Recent Reading: A Little Bit of Everything

I’m in no danger of getting ahead of my To Be Read shelves, but I keep trying.  The biography of Queen Elizabeth still sits on my coffee table–it’s a good book, but I don’t have time to pick it up very often.  Today I’ve been reading on my Kindle, Ghost Writers in the Sky, a mystery set at a down-scale writers’ conference.   I ran across this novel by Anne R. Allen while blog surfing one night.

A few weeks ago the ad campaign for the movie John Carter reminded me of the many Edgar Rice Burroughs books I read long ago.  Sadly, the movie seems to have been a colossal turkey.  The generic-sounding title can’t have helped, but maybe the studio was afraid boys wouldn’t want to see a movie called A Princess of Mars, the original novel written in 1917.  Of course if the princess looked anything like the Frank Frazetta cover paintings I remember from the editions I once owned, I’m sure anyone with a Y chromosome would have bought a ticket.

I knew I had none of Burroughs’ novels in my library now.  If I had hung onto all the books I’ve owned over the last (mumble mumble) years, my house would look like the set for one of those shows about hoarders on cable TV.   Browsing through the Burroughs novels available on Kindle (which is most of them), I was reminded of The Land That Time Forgot and its two sequels, The People That Time Forgot and Out of the Abyss, three short novels that I enjoyed long ago.  Never mind Barsoom, I decided, I want to revisit Caspak.  So I downloaded the trilogy in one ebook, complete with the original pulp magazine covers, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The narrative is old-fashioned, the “biology” ridiculous, the sentiments often sexist and/or racist in a rather innocent early-twentieth-century sort of way, but the adventures are still fun to read.  And still available, after almost a century, which is more than one can say for most novels written in 1918.

I wonder if the same will be true of Catching Fire, the middle book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.  I read this one in the wake of the publicity for the movie, found it not quite as compelling as the first, haven’t read the third book yet despite the cliffhanger ending.

For a change of pace, I picked up Deeanne Gist’s charming Love on the Line, a sweet romance set in Brenham, Texas in 1903, and featuring a very independent female telephone operator and an undercover Texas Ranger posing as a “troubleman” for the phone company.  Deeanne’s novels are delightful not only for their characters and plots but for the wonderful details of their thoroughly researched settings.  Love on the Line is a finalist in this year’s Romance Writers of America Rita® contest.

Marcia Muller has been one of my favorite mystery writers since I read her first novel about investigator Sharon McCone, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, back in 1977.  I recently enjoyed her latest, City of Whispers, which continues McCone’s adventures and the stories of her friends and family.  Sharon has been through a lot through the series, but she has not aged those thirty-five years.  What a shame that only works in fiction.

Tuesday Ramblings

I’ve taken the first few steps toward the RWA Conference in Anaheim this summer.  I’ve registered for the conference and reserved a room at the hotel.  The memory of my face on the Jumbotron at last year’s awards ceremony inspired me to try for a new photograph (which has to be uploaded to RWA by next Monday).  So I asked my friend Ha to take more casual shots this year.  I’m still getting used to cameras that don’t waste film and transfer pictures to a flashdrive, but that’s natural to Ha, and he took quite a few.  Jo Anne and I winnowed them down to three favorites, and I think I’ve picked the one to use.  I won’t have a lot of shopping to do this year–I have luggage, and shoes–but I’ll do some for fun.  Maybe a different dressy top for the Big Party.  No hurry–the conference isn’t until the last week in July, a month later than last year.

Last night I finished reading Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’  young adult trilogy.  It ended on more of a cliff than The Hunger Games did, so I’ll probably read the third book, Mockingjay, soon, to find out how it all ends.  If, like me, you have mixed emotions about the current trends in YA fiction, stop over at Spacefreighters Lounge and read Donna Frelick’s thoughts on where, and by how much, the genres of science fiction, romance, and young adult fiction overlap.  (Donna is a double finalist in the Golden Heart® this year, for two science fiction romances.)

