review · Sweden · Translated

Night Rounds by Helene Tursten

night roundsGuess what: I still really like Scandi Crime! It’s been a busy year, and I haven’t really read much crime fiction because what I was picking up was stressing me out. So I decided to dig through my wish list on my library account and picked up a Tursten novel I haven’t read yet, book 2 in the Irene Huss series. I loved reading a good, smart procedural instead of an unreliable-narrator type of crime novel that’s hard to avoid lately.

Night Rounds is the story of a ghost nurse who allegedly committed murder in a private hospital on the brink of financial disaster in Göteborg. It’s a story that involves family drama and work drama at the hospital in question so it kept me interested because the motive for the killings wasn’t obvious from the beginning. And it was nice to read a procedural that was methodical and full of interviews with a series of characters that kept my interest. And finally, it was nice to read a book with a tidy ending.

A few random thoughts:

  • I’m ready for a book centered on Ms. Strikner, the pathologist.
  • It’s nice to read a book with a detective with a messy but not entirely dysfunctional homelife.
  • I may be wrong about the tidy ending. There’s an epilogue to the book that may just be creepy or ominous for the sake of being ominous, or it could mean that my misgivings about some other characters who aren’t being prosecuted for murder are in another book.

I’ve only read two other books in the series: the first installment, which is Detective Inspector Huss, and The Fire Dance. I loved the first and not the other, and I recommend this installment highly.

 

Night Rounds by Helene Tursten, translation by Laura A. Wideburg

Irene Huss series book 2

Originally published as Nattrond, 1999

Soho Crime, 2012

Source: I checked it out from the library.

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Update

So when I stopped blogging a few months ago I started contemplating starting a booktube channel, and I think I’ll go for it soon. But first, just to get back into the blogging/book-talking in general, I’m writing this to catch up on what I’ve been reading and loving over the past few months.

  1. The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series by Julia Spencer-Fleming is quite good: I wasn’t expecting as much action as there is in the first 5 books of this series. The books have mystery, romance, and no unreliable narrators!
  2. Sherman Alexie’s memoir about his mother is harrowing and wonderful, and I can see why he needed to take a break from his book tour because it was traumatizing.
  3. I’ve tried a couple giant nonfiction books lately, the first LBJ book by Robert Caro and Reformations by Carlos Eire about a couple hundred years of history, and I’ve read about half of each. It’s good to read stuff I don’t normally read and realize how much I don’t know about Texas in the early 20th century or Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

I’d love to hear your reading recommendations because I’ve nearly caught up on the Spencer-Fleming series.

review · U.S.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

chalk artistAllegra Goodman is on my auto-buy list. I really, really liked The Cookbook Collector about a pair of sisters in California, a bit of a taking down of dot com business culture, a bit of a love story with smart characters. I like her for the same reasons as I like Meg Wolitzer: sweeping drama, smart people, over a lengthy period of time. The Chalk Artist, unfortunately, didn’t quite work for me.

The Chalk Artist deals with a group of teenagers and a group of adults all somehow connected to Arkadia Systems, a videogame company. Goodman is so sympathetic towards her characters, and in that way it reminds me of My So-Called Life or other Herkowitz show. But I didn’t love the story because I’m not really into fantasy or video games, and while I was impressed by a couple of the scenes describing the immersive gaming-in-the-round universe of UnderWorld, I ultimately didn’t love it.

Another thing that sort of annoyed me is that the young-teacher storyline turned a bit into a teacher-as-savior story, which I loved when I was say, under 25 years old, but I don’t now.

My criticisms are because I loved other parts of the book. An intelligent take on young love was great- it’s what was missing from say, Eugenides’s The Marriage Plot. The art stuff was very cool and very vivid. The technology part was sort of cool but I felt distanced because gaming is not my thing.

