Friday, November 08, 2002

light reading

Well, it's been a while, but I'm back. My mysterious absence is in large part due to the fact that I've been reading rather a lot of Sue Grafton and Dick Francis, and didn't want to admit to it. Not that I'm maligning either of these two fine authors; on the contrary, I wouldn't spend so much time and money on their books if I didn't enjoy them. It's just not very literary, and I feel silly when my bookspot is entirely filled with popular fiction, and nothing obscure or academic mixed in.

Speaking of literary, I volunteered at the Vancouver International Writers (& Readers) Festival again this year. I always enjoy giving my time to this annual event, and this year was no exception. I found out that C.C. Humphreys, who wrote The French Executioner, has a new book out called Blood Ties, and I can't wait to find myself a copy.

Monday, September 09, 2002

A Desert in Bohemia

I just finished reading A Desert in Bohemia by Jill Paton Walsh, a beautiful novel beginning in Central Europe in 1945. It is set in a place called Comenia, which she describes in an author's note as follows: "There is no such country as the one describe in this novel; rather, there have been several such countries." This novel is full of beauty and magic and humanity as it describes the darkest of times. One of the things that I love about Jill Paton Walsh's writing is how it seems to follow many threads at once, gradually weaving them into a single story. I think that I loved this one almost as much as her earlier novel A School For Lovers, which I have read many times.

In the last couple of weeks, I have also read a couple of crime novels, kindly lent to me by Peggy whom I talk to on the bus. One was The Forgotten by Faye Kellerman, about hate crimes and white supremacists. It was a bit too heavy on the religious aspect of Judaism to be a light read, and the kinky sex stuff, though there was only a little of it, was a bit too weird for me. But it was reasonably good and fast-paced. The other book was The Associate by Phillip Margolin, and it was just what the doctor ordered for a long bus ride home: full of lawyers, conspiracies, ex-cops, seemingly unrelated murders, and all that good stuff. Both of these books are currently on bestseller racks in grocery stores and pharmacies everywhere. Enjoy!

Incidentally, it's Grant's birthday today, and one of the things I gave him was Timothy Findley's Spadework. So we'll see how he enjoys that, and I will probably read it eventually. Also, for everyone who told me (after my blasting of "Shopaholic") to read about her visit to Manhattan, thank you! I have borrowed it from Emma and will let you know what I think of it.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Taken At The Flood

One of my constant stand-by favourites is Agatha Christie. She wrote so many books that one can never possibly have read them all, and I am always rather excited when I come across one that I haven't yet read.

I picked up Taken At The Flood the other day (in our local London Drugs, of all places); it features Hercule Poirot and a whole string of twists of identity.

With a twist-of-identity plot, the characters become the most important feature of the mystery. A couple of my favourite characters from this one are Aunt Kathie-- who is "under spirit guidance" and puts great faith in ouija boards and mediums-- and Frances, "one of those lean greyhound women who look well in tweeds", with "a rather arrogant ravaged beauty about her face which had no make-up except a little carelessly applied lipstick". That description in particular says so much with so few carefully chosen words, which is one of the reasons why I love Agatha Christie.

Anyone who dismisses Christie as a serious writer because of her prolific writing or her status as a 'mystery novelist' is missing some very clever snapshots of human nature and life in England... and in the case of Taken At The Flood, an interesting perception of life after war-- for those who stayed behind and those who went to war and returned-- for men who stayed at home and women who went as Wrens and returned.

Even more than most Christie mysteries, this one is worth reading.

Monday, August 19, 2002

I Think I Love You

I am clearly in a lighter vein of literature right now. There's certainly something about the guilty pleasures of the Safeway "books" section-- best sellers, a slim selection of mysteries, and a vast array of romances... In any case, the other day I picked up Stephanie Bond's I Think I Love You, which is described on the cover as a "romantic comedy". I think I would call it a sex comedy; romantic generally implies emotional depth. Anyway, it certainly is funny. No deeper meaning here, but I wasn't looking for deeper meaning in the Safeway anyway, just something to read while my husband was out of town for a night. It kind of turned into a mystery halfway through, which added to the page-turning enjoyment, and while it was lighter on the sex than I had expected given the write-up on the back cover, that was okay too. I'll probably end up donating it to the kitchen at work (circulating stash of light reading), but it kept me content for a night, and that was all I wanted.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Some books do earn my righteous indignation. Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, lent to me by Emma on the weekend, is one of them. Not that it's a badly written book-- far from it! Badly written books just make me laugh (or weep, as the case may be). A weak book cannot provoke more than annoyance; I read this one in four hours, and it made me sulk and rage for a good hour afterward. Escapist literature is supposed to provide a distraction, not drive you to distraction!

