Monthly rundown vol. 5
Secrets, secrets, and more secrets
Hello! It’s the end of May which means our routine is about to change, but I think we’re ready for it. Mostly. I’m definitely ready for slower mornings and some of the fun things coming up this summer. I think I’m mostly ready to do my best to consistently write on my novel-in-progress with a no-school-and-the-kids-are-home schedule.
Speaking of novels I’ve written–the annual Copperfield’s Bookstore Local Author Fair was this month, and it was a lot of fun, even if the weather tried to derail us by raining off and on. Thankfully, more off than on, so plenty of customers were undeterred. I sold some books, met readers and authors, and generally had a good time (author fairs and book festivals are the best, because it just really fills my cup to be around people who like books and reading and writing as much as I do!). If you were one of the people I met at the fair, hello! I hope you enjoy the newsletter and stick around.
I’d also like to take a moment this month to plug book reviews. Taking a few minutes to post a review is one of the best ways to help an author out. Don’t overthink it! Even a sentence or two is awesome (“This was a fun read,” “I enjoyed this book,” “I liked the characters,” “the plot was solid,” “Fast-paced,” “Great vacation read.” You get the idea). Amazon https://www.amazon.com/, Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/, BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/launch … really anywhere you can review books. So, consider this a gentle encouragement to review books in general, and a polite request for those of you who have read one of my books to review it. (And if you have…thank you!!!).
Now, how about some reviews…
The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal. I’m generally a fan of Mary Robinette’s books, and while I enjoyed The Spare Man, it definitely wasn’t my favorite of hers. The set up is that it’s a science fiction riff on the movie The Thin Man, a murder mystery set on a spaceship cruise liner solved by a wealthy couple on their honeymoon. Here’s what I liked: 1. The mashup of 1930s glam and futuristic, sci-fi aesthetic. Kowal knows how to do vivid world building. 2. The classic, well-written mystery. 3. The fun cocktail recipes that served as chapter titles (quite a few non-alcoholic recipes too). 4. The fact that the main character has a disability, and the way it’s part of her character and informs the story, but it’s not “the” story (Kowal tends to do this really well). And now the things that didn’t work for me: 1. There were times where it just seemed like there was much going on, or like the book was trying to do too many things. Every aspect of the story almost seemed to get equal weight, which meant that sometimes I didn’t know where to focus, and sometimes I was left wanting more of something and left feeling dissatisfied. 2. I usually love Kowal’s strong female characters, but I got really tired of Tesla by the end of the book. There was also one minor character who was so infuriating he was almost a caricature. Anyway, I still enjoyed it, just not as much as some of her other books.
Miranda Nights by Gail Olmsted was a solid second installment in the Miranda Quinn mystery series. It’s set three years after the first novel, and it was fun catching up with Miranda and her friends and family, who are an even more important part of the story this time around. The mystery is tense and fast-paced, and the author does a good job of balancing that mystery with the heart and soul of the novel, which is the characters.
One of the Girls by Lucy Clarke. I read Lucy Clarke’s first book Swimming at Night when it came out about ten years ago, and remember enjoying it, but then she dropped off my radar. Her name popped up the other day in reference to another British author I love, and I realized that Clarke has been quite busy since that first book! One of the Girls was available from my library right away, so I checked it out and gave it a try. It was an engrossing, fast-paced thriller with lush prose, a fantastic setting, and lots of secrets. My only nitpick was with what I felt like was an unnecessary love triangle. It was a big part of the plot, but I think she could have achieved the same results in a different way. To be fair, love triangles are a pet peeve of mine, so your mileage may vary.
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. Another Inspector Gamache novel, more delightful time spent in Quebec. I won’t say much since there’s not really much new to say in the middle of a series, except this was kind of a two-in-one mystery, with some unfinished business carried over from the previous book, in addition to the fresh mystery. Per usual, Penny juggled the various elements of the novel really well, and there was one unexpected twist that I loved.
In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon was the latest book I read for the spiritual-themed book club I’m part of with some people from my church. It was written in 1896, as a kind of spiritual and moral thought exercise born out of the author’s apparent deep conviction that Christians were not practically living out what it meant to follow Jesus in their day to day world. On the one hand, it was very thought provoking, and some of the questions Sheldon poses in the book are important and relevant even today, even if I didn’t always agree with his conclusions. That said, the writing style was not my favorite, and I think Sheldon begins to belabor his point a bit about halfway through the book. It definitely provoked some good discussion in our meeting!
In The Lying Game by Ruth Ware four high school friends are reunited unexpectedly after years of minimal contact when one of their group puts out a distress call, and they’re forced to confront a terrible secret from their past. It has a really strong premise, and a slow, atmospheric, almost Gothic tension. What’s interesting about this book is that you see how these women make some really stupid decisions as teenagers, and as grown adults, they are still stuck in the mindset that they have to keep–and bury–this secret. Their trauma has trained them that there’s no other alternative. There’s a little bit of exploration of new motherhood (some Goodreads reviewers REALLY didn’t like that storyline), and of reckoning with your past self, when maybe your past self wasn’t all that great. I really enjoyed it, although not quite as much as her other books.
More than anything else I read or watched this month, Slow Horses was hands down my favorite. I freaking LOVED this show. I watched both available seasons in less than three weeks, and immediately had to look up to make sure they were making a third (and they are! As well as a fourth!). It’s an spy thriller based on a book series called Slough House about a branch of the British Intelligence Service where disgraced agents are sent to rot (i.e., do menial grunt work intended to push them to quit/retire so MI5 doesn’t have to go through the trouble of firing them). Of course, the agents at Slough House get caught up in some high stakes situations, and drama ensues. Each season so far covers the events of one novel, and it’s clever, and tense, with dense, twisty plots, complicated characters, and very real stakes. And the cast is FANTASTIC.
This gem of a show is made by the same person who did the movies Knives Out and Glass Onion. It’s an homage to the 1970s television show Columbo, which you see in the story structure of each episode, the mannerisms and personality of the main character Charlie, and even the way the cinematography is just like a 1970s-80s detective show (although with admittedly more cursing than network television). There’s a murder of the week, but, unlike Columbo, there’s also a central plot that serves as a throughline for the series. Charlie isn’t a detective, but rather a civilian with an unnatural ability to tell if a person is lying, an ability that gets her into trouble with the wrong people, but also helps her to solve murders. The actress who plays Charlie is fantastic, as are the rest of the cast (mostly one-episode guest stars, since Charlie’s trouble-with-the-wrong-people ends up sending her on the run).
That’s all for now! Have any of you watched Slow Horses? Did you love it? Hate it? Let me know!