The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman

Dial Press, June 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Miscellaneous

My Version of Armchair BEA

I follow Book Expo from afar, not in any organized Armchair BEA group, but by following Twitter when I get a chance during the work week. I like reading live-tweets from interesting sounding sessions at BEA and lots of crime fiction fests. I like adding books to my list to investigate. But I don’t miss the crowds and the scrum of people scrambling for galleys. I like browsing for books, either in an actual bookstore or library or by reading blogs/social media/ whatever else strikes my fancy online: I don’t like books because I put a lot of effort into acquiring them. And how many of the people hustling for galleys actually really adore the book they scrambled to get? I’m sure some do, but the exertion seems a bit much. I’d love to see more posts in book blogs about what super-publicized books actually stuck with readers. I suspect it’s only a handful a year, if that. I’m advocating more reading, less time scrambling for books.

Signed,

A slightly curmudgeonly book blogger

 

 

memoir · nonfiction · review

A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp

500houseI lived and worked in metro Detroit for a number of years, so the memoir of a young guy moving to the city and fixing up a house was interesting just because I know the landscape. I was also drawn to the book because I’ve had some long conversations with people who are or have renovated historical homes in Detroit. It’s a tough thing to do, and it’s very different than HGTV makes home renovation appear.

Besides the subject matter making me a little leery, I was leery about trying a memoir: memoirs depend so much on the voice of the author and if I feel like he/she is leaving out lots of stuff. And I was also leery about a book that sounded like a good book or blog pitch (young guy rehabs a house he bought for $500 without foundation money). And I have to say, for the first quarter of the book, the self-righteousness was a bit much. But Drew grows up during the course of the book. And the story kept moving along because it followed his house renovation. The ending was the livable house, you know.

I liked this book, and I liked the people Philp met and befriended over the multiple years he’s been in Detroit. It’s a book that brings up lots of issues to discuss, and I don’t think that’s the case for memoirs that I would call more gimmicky than this one.

A $500 House in Detroit by Drew Philp

Scribner, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

 

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Out of Bounds by Val McDermid

out of boundsI haven’t been reading much fiction lately, and I especially haven’t been reading a lot of crime fiction lately: I tend to go down a rabbit hole reading the news instead, and it’s not necessarily good for my equilibrium. I was happy to get into this police procedural with a new set of characters and with a plot not nearly as gruesome as the Tony Hill- Carol Jordan series by Val McDermid.

Out of Bounds is the story of Karen Pirie, the head of the Historical Crimes Unit. She’s mourning her dead partner  Phil by burying herself in work, and she’s not a dour presence at all in the story. Score 1 for McDermid. Karen becomes involved in both a current and a historical murder investigation: a recent death of a young man whose mother died in an unsolved airplane bombing in the 1990s piques Pirie’s interest because she suspects that murder- or at least suspicious death- doesn’t run in families

What I liked most was the matter-of-factness not only of Karen but of a whole slew of highly competent women in police, social work, and forensic science. And McDermid had a damn sympathetic portrait of not one but two lawyers, for which I’m personally grateful. Also, McDermid is so good at populating this book with interesting people during the parade of investigatory interviews, etc. I hope this is the beginning of a new series.

Out of Bounds by Val McDermid

Grove Atlantic, December 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

review · U.S.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

startupI had high hopes when I started Startup by Doree Shafrir. It starts at a ridiculous MorningRave, a “clean living dance party” populated by all sorts of denizens of New York City’s startup scene, notably Mack, the founder of an app of questionable value, and Katja, a journalist covering the tech scene. I was expecting more satire, and instead the story was more heavy with ideas and a lot of characters who were kind of despicable at times and noble at other times.

Ultimately the characters never felt quite real to me and more representative of ideas: here’s the older journalist going off about how journalism has changed in the last ten years, here’s a young woman being sexually harassed in the supposedly-enlightened company she works for: the characters seemed more like ideas than people, if that makes sense. I’ve seen reviews talking about how readable and accurate the story was, and while I read it quickly, I just felt dissatisfied by the story. It’s a book filled with sad, disconnected people who work an awful lot, and it wasn’t my thing.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

Little Brown, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

review

The Thing About Love by Julie James

thing-about-loveAll right, Julie James is one of my favorite discoveries of 2016. I read all but her first novel in the second half of 2016, and they are appealing for their witty banter and their matter-of-factly competent female leads, most of whom are lawyers or FBI agents. The Thing About Love is about two FBI agents who meet years after a contentious training at the FBI Academy, and it’s an entertaining and dramatic story about an undercover job in the public corruption unit and their road to romance.