Our heroine (if you can call her that) Becky Bloomwood spends the entire book alternately spending way too much money and trying to get out of paying her debts by devious means, telling all kinds of horrendous lies along the way. Basically, all the petty little things that God, karma, and the law are supposed to punish... and of course, generally don't. Actually, it's quite a brilliant portrait of a morally weak and financially incompetent woman, which Sophie Kinsella cleverly layers under a cotton-candy wrapping of gorgeous clothes and glitzy giggles. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, Becky does not meet with her just desserts. By all the laws of fiction, as a flawed character, she ought to experience a life-changing epiphany before being rewarded in some way. By all the laws of nature, as a hopeless spendthrift with no work ethic to speak of, she ought to wind up bankrupt and out of a job. And yet, she somehow winds up with a fabulous job in television (just like Bridget Jones! Wow!) and snares a wealthy boyfriend too. All problems solved.

It is really too bad that a novel with so much potential should be brought down by such an ending. This book is too clever (and in some ways, too dark) to simply be a light escapist treat, and I wanted that epiphany-- or failing that, a gritty reality ending. I thought, briefly, during the scene in the tv studio where Becky is giving financial advice on-air and catches sight of her bank manager, that she was having her life-changing moment-- that she would face her problems and emerge victorious. But no... she simply finds a rich man to solve all her problems. The book ends with Becky blowing off a meeting with her bank manager to lounge in bed with her rich boyfriend, and we are left with the impression that all her financial worries will now be taken care of. It is a shameful ending for such a clever book.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Visual Quickstart Guide to HTML 4

My hot book of the moment is non-fiction... to be precise, a computer manual. Yes, I decided (on Sunday) that I wanted to learn HTML. So I picked up Peachpit Press' Visual Quickstart Guide to HTML 4 for the World Wide Web. Now, this isn't my usual light reading, but I would have done this years ago if I'd realized how much fun a girl can have with just any old text editor and an HTML textbook.

Initially I chose this book out of the mega-millions of choices available for two reasons, one worthy and one not so worthy. The worthy reason is that the textbook for the Adobe Pagemaker course I took at BCIT was another book from the Visual Quickstart Guide series, and I had liked using it to study. The less worthy reason (though still appreciated by me) was that I liked the cover. I think what really sold me on it, standing in the computer books section of Chapters on Sunday night, was the hexadecimal colour chart on the back inside cover. Colour charts always get me!

In any case, I made a good choice. In three short days, I have conquered links and tables and been introduced to frames, and I smugly think of bold and italic as "easy". After turning my light out these last few nights, instead of pondering plot and character development, I've spent my moments of semi-wakefulness contemplating the mysteries of web forms and graphics. This could become addictive... I can see it now... one of these days I'll be back for a book on javascript... they'll find me years later, eyes permanently glazed over from staring at the monitor, subsisting on caffeine and cold pizza and wearing a pocket protector.

But, seriously, for anyone who doesn't yet know HTML and wants to learn, this is a very good book.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

One For The Money

I just finished reading the first of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels, One For The Money, which Heather very kindly lent me. I am definitely going to read more of these! I particularly like the fact that she can have a character just oozing sex appeal (Joe Morelli), and yet stay well away from the sort of overly descriptive sticky sex scenes that often plague crime fiction.

Actually, I've done rather a lot of reading in the last couple of days. Another new favourite is Katherine Kurtz. I hadn't read any of her books before, then I picked up St. Patrick's Gargoyle on the way to the airport. I read the entire book on the plane to San Francisco, simply couldn't put it down. The combination of the Irish backdrop and the fact that most of the characters are gargoyles is simply too good to resist. There is a touch of the divine in this one, though, so anyone who's turned off by God stuff might be less entranced than I was. Anyway, now that I've discovered Katherine Kurtz, I've got all the Deryni books to look forward to...

Finally, I also really enjoyed the most recent Amelia Peabody novel, Lord of the Silent, by Elizabeth Peters. Possibly it is not the most recent one, really, as apparently The Golden One is now out. I will have to look for it. I always enjoy these books; Amelia herself is fabulous, marching around ancient Egypt with a parasol and cucumber sandwiches as usual. If you haven't read any yet, don't start with this one. It would give too much away about what happens in earlier books.

I only wish I didn't read so fast, I am always running out of books.