might miss a chuckle.  At worst, you will miss a big chunk of plot and have to reread.  So just wallow in the prose-Mr. Stephenson doesn't allow you to fret over any mundane bits of your own life.  This book naturally involves an epic struggle between good and evil combined with arcane Sumerian myth, zany humor and barbed comments on the state of this world.  How wonderful to escape into a book that challenges you to keep up and to be able to put it down feeling that you are somehow more than you were.  Save this one for a time when you're not feeling lazy.Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book)
    Then-Identity Theory by Peter Temple.  I just discovered this Australian author and am impatiently waiting for the library to come up with more.  On the surface this looks like a fairly classic European thriller but...oh,my...  The premise is very sophisticated cyber-spying and includes many cat and mouse games.  The characters talk in half sentences and finish each others thoughts but the book is so beautifully put together that there is no confusion.  Not that you know before the end...  This one sizzles and I can't wait for more!Identity Theory  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blast from the past

     I think I'll continue down memory lane for today.  Some of the first books I ever purchased for myself were by Mary Stewart and I still have them.  I don't even remember how many times I have reread them.  She wrote quite a bit but let me talk about my two favorites:  My Brother Michael and Nine Coaches Waiting.
     My Brother Michael is set in Greece and is about a young English woman traveling alone.  We meet her in a cafe writing to a friend "Nothing ever happens to me."  The rest is the story, which takes her to Delphi.  There is danger, treachery, murder and romance and somehow this very normal seeming woman manages to deal with it all.
     Nine Coaches Waiting takes you to France, to the French Alps to be exact, and is about a young English woman who conceals her French heritage in order to get a job as a governess.  All the same elements threaten to overtake her as she tries to deal with an exceedingly dysfunctional family.
     I will concede that these books have their old fashioned qualities, but they have recently been reprinted for some good reasons.  They absorb, entertain and transport-let them take you away from your daily aggravations!