Sunday 30 May 2010

Mysteries! Science Fiction! and The Cipher Garden arrives.....

So, you're wondering where I've been. So am I. Imagine my surprise when I was entering a book read - The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt - in my book journal, and I looked at the date and realized it took me a month to read it. A month!!! A MONTH!!! Work hours have changed and now my morning commute is usually spent standing, I have a friend I write about Fringe with over lunch, and at home I've been so involved with Fringe that I didn't realize my reading had fallen off so drastically. I'm not mad at myself, I have loved and continue to love all moments with this show! I am puzzled that I haven't made reading time elsewhere, somehow. Last night I stayed up late to read Nemesis, and it was the first time in a long time that I stayed up late to read this year, I think. It was rather nice to be reading again. I have to somehow work these two loves into my life now!

What I really think though, is that I've been waiting for Martin Edward's book The Cipher Garden to come in the mail. It threw me off when I lost it on the bus, just as I was beginning to read it. I felt like I was in a holding place, that the universe wouldn't be righted until I had it again. All right, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but I really felt like something was off, that would only be put right when I had the book again. It arrived two weeks ago, and ever since I have felt better. It's funny what books mean to me, even unread ones that I am only anticipating reading. And no, I haven't read it yet - I was finishing The Court of the Air, and then I realized I had a date with Harry Hole in Nemesis, which I started reading for my birthday treat (it was my birthday last week). I finished it early this morning. I picked up The Cipher Garden - was it time for Hannah and Daniel - and I realized that Nemesis had been so good that I didn't want to read another mystery right after, I needed something different. Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day fell into my hands, and I am laughing and delighted already - and then it will be time for Hannah and Daniel. I have the next three books in the series now. Daniel and Hannah and I have a date in a couple of days!

I don't really have a reading plan any more this year. I do want to finish quite a few mystery series - get caught up in them, and this is why I expected to read close to 100 books this year. However this last month of not reading much has derailed that plan, and I don't know what my expectations are any more. I think I am going to read as much as I can, and if I get to 75 books that will be quite an achievement now for me.

Science Fiction thoughts:

Why are the best shows on tv so often science fiction? Is it because they examine the unusual, the 'out there' stories that end up reflecting the human condition in all its various shapes and colours and emotions? Is it because science fiction lets us see ourselves as others would really see us, as a human race? Is it because we all secretly wish we could escape from the boring mundaneness that is every day, and experience the joy of discovery again? is it because if we can love the other, the alien, the different, if we can find a way to accept it, then we can find a way to accept our differences here? I think so. I think science fiction holds up hope to us. There will be a tomorrow, and it will be different from today. If our brains need puzzles (and books!) to stay alive, then as a human race I think we need to have a horizon to aim for, to keep our focus on striving to be better. Science fiction is our hope that tomorrow exists. I know that I want to believe we can overcome our differences as a human race and look outwards and upwards to exploring the stars. First, though, we have to conquor the alien that is within each of us, the fear of being different and outcast, before we can hope to take our place in the stars. For exploring all the ways we have of being human, and of encountering what might lie out there, science fiction is our gateway within to get out there.

Two tv shows in particular that seem to me the best for showing us all that is human happen to be science fiction:

Dr Who: We are enjoying the new series very much, the children especially. I wasn't sure how I could adapt to a Dr after David Tennant's marvellous heart-breaking and edgy performance, but I like Matt Smith as the younger Doctor. Just one thing, he's a mean to Amy Pond, his new pretty assistant. He is forever telling her to be quiet, to shut it, and I don't know if its' because he is young and so brash and less aware of other people's feelings, or if he genuinely thinks he's smarter and so he has the right to tell her to shush, but I find it rude. Especially as Amy has already saved him and the universe. I think the clue is that he picked up on the theme of pain, which is something the doctor seems to be struggling with in the last few seasons also with Tennant, whereas Amy picked love. Despite this flaw, when they came up with the idea of the star whale, I fell in love all over again. That, and 7 year old Amy, waiting with her suitcase for the doctor to come back, because she believed in him. that's the power of science fiction, to imagine and reveal our hearts in that imagining.

Fringe: the two-part season finale was fabulous. I keep rewatching it. It is so satisfying, and ends on such a cliff-hanger. This has been the first week without a new episode, and I have been feeling lost with no new episodes to look forward to until September. I find this show much more satisfying than Lost, for although I enjoyed Lost, it never filled up my thoughts the way Fringe does. I find myself wondering about different elements of Fringe - story, plot, characters, questions and answers - but mostly, I love it. My favourite line from this second season: There are as many cells in each of our bodies as there are stars in the sky. (Walter, and William Bell, both say this in the two-parter). There's magic and beauty in that sentence that just sings to me.

Mysteries - who do I love?

