Only ten more days to go in the Spring Reading Challenge.  Three months really does go by fast when you're barely paying attention.

I have achieved my goal of reading at least ten books, even if they weren't the ten books I said I was going to read.

1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

2) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

3) Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane Kozak

4) Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black

5) Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye*

6) The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow

7) Once Were Cops: A Novel by Ken Bruen

8) The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos*

9) Power Play by Joseph Finder

10) Long Lost by Harlan Coben

11) Life Sentences by Laura Lippman*

* Favorites

I've started the 12th book, The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz and I'm really enjoying it.

Looking back over the challenge, I've probably short changed myself a little because instead of challenging myself on genres, I pretty much stuck to mysteries, crime, and thrillers. What can I say? This is what I get the most enjoyment out of, and this challenge was mostly about having fun and reading more.

I have now finished six of the 10 books I hoped to read by June 20:

1) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

2) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

3) Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane Kozak

4) Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black

5) Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye

6) The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow

Okay, if you're paying attention, this list bears only a slight resemblence to the list I posted back on March 20. I'm not too bothered by that though. The reading challenge was about reading more and enjoying the process, and that's exactly what I'm doing.

I might not be posting reviews of every book, but I will try to as I think this is good practice for writing the synopsis and query for my own book.

Happy reading, everyone!

This afternoon I finished book four of the Spring Reading Challenge, Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black:

Murder in the Latin Quarter is about detective Aimee Leduc, who lives and works in Paris. In this ninth book of the series, a mysterious woman comes to Aimee claiming to be her Haitian half-sister. Aimee, who has no real family, cannot resist believing it might be true. As a result, she is quickly drawn into the investigation of the murder of a Haitian professor in her attempt to acquaint herself with her half-sister.

Black skillfully brings Paris to life in a way that I find admirable. I hope I am able to bring 17th century London alive in the way she does with Paris. Aimee is a charming character who I look forward to reading about again. I've already ordered the first book in the series Murder in the Marais, if only to re-visit Leduc's Paris.

As for the story, the mystery itself is a bit convoluted and I had trouble following it in places. The plot is somewhat formulaic and the structure is a bit clumsy. There were parts where I almost felt I had access to the rough outline of the story–INTRODUCE VILLAIN HERE or INSERT PLOT TWIST HERE–I felt that these types of elements, so important to the mystery genre, could've been introduced more smoothly. That said, I will read at least on more in the series in the hope that starting at the beginning will help solidify the main characters and Aimee's business for me. Whilst this book stands on its own, I feel that starting at the beginning will allow me to better judge the series.

GRADE: C+

Ha! I tricked you guys. I deviated from my Spring Reading Challenge book list in a big way and read something completely off the map:

I chose this book because I should've read it a long time ago (I've seen the movie).  It is consistently referenced by crime/thriller/mystery writers as an icon of the genres and I considered it "homework." If only I had enjoyed my homework this much when I was actually in school.

I've heard people say that The Big Sleep is expertly plotted, and it is certainly a great example of tightly plotted detective fiction. But the true genius (as if there were any question) of The Big Sleep is Chandler's hero, Philip Marlowe. Forget the fact that he is the very model of a P.I. that most others have sprang from–everyone knows that. From the first sentence to the last, Marlowe is a fully developed, complicated character whose outlook on life is as unique as it is dark. Not so dark, however, that he doesn't have an iron-clad code of ethics that he sticks to under any circumstance. It just might be all he has, though I'm not sure he recognizes it as his (and the world he inhabits) only chance at redemption.

I talked about the trouble I was having with descriptions a couple of posts ago and this too is an area where Chandler shines. Here, for example is the description of a home he is entering:

"Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some long and convenient hair."

And of his first encounter with Mrs. Regan:

"She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-lounge with her slippers off, so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stockings. They seemed to be arranged to stare at."

Chandler's Los Angeles, as seen through Marlowe's eyes, is a gritty, lonely place. One you're not sure you'd like to live in but sure don't mind visiting if you can keep it within the pages of the book. But I love this city, and always have, even as I drive through it and see the carcases left over from Marlowe's time here. For me, he captured the romance of Los Angeles perfectly–a romance that still exists here and there if you know where to look.

