Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

In my post about Full Dark House I totally messed up and forgot to make a point. Which is this: If asked I would say, "I hate mysteries."

But I actually have read several overall and I don't hate them. Some are more intriguing than others. I prefer characters to the mystery. Over the course of several books you learn more and more about the backstory of the main characters.

Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to certain series and not others. For instance, having watched all of the TV series "True Blood" I no longer need to learn anything more about Sookie Stackhouse. But my best friend, Lady Chardonnay, says the Sue Grafton alphabet series (e.g. A is for Alibi) featuring Kinsey Milhone improve immensely past the first five books or so. So many books, so little time!

And in classic mysteries I've read one Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None), one Dorothy L. Sayers (Murder Must Advertise) and one Arthur Conan Doyle (A Study in Scarlet).

But I just love this series, the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries featuring Bryant and May. Why? The stories range from modern day London back to the beginning of the detectives' partnership in 1940, and all years between. They are full of London historical minutiae, which I adore. The mysteries are fun but the characters are the draw.

There is another mystery series I really enjoy, which also takes place in London. Those novels are set in the 1880s. The Barker & Llewelyn series features Cyrus Barker, a private enquiry agent and his young assistant Thomas Llewelyn. My library carries 4 out of 7 volumes, oddly only numbers 1, 2, 3 and 6. I am dying to read #7! In those books the past of Cyrus Barker is slowly being revealed. He seems to be a mixture of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Indiana Jones.

Mysteries based in London with larger than life characters and a strong dose of local history are my thing apparently.

    • The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
    • Published March 28, 2006

    • On Balaklava Street in London, an old woman dies of drowning but is found completely dry sitting in her also dry basement. And then it turns out she has river water in her lungs. An old tramp is hanging around the neighborhood. Several of the old lady's neighbors are suspects too. Bryant and May, using their unconventional methods of investigation, take on the case for the Peculiar Crimes Unit.
    • Arthur Bryant is in his early 80s; his partner John May is 3 years younger. 
    • The London history in this case focuses on the city's many underground rivers, mostly built over but still flowing towards the River Thames.

    • I am currently reading the 3rd book in the series. Then I will take a break from them and read other things. I already have the next three books on my Kindle because I watch the prices using my Amazon Wish List and these came down to $1.99. They are usually $11.99 each. Luckily the library has all the rest of the books.
    • I've also just picked up a couple of books at the library.
      • One is a young adult novel called Fallout about an alternate-reality where the Cuban Missile crisis leads to nuclear attacks.
      • The second is an autobiography of Terry Gilliam, of directing and Monty Python fame.

Keep reading!

Friday, January 22, 2016

(PRETENSION ALERT!) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Yep, just finished Moby-Dick the other day. I feel so pretentious having finished it but I like to throw in a classic novel into the mix every once in a while.

I really enjoyed it but it took about 6 months to finish. This is mainly because I own a copy of it so I could put it down easily while I read more time-sensitive books from the library. We get new releases for only three weeks; my copy of Moby-Dick is forever. (Until it gets placed into the Goodwill box, that is.)

    • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
    • Published in 1851
    • Other works by Melville
      • Several novels including popular crossword puzzle answers Typee and Omoo
      • Short stories including "Benito Cereno" and "Bartleby, The Scrivener" (whose constant comment is only "I would prefer not to.") 
        • I read both of the short stories in college for some humanities class where I also read Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness and several short stories by James Joyce. I am still in a state of depression from that class 30+ years later.
    • Considered one of the Great American Novels.

    • Is there anyone who doesn't know this?
    • Ishmael tell the story of the Pequod whose Captain Ahab wants his revenge upon the white whale responsible for Ahab's missing leg.
    • SPOILER ALERT: Things do NOT go well.