Harry Hole: I still love you. How do I know this? When you went to have dinner with your old flame in Nemesis, I was so anxious I didn't think about Fringe at all, and felt this knot of anxiety and dread. Oh Harry, that was silly. And when you thought the person you were working with was going to be shot and you fell to your knees calling out Ellen's name, I loved you all over again. You really won't let go, you won't give up until you find out what happened. You are willing to make a deal with the scariest of criminals to get the information you need, and somehow it all works out in the end. Please don't wreck things with Rakel. I don't think Oleg or I could get over it. You're a quiet, persistent, cynical investigator, and I'll follow you anywhere that you take me.

Some fast mystery book reviews so it looks like I read something this year:

All of these books are at least a 9/10. They are all highly recommended, and I'm not sure how I can have just 10 top mysteries for this year, since most of these are on this list right now, and it's not quite June.

Nemesis - Jo Nesbo - 2nd book published in the Harry Hole series. We pick up two years after The Redbreast. Rakel and Oleg are still in Harry's life, and he has quit drinking. The murder of his colleague is still unsolved. Of course, we the reader know from The Redbreast who the killer is. But Harry doesn't. The killer makes a reappearance again also. We see the net being drawn just a little tighter, though the breakthrough eludes Harry in this book. The main mystery, a bank robbery that ends in a killing, take Harry from Oslo to Brazil and back, and into his own past as he tries to solve the death of his old flame, for which he has been potentially framed as the last one to see her alive. This is a complex book on love and revenge, well-written and densely layered, so the themes reappear over and over until it becomes a philosophical musing on how love and revenge so often go hand in hand. Nemesis is a perfect title and perfectly worked into the plot. This is a must-read. 9.5/10

The only reason why I'm not reading book three is because I discovered it is not The Devil's Star, which I do have, but The Redeemer, which I don't yet. I will be buying it very shortly, because I have to know how Harry solves the death of his colleague. He will, I know he will. And because, see above, who do I love?

Dead Famous - Carol O'Connell - the 7th book in the Kathleen Mallory series. I haven't written much about Mallory here as I'd read all the other books before I began my blog. This is one of my favourite mystery series. Kathleen Mallory is a detective like no other you will encounter. She is a psychopath, but on the side (barely) of the law, luckily for the police. Her victims are usually those she is pursuing in an investigation, which she frequently breaks the law in her pursuit of. She is coldly beautiful and frighteningly intelligent, so bright that she is breathtaking in how she foils the plans of those criminals who are as equally intelligent and convinced they are going to get away with it. Dead Famous features such a brilliant mind, but to say more would be to give away who the killer is and why. Suffice it to say this is a clever mystery, and just when I think Mallory is too cold, one of the few friends she does have, discovers that she has outsmarted him in convincing him to coming back into the force, because she doesn't like change, either. Heartbreaking. She can't say she loves you, but she will do anything, anything, for those she does love. A heroine unlike any other, and if you haven't read her, then begin with Mallory's Oracle, and meet what should be touted as one of the best detective creations in literature. 9.5/10

Fearless Fourteen - Janet Evanovich. Number 14 in the Stephanie Plum mysteries, this is as funny as ever. I love Stephanie. If I were a bounty hunter, I would be as clumsy, unlucky, and ineffective as Stephanie is at being one. I could only hope for a guy like Morelli though. This one features various losers hanging out at the Morelli residence as they try to track some missing family members of the Morelli clan. Bodies keep turning up and disappearing, Lula is engaged to The Tank, an employee of the hunky and fascinating Carlos the security expert (very hunky), and there is a bomb, which frequently explodes around Stephanie in most of her books. She's like that, attracts trouble and love, and this is the funniest series in mysteries going. I read these when I need to laugh, and this one was very good. 9/10

The Last Detective - Peter Lovesey. Kerrie over at Myststeries in Paradise brought this series to my attention. The latest book in the series, Skeleton Hill, made the top 10 of her mysteries for 2009. I decided to begin at the beginning, with The Last Detective, which won the 1992 Anthony Boucher Award for Best Mystery Novel. I'm so glad I did. I like Peter Diamond. He is the last of a dying breed, relying on his investigative and interview techniques to nail his suspects over the new 'computers' that in 1991 still have the orange writing on the black screen. He is fat and out of shape and proud of it. It is told from the point of view of Diamond, and the two main suspects. I found the first suspect, Gregory Jackman, annoying as anything, though I did appreciate what Lovesey was doing - we are getting into the mind of this self-obsessed horrible shallow professor, who it turns out does have feelings after all. I really enjoyed the writing and the mystery, and the ending is sad. This is a mystery that shows how love can lead people to horrible acts. I'm going to continue with this series as soon as I can. 9.5/10