The main characters’ friends and colleagues are mostly background, but given how much the main characters work, their friendships would have to come second.

Julie James knows emotional beats, and that along with the dialogue makes this a really entertaining read.

The Thing About Love by Julie James

Berkley, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

 

review · U.S.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

youwillknowmeYou Will Know Me fits into the last few Megan Abbott books centered on the heightened world of teenage girls (see Dare Me, The Fever, and The End of Everything). You Will Know Me is the story of Devon, a gymnast on the cusp of qualifying for elite status and trying out for the Olympics, her parents Eric and Katie, and the death of a guy connected to her gymnastics gym. At first I thought it would be a story more about gymnastics and the level of obsessiveness required to compete at an extremely high level, but it turns into a mystery about the death of Ryan, the boyfriend of a gymnastics coach at Devon’s gym. The book starts as a book obsessed with young gymnast’s bodies and ends up being a story about the secret inner lives of not only of Devon but of her entire family. And just a note about the title: by the end I realized while I knew more about Devon and her family, there was still a great deal I did not.

The mystery didn’t really grab me because my suspicions about what happened were pretty accurate. What was most gripping for me was the sadness of Katie and Eric’s lives. They were pretty desperate for Devon to succeed, and as the story went on the details of their lives supporting Devon’s training seemed overwhelming to me. And their ignoring their younger son felt extra sad by the end as well. All in all, this is a pretty moody book that didn’t really take off as a mystery for me though it was an enjoyable read.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Little Brown, July 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

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Quick Takes

So my reading lately has been either very plot-driven (a couple more thriller-y reads) or a comfort read in the sense of reading books in a series I like. Ultimately the thriller-y stuff are not my favorites, mostly because I like less explicitly gruesome books.

First for the series I’ve grown to like more as they’ve gone on:  I’ve read the first two Julia Spencer Fleming books, which have a bit of thriller stuff in them, which is surprising because I expected them to be a lot more like the Louise Penny books. I was happily surprised by In the Bleak Midwinter: it’s the first entry in a series featuring two military vets: the police chief in a town of 8,000 covering a district of maybe 20,000 in upstate NY, and the new Episcopalian minister in town, a transplanted southerner who was a badass helicopter pilot. The characters were interesting– just enough backstory to see why they click. The plot was actually twisty, which I wasn’t expecting because I’ve read sort of dour snowbound mysteries (1222, Cover of Snow). And I was expecting less excitement because the marketing plan/covers look an awful lot like Louise Penny books (same publisher), and I don’t think of those as gripping.

Speaking of Louise Penny, I also just finished A Trick of the Light, and what strikes me most is that the characterizations are getting so much deeper as the series goes on. Hopefully her books don’t get bloated, but so far so good.

On the new front, I tried a debut mystery called August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones, which takes place in contemporary Detroit. The main character is a former cop who became a whistleblower (sort of inspired by the real Gary Brown, Detroit cop turned whistleblower turned politician). He lost his job and becomes a private investigator. Plot-wise the book left me cold because the action felt too amped up for me. I do like some big action-filled, conspiracy thrillers (Alan Glynn comes to mind), but this one just felt unreal for me. I think it felt too much like a superhero story for me.

Next, I tried a very dark thriller, The Dime, by Kathleen Kent, about a lesbian detective that moves from Brooklyn to Dallas and becomes embroiled in what appears to be a drug cartel war. The body count is quite high, the last third of the book is over-the-top violent, a move that I assumed was coming after reading books like The Keeper of Lost Causes. I kept on reading (and skimming some) because the book was written well, the workplace scenes worked well with interesting relationships among the characters, but I hate being put through the wringer when an author tortures her main character so thoroughly.