    • And here's the crux of why Moby-Dick can be such a slog to get through: it's really a short story or novella padded out with a LOT of whale information.
    • The opening line is one of the most famous in literature: "Call me Ishmael."
    • The best part of the book is the beginning when Ishmael meets and becomes good friends with the cannibal harpooner named Queequeg. It's a total bromance in the early going.
      • The amusement comes in the two men needing to share a room and bed as was the custom in those days. There was nothing sexual in men sharing a bed in the 19th Century but it is amusing to a  modern reader's eyes.
    • Once they reach the Pequod then the "story" is lost while Melville expounds on every detail of whaling and whales. (Ahab spends most of his time in his quarters, appearing only rarely in the middle section.) And I do mean EVERY detail.
      • One chapter is titled "The Cassock" (an ankle-length outfit worn by priests, like what the Pope wears) and details a crewman's skinning of a long, large whale organ and using it as a smock (cassock) to protect him while mincing up whale blubber. Considering the constant use of the word "sperm" in the book (Moby is a sperm whale) you'd think Melville could just come out and use the word "penis" but he does not.
    • During the whale nature tour chapters are meetings with other ships, each of which generally consists of Ahab asking, "Seen the white whale? No? See ya!"
    • The last dozen or so chapters contain the meat of the Ahab vs. Moby-Dick story. 
      • Ahab: "Kill the white whale!"
      • Moby-Dick: "Your leg was delicious. May I have the other one too? And all the rest of you?"
      • Ishmael: "Hey guys, wanna hear some whale lore?!"
      • The Pequod: "Glub, glub. Bloop."
      • The Pequod crew: "Glub, glub. Bloop."
      • Ishmael: "Well, crap."

    • I don't remember learning about Moby-Dick specifically as a child because I think it was always part of American culture even though very few people have read the book.
      • What I DO remember is an episode of "The Love Boat" where the male crew members somehow convince Julie McCoy, your cruise director, to memorize the first chapter of Moby-Dick. I remember a few scenes of her reciting, "Call me Ishmael..."
    • Apparently the book didn't become popular until the 1920s (Melville had died in 1891.) I also wonder if it might have not been an acceptable book for Victorian era readers. The word "sperm" is all over the book and I can't imagine it would be acceptable for proper young ladies to read it!
    • I spent a lot of time reading up on whales on the Internet because Melville was hampered by the fact that all whale information was limited to what could be seen on the water's surface. There was no way in the 19th Century for whalers or naturalists to know what happened beneath the water level. Even today some whales are still quite mysterious.
      • For example, he couldn't know that sperm whales use echolocation and clicks to communicate with each other. 
      • That being said, he still knew quite a bit about whales! He had been a whaler himself.
      • In one chapter he muses on whether whales will disappear from the planet or at least diminish in size. He concludes that they can retreat to the polar regions to escape man so they will always survive. If only.
        • In fact, the rise of petroleum products and whaling bans were probably the biggest helps in saving whales, though sperm whales are currently considered "vulnerable". (It's difficult to repopulate quickly when pregnancies last about 15 months.)
    • I TOTALLY get why people think this book is boring. If you have no interest in whale biology or whaling minutiae then a huge part of the book will make you want to hurl. The Ahab story, the reason you generally want to read it at all, is just a small part of the novel.
      • The novel has 135 chapters. The last three are titled "The Chase-First Day", "The Chase-Second Day" and "The Chase-Third Day". So you need to get through 132 chapters before the big confrontation occurs. You could probably get away with reading the first dozen and the last dozen chapters to get the gist.
    • I enjoy learning about whales so the biology chapters were my favorite parts. On the other hand, I could probably consult National Geographic for the latest in whale biology --- with pictures!
    • The writing style, as typical for the era, was somewhat wordy. In other words, characters sometimes speak in flowery sentences in very long paragraphs. And the descriptive paragraphs can be even worse. But here is my favorite sentence from the book:
      • "There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own."
      • Today we would just say, "Life's a joke."

In summary, I would say it's worth reading if you like whale biology and flowery language. And Melville used several writing styles throughout the book which is fascinating. Lots of allusions, lots of hints of things to come. Definitely a book for an older reader. I don't know why they torture high school and college students with it despite the Great American Novel title. There are other GANs to choose from!

Otherwise, let it go and read a synopsis somewhere!