The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards. At last, the mystery novel you've been hearing about for a little while now, the first in the series of which the infamous The Cipher Garden belongs to, which was left on a bus. DCI Hannah Black is asked to head a Cold Case task force in the Lake District as a way of showing people that the police are taking the unsolved cases seriously. Daniel Kind is a tv-famous historian, whose father was a police detective who lives in the last place - the Lake District - where Daniel has happy family memories. The last ones, as his father left his family for another woman. His father did work with Hannah, and they were quite close, but he has recently died, leaving Daniel with the sense that he wants to reassess his life and comes to find out what he can of his father. One thing leads to another and Daniel buys a property in the Lake District. He sets out to discover what really happened during that same childhood summer long ago because he has never believed that Barrie, his summertime friend from that childhood visit, was guilty of the ghastly murder of a woman on an altar stone . A tip is received when the cold case is the same one reopened by Hannah, and Daniel and Hannah eventually meet up. They do not work together in this book, but they have the potential to have a unique pairing given their respective trades. I enjoyed this book very much. There is some sorrow, as evinced by the title, the Coffin Trail, which is the trail the coffin bearers took from to get to the nearest church, in centuries past. I like the beauty of the Lake District in this book - I really need to go visit it now! - and the melancholy as Daniel tries to recovers some good memories of the man his father was, as well as clear the memories of his friend. This is a good mystery, with many possible guilty parties, and still the killer when unmasked is unexpected. I like DCI Hannah Scarlett, and I like Daniel Kind. Very solid mystery. 9/10

The Serpent's Tale and Grave Goods - Ariana Franklin. Books 2 and 3 in the A Mistress of the Art of Death series. I really love this series. Something about how Ariana writes Henry II makes him vivid and come alive for me. The historical accuracy is amazing. Above all, is Adelia Aguilar, a Mistress of the Art of Death, an early version of a forensic investigator. She has been trained in Sicily where women have much more freedom than they do in England, where she is forced to hide what she is behind her friend and servant Mansur, an Arabic eunuch, who plays the role of investigator while Adelia translates for him. How she investigates murder in 11th century England is fascinating. In The Serpent's Tale she is investigating who killed the mistress of King Henry II. I love how real these books make this time period. In The Serpent's Tale, I am trapped with them in the abbey as the winter settles in and covers them with impenetrable snow. In Grave Goods, I enjoyed the visit to Glastonbury Abbey near Wales, and how even then the legend of King Arthur was used by the locals and by the King. Adelia has to prove or disprove if some bones found hidden in a grave, revealed by an earthquake, are indeed the bones of Arthur and Guinevere. All of the characters are well drawn, and it really seems as if history has leapt of the page and we are there, with Adelia and her group. I really like Adelia, she is a courageous and honest woman, far ahead of her time, who must wrestle with her conscience over what she sees around her, as well as learning what it means to love her newborn daughter who is her illegitimate child of her liasion with the Bishop of St Albans, Rowley Picot. Their love is hilarious and heartbreaking. These are intelligent people who live in the early-developing English society, and I enjoy seeing these characters questions their loyalties, and loves, and themselves, even as they pursue justice at the request of the king. They are each 10/10.

This Night's Foul Work - Fred Vargas. The latest in the Commissaire Adamsberg mystery series from France. I really enjoyed this mystery. It is set in Normandy and in Paris, in the past and the present, and Adamsberg must unravel how the various incidents between two men killed in Paris, two stags killed and hearts cut out in Normandy, and an escaped murderer is linked. He has to discover who is betraying him within his division and why, even as he tries to solve the cases, and discovers how long revenge can simmer in the heart of someone he once offended. Again love and hatred are shown as linked, easily flipping from one side to another depending on the heart involved. The lengths one will go to achieve a sense of retribution seems to be a common theme in the mysteries I have ben reading this year. It's very interesting to see how often crime has at its roots, some form of passion or thwarted emotion. Adamsberg discovers who is loyal to him, and how easily he can be hurt. I think this is one of the best of the Adamsberg mysteries so far. 9/10.

Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler. The first book in the May and Bryant mystery series, this features May and Bryant retired from the force. An explosion at the old station kills Bryant, forcing May to remember their early days when they met during the Second World War, and how the Peculiar Crimes Division was set up then. They are an odd couple detective, Bryant the brilliant, eccentric detective, May logical and reasonable and as Bryant almost instantly recognizes, what he has needed to make the Peculiar Crimes Division work. Their first case is a killer who is stalking a risque production of Orpheus in Hell, killing several of the cast members in grisly deaths. The case is unsolved, the crimes stopping suddenly, until the bombing in the present day reveals that Bryant had discovered something and had been quietly investigating the old crime again.

Once again this is very well written, with a lively group of characters in the theatre, as well as May and Bryant, who leap off the page. I enjoyed both the current investigation as well as the story of how they met and the initial murder investigation. The Blitz is also recreated vividly. Unusual and a lot of fun to read. 9.5/10. I will be reading more as soon as I can get them.