I'll end with Chandler's own words about Philip Marlowe:

    "I see him always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never defeated."

The Spring Reading Challenge isn't even a week old and I've finished my first book: 

I more or less liked this novel from the beginning, although I use the caveat "more or less" because it took me awhile to get into–maybe 50 pages.  I never felt like quitting it though, and once I was "into it" I was hooked.

That doesn't mean I don't have criticisms of the book.  The main plot intrigued me well enough:  Mikael Bromkvist, a well-known journalist whose career is sidelined by a libel conviction, is hired by a wealthy old man named Henrik Vanger to write a history of his family and in the process, look into the mysterious disappearance of his niece Harriet in 1966.  Along the way, a private investigator/computer hacker named Lisbeth Salandar (and owner of said dragon tattoo) becomes involved when Bromkvist realizes she's hacked into his computer.  The two of them become an investigative team and it's them against Vanger family, most of whom are very anxious to drop the subject of Harriet's disappearance so many years ago.  There is a lot of "why can't we just move on" type dialogue on this point.

My two main problems with the novel are these:

1)  There are far too many members of the Vanger family to keep track of.  I like genealogy when it comes to my own family, but when it's someone else's family, especially in a suspense novel, too many characters are distracting and unnecessary.

2)  After the main plot is taken care of, the book goes back to the story that I found hard to get into in the first place and half-heartedly wraps it up in what essentially amounts to a series of email conversations.

I had one further problem with the novel that I won't go into detail on at the risk of spoiling anything.  But I found it annoying that women seemed to be so enthralled by Mikael Bromkvist that upon meeting him once or twice they were tearing their clothes off and seducing him.  As a reader, I certainly wasn't that taken with him and if you're going to make your hero a stud you had better make your reader believe it.  I suppose most male detectives get a lot of action, but in this case it made the female characters, which were otherwise intelligent women, somewhat vapid and the Bromkvist character passive and weak (although he was kind of like that in general, to be honest).

What then, did I find so compelling?  Well, like I said, the main plot was intriguing to me and although I found the number of characters distracting, it was not so much so that I didn't like the book.  I also found the book visually appealing.  I've never been to Sweden and I thought Larsson did a great job of creating a mood with his locations and descriptions.  I enjoyed the time Bromkvist spent in Hedesby and for the most part, I found the mystery to be interesting and suspenseful.  I will definitely read the next book in the Millenium series when it's available in July 2009.

My grade:  B-

It's time for the Spring Reading Challenge!  If you don't know what I'm talking about, read this.

The fun begins today, 3/21/09 and ends on 6/20/09.  And actually, I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (highly recommend) yesterday, so if there's something you're reading now, feel free to put it on your list.

Here is my final book list:

1)  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

2)  Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black

3)  Once Were Cops: A Novel by Ken Bruen

4)  The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel by Margaret George

5)  The Shrine at Altamira by John L'Heureux

6)  Life of Pi by Yann Martell

7) Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

8)  My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir by Carl Reiner

9)  The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter

10) A Dreadful Man – The Story of Hollywood's Most Original Cad, George Sanders by Brian Aherne

So far, we've got three official participants:

Me
Michael
Morgan

Mick, Michelle, and Julie have also indicated that they'd like to participate, so we have a good group here.  If you'd like to participate, post a comment here, post on your blog and send the link to me, or post it as a note on Facebook.  I'm really interested in seeing everyone's choices.

Frankly, I'll eat my hat (why do I love that phrase so much?) if I actually finish all of these books but I'm really going to try.

 

Anyone up for a challenge?

Mick and I have been making an effort to read more.  This means that several nights a week, the TV stays off and we sit in the living room drinking wine and reading.  I consider this an important part of writing my own novel (well the wine drinking anyway), so I'm not just doing it for the entertainment value.

Inspired by My Two Blessings via BethFishReads, I decided to do my own reading challenge for Spring. 

The challenge will begin on 3/21/09 and end on 6/20/09.  If you'd like to participate, email me or comment here.  If you have a blog, post your book list and I'll link to it in this and subsequent posts.

The purpose of this is to challenge yourself both to read more and to possibly read some books that have been on your "list" for awhile, but for whatever reason you haven't got around to them.  There is no set number of books you have to read, but to make it a challenge pick a number that will require you to read more than you normally do now.