Here's the comic CPA Michael refer to in the comments:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler

I am not generally a reader of mysteries. I know there are a lot of people who read ONLY mysteries. In most cases I will read the first or second book in a series and then other things catch my attention. For instance, over the last ten years I have read the following mysteries:

  • A is for Alibi (Kinsey Millhone #1) by Sue Grafton
    • Nope, not even going to attempt to read 25 more of these (she's up to X and the final book is due by 2019).
  • The Spellman Files (Izzy Spellman #1) by Lisa Lutz (a recommendation by my best friend, Lady Chardonnay)
    • A young woman who's a private investigator, described as "part Nancy Drew, part Dirty Harry"! These have a humorous slant.
  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
    • Taking place in Botswana, the detective is Precious Ramotswe. I read the first three of the series. It was very good but repetitive in the way that mysteries can sometimes be.
  • Case Histories (Jackson Brodie #1) by Kate Atkinson (also a Lady C recommendation)
    • Only 4 books in the series and the author has moved on to other things, especially the amazing Life After Life which is not a mystery.
  • Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris
    • I was in no way compelled to continue on with this series but I did binge-watch "True Blood" after reading this.The TV show is silly but fun and entertaining.
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley 
    • Flavia is an 11-year-old girl in 1950s England. There are a bunch more out now so I may revisit this series.
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millenium #1) by Stieg Larsson
    • I also read the second book but these are extremely violent and gory and I am sorry I went past the first. 
  • Keepsake Crimes (Scrapbooking Mystery #1) by Laura Childs
    • A "cozy" mystery which takes place in New Orleans' French Quarter and the crime solver owns a scrapbook store. Laura Childs pumps out a bunch of different cozy series. Each book is basically the same, my biggest problem with some mystery series.

I have read only one book by John Grisham, The Pelican Brief, mainly because part of it takes place in Louisiana, my home state. About 25 years ago, when everyone at work was passing around Grisham's The Firm I asked one of my coworkers what the fuss was about. She said he was a good writer for people who didn't read that much! I passed when the book was offered to me. (But apparently his books are considered to be "legal thrillers" not mysteries.)

There are so many mystery series though! Life is too short to get bogged down in too many series, no matter how good they are!

But I think I have found a mystery series where I may need to read them all! There are 12 books so far and my plan is to read the first three for now.

    • Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
    • Published in 2003 in Great Britain and in 2004 in the United States
    • First book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit series
    • Mystery

    • Two police detectives for London's Peculiar Crimes Unit have shared a partnership for over 50 years. Arthur Bryant is 80 years old and his partner John May is 76. The PCU gets all the odd crimes the regular police force can't solve. Arthur is a bachelor curmudgeon who relies on unorthodox thinking while John, a widower, balances out the partnership with his somewhat more conventional skills.

    • An explosion destroys the current day headquarters of the PCU. John May starts investigating and finds the crime relates to the first case Bryant and May ever worked on together in London in 1940, when they were young men of 23 and 19. A dancer is murdered at a theater and then other deaths follow. Who is the murderer and why? And how can it be related to the current day explosion when everyone from those days is dead or very old?
    • The story bounces between 1940 and present day (about 1997 or so) to solve the mystery.

These books are very funny (aside from the murder-y parts). For example, Arthur convinces one of his new coworkers that the German bombers of the Blitz can see and target redheads so the coworker ends up shaving his head. Hmm, maybe this is one of those "you have to read it for yourself" things!

I really enjoyed the book. It takes place in London, it's humorous and the detectives and their team are strongly drawn. Highly recommended for those who like mysteries, stories that take place in London, strong characters and whimsy.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book to Film News - Big Little Lies

An entertainment news report yesterday indicated major casting was complete for an HBO miniseries based on Liane Moriaty's most recent novel, Big Little Lies. Alexander Skarsgard (who is Tarzan in an upcoming movie) has been cast as Nicole Kidman's husband, while Reese Witherspoon will be paired with Adam Scott. Shailene Woodley plays the 3rd female lead. The cast also includes James Tupper, Laura Dern, and Zoe Kravitz, and David E. Kelley is writing.