For the moment I need something more cheerful, so I’ve picked Deeanne  Gist’s latest novel off my To Be Read shelf.  Love on the Line, the story of a female telephone operator in turn of the century Texas, a Texas Ranger under cover, and a gang of train robbers, is a nominee for a Rita® award this year in the Inspirational category.

I love this picture from the April, 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics, as reproduced on the Paleofuture blog at  Go read about it.  I’m going to have to spend more time prowling around the site.

Here’s something else worth visiting: a videocam view of an eagles’ nest on the grounds of the Alcoa plant in Davenport. Iowa.  Liberty and Justice are raising three eaglets in perfect peace under the watchful eyes of a couple of million visitors

Recent Reading

I managed to finish reading a couple of books last weekend, not that I’m in any danger of catching up with the To Be Read shelves, and I can’t even remember what’s on my Kindle.  But I do my best.  This afternoon at work I had a job to do that involved recoding information on an online bookkeeping site (the client and her business are located several states away).  The software is slow to begin with.  My work computer is several years old and still runs Windows XP and IE8.  After each transaction, the screen refreshed so slowly that to keep from banging my head on the desk I pulled out my Kindle and found I could read a page or so while the screen was blank.  I’m not kidding.  I spent an hour and a half making those corrections as fast as the computer could handle them–and reading while I waited for each one to process.  Heck of a way to read, but better than staring at that blank screen in frustration.

I recently finished reading James Scott Bell’s Conflict & Suspense on my Kindle–excellent book.  I really enjoy Bell’s writing on writing–one of these days I’ll have to try one of his novels.  Here’s the review I wrote for the Houston Bay Area RWA newsletter.  (I also posted a review of Bell’s Plot & Structure here.)

A couple of weeks ago I read Darynda Jones’ First Grave on the Right, a book that won a Golden Heart® in 2009.  Three years later it’s on the shelves with two sequels, and another due out this fall.  I’ve only read the first one (but there are two more on my TBR stack), and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It’s a humorous blend of mystery and romance, with a heroine who is a “part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper.”  Charlie sees dead people, which isn’t always as much of an advantage in her p.i. work as you might imagine.  As for the hero, if that’s what he is, well, Charlie spends the span of the book trying to figure out what he is. 

Next I read Joan Hess’ latest Claire Malloy mystery, Deader Homes and Gardens.  I’ve been reading this series (and Hess’ Maggody mysteries, too) since it began, and wouldn’t miss one.  Deader Homes moved a little more slowly than most–or possibly I was just reading more slowly.  The large cast was occasionally confusing, but Claire’s daughter Caron and her BFF Inez (approaching their senior year in high school) got themselves into as much trouble as usual while helping Claire in her unofficial sleuthing.  And Claire, as usual, gets to the bottom of things in her own unconventional way.  She continues to be one of my favorite cozy detectives.

Looking for a change of pace, I opened Zoe Archer’s Collision Course on my Kindle.  This is a very short novel, published by Carina Press, and falls into the subgenre of science fiction romance.   It tilts more toward the (quite explicit) romance end of the scale, and I would have liked to see more of the universe Archer created.  But trap an independent scavenger heroine and a military pilot hero alone together in her small space ship–well, once or twice I wanted to tell them to get out of that bunk and get on with the mission.  By the time the story ended, though, I was ready to download the sequel.  If you like steamy action romance, Collision Course is for you.

I’m still reading the new biography of Queen Elizabeth II.  No hurry–that’s my coffee table book.  On my Kindle I’m enjoying Edgar Rice Burrough’s delightfully old-fashioned The Land That Time Forgot

When I finished Deader Homes and Gardens a few days ago, I had my usual what-shall-I-read-next quandary, until I opened the newspaper the next morning to see multiple stories about the movie version of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  I read the book last year, but I hadn’t revisited the harsh world of Panem.  So I picked up the second book, Catching Fire.  So far, just as harsh and compelling as the first book.   Definitely not an old-fashioned tale.

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