Saturday 1 May 2010

It's a Fringe world

You all know by now that I have fallen in love with a tv show called Fringe. What you may not have figured out is exactly how deep this love affair has become for me. I bought the soundtrack to the first season last week and have listened to it every day since. That's how much this show has become part of my life! I have to laugh a little. I've been obsessed with books, I've read books that I've ended up dreaming of, I've carried books with me through all the stages of my life, and there are characters who are almost as real to me as people are. I do not recall any tv show affecting me like this, no matter how much I enjoyed it. Something about Fringe, about the story it is telling about Olivia, Peter, and Walter, has captured me completely. I think I am beginning to understand those Star Wars and Star Trek fans who used to have every single thing ever brought out. I'm not saying I would buy every single thing, but I'd like a Peter doll, and an Olivia one. Gee, a tiny Walter's Lab would be fun!

What I mean to say is, I keep meaning to write more often on here, but I'm usually thinking about previous episodes, upcoming ones, searching for reviews, talking to my new Fringe fan friends I've met. I don't know if there is an official word for us yet, but I've fallen into that rabbit hole that is an obsession with a cultural event. It's kind of fun, and kind of scary. It's not like I'm a teenager!

The good news is, I have not left behind my passion for books - there is nothing on this planet that could do that. I have been reading, though not to any level that will have me finishing 100 books this year. I have ordered The Cipher Garden again, and then I threw in The Arsenic Labyrinth so I could keep reading the series as soon as it arrives. Also, I found a copy of Nemesis finally - Harry! Harry Hole! I'm coming! I even found myself telling one of my co-workers yesterday all about Harry and falling in love with him. Now she wants to read The Redbreast too. So books are my constant, still, and always. Fringe has just moved up very high on my list of passions.

One thing I do like about Fringe is that books turn up every once in a while. Markham's books is a used bookstore Peter frequents, that the owner can usually come up with anything in books they are looking for. I'd like to work in Markham's book store. It is the way the best bookstores are, crowded with books, shelves, and Markham is funny. I'm sure he'd let me work there for a while. Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll (one of his earliest works) even gets a mention in the episode "Ability' in the first season. I've read Land of Laughs! It was over 20 years ago, so I don't remember everything, but I remember crying at the end of it. Which is pretty much what Fringe has had me doing ever since Olivia discovered that Peter is from the alternate universe. For anyone looking for a good fantasy author and book to read for Carl's OUaT3, Land of Laughs or most books by Jonathan Carroll are a good bet. So how can I not love this show? Never mind that Land of Laughs is about a reality that changes according to what the townspeople think should happen, so it's about - alternate realities. Fringe is layered with symbolism like that, so I end up looking for more clues.....speaking of layering symbolism, Peter is the one who knows the real worth of Land of Laughs. How can I not like a hero who likes books? And a show that pays attention to details like this?

I think after my very difficult year last year, Fringe has come along to awaken me to all that is still possible to dream about and wonder about, for me, in life. Along with Mary Oliver, and Dido (thanks to Susan and Lee, who introduced me, I'm playing the music of Dido every day), there are new things in my life as I view this new terrain I'm on, living with a chronic disease. I'm still coming to terms with what that means for me, and how it's changed my life. Mary Oliver is reminding me of my love of poetry and nature, and why I wrote it in the first place and what I love about the world. Dido is reminding me how much I love music and need to hear it much more regularly than I had been for some time. Fringe is reminding me of how much I love layered writing, mythic arcs and story telling over several seasons with characters that I adore. Horror, mystery, science and science fiction, family drama, life-changing events that reverbrate up and down the years, and strong characters who are completely believable - Fringe has this in spades, and I can't get enough.

I've only recently come to the realization that I am picking up the pieces after the explosions and drama of last year. I know I'm fortunate, and that I could be in a much worse place if some of the tests had come back positive. The best news (other than that I just have diabetes and nothing else is wrong) is that I had my first writing idea in over a year, earlier this week. So I know I'm heading back to where I want to be, and I'm grateful that the leaves are coming out on the trees, and the spring birds have come back and fill the world with their songs, and that there is room and time for new passions in my life.

I am keeping this blog. I do love it and am proud of what I have written about books and life over the past two and a half years. I am especially thrilled to have met of all of you who share my love of books and reading. Some of you have become special to me, becoming my friends as well. I think I've been taking a break without being aware of it, for the past few months. So if you don't mind, I think more posts about Fringe will be creeping in, because after 6 months with this show, it's become part of my life, and I have to talk about it. This isn't just a blog about books any more, though they will still make up the huge bulk of it. I hope you'll still enjoy coming here. I will still keep the same blog title, because that really is my philosophy in life. Now, if only Markham's bookstore really did exist......