This looks like it could be amazing. The book has three women, whose children are starting kindergarten, become friends while (naturally) harboring secrets. And a mysterious death occurs. Is it....murder?!

HBO's last literary foray was Olive Kitteridge starring Frances McDormand. I also read that book but skipped the miniseries as the story was kind of depressing. In that case the book was enough for me no matter how well-acted the miniseries was!

Definitely looking forward to this one but I don't know when it will air. I'm gonna say sometime late this year.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The 100 by Kass Morgan

This is a re-read for me. I originally read this book in 2014. My comments can be summed up with this sentence: "I'm not sure if I will remember to pick up the sequels." Otherwise I expressed no opinion on whether I liked it or not.

I read quite a lot of young adult fiction so I don't always remember what happened in a first book and authors have gotten worse about refreshing a reader's memory at the start of the next books.  Perhaps a one-page summary at the beginning of the following books would help?

This is a quick read so not onerous to run through again. I am re-reading it because I have the third and final book in my library pile and the second book is in transit to me this week. I have not watched the TV show on the CW but it apparently begins its 3rd season this month.

When reading comments and reviews on Good Reads I found that some people believe that the TV series was planned first and the book was written to drum up interest in the show. Other comments indicate the opposite. The two formats deviate from each other quite a bit. A main point-of-view character in the book is killed off early in the TV show and the TV show has several main characters who are not in the books at all.

Please keep in mind that this blog is a work-in-progress. The format may change as I go along.

Anyway, here's what you came for...

    • The 100 by Kass Morgan
    • Published September 3, 2013
    • The only other books by the author are the two sequels to this book and a very short Kindle novella about "Gossip Girl".

    • A nuclear cataclysm 300 years ago devastated Earth. The only survivors are those on a colony of spaceships joined together in Earth's orbit. Resources are running low. To test the Earth for recolonization 100 teenage criminals are sent to the planet.

    • Four main characters alternate chapters. Their names are Clarke, Wells, Bellamy and Glass. And yes, those are their FIRST names. It takes a while to remember who's a girl and who's a boy since the names are so trendy (surnames as first names is currently a big thing in baby-naming).
    • They all have secrets and/or committed crimes.

    • For those who don't know, worldbuilding is a major concept in science fiction and fantasy. You need to create the setting, the rules/laws that operate, the people and how they relate to each other, and so forth.
    • A story which takes place in San Francisco in 2015 or 1849 doesn't need worldbuilding. With a little research you can see exactly what it was like at those dates. San Francisco in 2443 or Planet San Francisco in another solar system need worldbuilding: we as readers don't know what those places are like without authors telling us.
    • Okay then, worldbuiding in The 100 is minimal. 
      • There are 3 classes of people on the space station. One class gets water service all the time; the other two get water for an hour every 5 days. We are not told why there is a class divide.
      • If convicted of a crime --- no matter how minor --- you are immediately executed if you are an adult. If you aren't an adult you are confined until you turn 18 and then are executed. 
      • We are not told how many people are on the station. It must be a lot if they have over 100 teenage prisoners to use as guinea pigs.
      • This series seems to be aimed at pre-teen and young teen girls so the lack of worldbuilding is not a surprise. The frame is just bare bones so that a love story can be hung on it.

    • Wells intentionally commits a crime so he can join the 100 because the girl he loves is among the group. Sadly, she now despises him. Can he win back her love?
    • Bellamy uses force to join the 100 because his sister is part of the group. They are the only siblings on the station because of strict population laws. Can he protect his sister?
    • Clarke's parents have already been executed for their crime and she is implicated too. She is the main character. Can she forgive Wells or will she fall for new hunk Bellamy? 
    • Glass, imprisoned for months for her crime and of the upper class on the station, escapes the dropship in the confusion during Bellamy's attempt to board. She wants to find her true love Luke, who's of the lower class. Does he still love her or has he moved on?
    • Yes, this is all about TWUE WUV. Sigh.
      • Pretty standard, unfortunately, for young adult books. (See: Katniss, Peeta and Gale; Bella, Edward and Jacob; and so, so many more)