You have few days to come up with your list, but here are a few of the books I'd like to include on mine:

    1)  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

    2)  Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black

    3)  Once Were Cops: A Novel by Ken Bruen

    4)  The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel by Margaret George

I'm tempted to include From Hell, but I haven't on that yet decided yet.

I will have more to add, but these are the books I know I want to read so far.  I'd like to read at least ten books, which will be a challenge for me because I'm a slow reader.  I'll post the rest on Friday.

What about you?  Will you join me?

This is what it's come down to, folks:  if a book is not available for reading on the Kindle, I won't read it.

It's not that I'm taking a stand or anything.  I've never made it a secret that I love my Kindle but it's not like I'm gonna march on Washington or anything.  It's simply that there are a lot of books out there clamoring for my attention.  I have enough samples downloaded on my Kindle to last me a couple of years if I chose to purchase and read all of them.  And I am constantly downloading new ones based on recommendations by friends, book reviews, authors, et cetera.  I'd say about a quarter of the books I want to read are not available on the Kindle.  Considering there's 75% available and with more being added every day I probably won't run out any time soon.

 Kindle_certain_girls

If I am missing out on a great book because of my new inability to hold an actual book and turn pages, then so be it.  And actually, that's not why I like my Kindle so much (that might be a little pathetic).  For me it has more to do with instant access to books and the portability of it. 

But if I'm missing out on books, the publishing industry is missing out on sales.  In this economy, that's a very bad thing.  I am exactly the type of consumer they want on their side–I buy books impulsively and often.

Aside from the cost issue (which I sympathize with), I have heard over and over again "but I like the smell of books," or "nothing beats opening up a new book," or "I love actual books too much to give them up," blah blah blah.  Poppycock.  I adore books and have done ever since I can remember.  Reading is my favorite form of entertainment.  I will always love traditional bound books.  The secret is that the Kindle takes nothing away from the reading experience.  If a story is good and compelling, you won't be aware of whether you are reading a book, a computer screen, or a Kindle.  And if it's not, why are you reading it in the first place?  Having it in the form of a bound book isn't gonna make it readable, no matter how good it smells.

Since I got my Kindle, I have been reading more than ever before, and I'm reading a much more varied selection of books.  My favorite will always be mystery/crime fiction, but I'm reading more popular fiction now, and a lot of non-fiction.  You know why?  Because these books are available at my finger tips.  Easy and immediate access.  Like it or not, that's the world we live in, and I for one am not looking back.

I don’t remember being into mysteries or murder or the macabre when I was younger.

Although now that I think of it, I did rather enjoy the novels written by Lois Duncan, who writes some pretty amazing books for teens and young adults.  Some of my favorites were Daughters of Eve, Killing Mr. Griffin, Stranger with My Face, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  Even now, as an adult, I love those books.

So maybe that’s when my fascination with murder, crime, and death in general started.

Which brings me to the reason for this post.  One of my favorite websites is called Find a Death and I find it utterly compelling.  It is basically a compilation of the “death stories” of celebrities and not-so-celebrities, complete with photos, death certificates, gossip, and sometimes, mementos.

William_holden_dc

The creator is a guy named Scott Michaels who has what I think is a pretty interesting story of his own.  Scott also has a business called Dearly Departed Tours, which I’ve never been on but wouldn’t mind seeing.  Maybe a good sightseeing trip for the English relatives?

Some of my favorite profiles are:

Desi Arnaz (some good gossip here)
Jackie Coogan and the Addams Family Cast
Sam Cooke
Grace Kelly

A word of warning:  Some (maybe most) of the content on Findadeath.com is not work-appropriate.  Some content on it is not for the squeamish.  Finally, while I don’t personally find it disrespectful, there is the occasional hint of irreverence about death and celebrity on this site and if you think you might be easily offended, perhaps it isn’t the website for you.

Otherwise, have at it.

The new and improved Amazon Kindle 2 comes out today.  Correction:  You can pre-order one starting today for shipment on February 24.

I got my Kindle about a year ago and it is my favorite electronic gadget of all time.  That includes my iPod, my iPhone, my Garmin, and pretty much anything else I can think of.

If you're a reader and you have the price, I'd highly recommend getting one of these babies.