    • The author uses one particular affectation a handful of times that was really irritating to me: 
      • (I'm paraphrasing --- and exaggerating --- but this is the gist) "Clarke stood there and waited for the wave of indignation to flood through her but all she felt was relief." "Bellamy waited expectantly for the anger to fill him but all he felt was hunger."  
      • I don't stand around waiting for emotion to arrive and I'm sure no one else does either.
    • A lot of the plot is told in flashbacks, explicating the various crimes and circumstances that lead to them. It takes a while to get this info though. Dialogue goes something like this:
      • Him: "I heard rumors about a girl who... You mean you were confined for THAT?"
      • Her: "I don't want to talk about it, at least not for another few chapters. Otherwise this book would only be 20 pages long."
    • Because I feel this book is aimed more at the pre-teen crowd the writing is perfectly serviceable.
    • I am unlikely to read anything else by the author (except for the two sequels, of course). Stay tuned!
    • The next book is called Day 21.


    • The 100 aren't alone on Earth. 
      • Bellamy's sister turns out to be a drug addict who stole all the medical supplies and then gets kidnapped by the people already on Earth. He has fallen for Clarke who kisses him once in joy over finding the medical supplies.
      • Clarke has medical training so she takes care of the injured on the dropship crash. She won't forgive Wells. But then she does after he saves her life. They kiss and that's when the camp burns (accident or arson?) and Wells keeps her from running into the medical tent where her best friend dies. Now she hates Wells again because she blames him for letting her BFF die when she would have died too had she entered the tent. Clarke is pretty much an idiot.
      • Wells, who set fire to the Eden tree on the station (the symbol of all that's good and holy or something) moons about stalking Clarke, which is lucky because of the life-saving incident, but way creepy, dude! He seethes as Clarke kisses Bellamy. It's almost like he's never read a young adult novel before. There needs to be a love triangle, dude!
    • The space station is running out of air (supposedly old equipment breaking down but I suspect sabotage) so they've cut off the lower classes from the upper class section. 
      • Glass has joined her lower class boyfriend Luke on the low oxygen side. Her crime was getting pregnant by him. She lost the baby but accused a different guy --- Luke's roommate, who had tried to rape her once --- who was then executed for it. But no worries, surely this won't come back to bite her in the ass. Whoops, Luke's ex-girlfriend knows Glass's secret!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Big Plans for Book Blogging

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to Kelly's Book Channel.

I have been blogging somewhat regularly for the last 5 or so years. (The link to that blog --- Kelly's Channel --- is on the right side of this page.) On that blog I mostly write about the books I have read and I thought it might be a good idea to separate books from everything else.

My plan is to journal about the various books I read and possibly even about the books I don't finish.

I use Good Reads to track my reading and though I don't post reviews there I may start using this blog as my source. My user name on Good reads is Kellykar so feel free to friend me there.

I read many different things: young adult, history, other non-fiction, best sellers, historical fiction and more. I was never a big fan of the romance genre but I have certainly read a handful. I do not love mysteries in general but I read a handful of those too. I try not to be snobby about my reading. If it appeals to me, I will read it! If not, I pass. There are so many great books out there! But comments and book suggestions are always welcome.

And here it is, already January 2, and I have completed NO BOOKS yet. A travesty. But I am plugging away at Moby-Dick. It tends to get put aside because I own a copy and my pile of library books always comes first. I live by the "due date"!

And for the last couple of days I have been trying to whittle down the pile of magazines that I let build up during my November and December reading frenzy. I still have a couple of National Geographics and a whole bunch of Cook's Illustrated to get through, both dense with words as well as pictures and drawings.

I think the first books I will be writing about are The 100 by Kass Morgan and its two sequels. I am waiting on book 2 from the library before I tackle them all. I have not watched the TV show on the CW but I understand it differs a bit from the books.

Happy Reading!