Monday, February 1, 2010

Sharing Books

Like Nancy, I'm not a huge fan of January. Well, in theory, I am—the idea of starting over, a fresh, new beginning and all that, and since I have a birthday in February, it's another feeling of a new year ahead of me. What am I going to do next? What's going to be different this coming year? What am I going to make different, and better? It's a time to look forward and back.

But since I'm still in the middle of evaluating my life, and since I hate revealing my self-absorption, I decided to write about something we all have in common, reading and books. I have enjoyed many LDS books but there's so many I haven't read I'm going to write (briefly) about a few of my favorite non-LDS series, books I've read more than once and may well read again. With so many books to read, it may seem like wasted time rereading books, but sometimes reading a familiar book is like spending time with a good friend: it's comfortable and comforting and I know exactly what I'm getting. So here goes.

1. Mrs. Pollifax. This is one of my all-time favorite series. I love spending time with Mrs. Pollifax. She's an older woman, a widow, her children are grown, and she's involved in a variety of good works but she feels unused and uninteresting. When her doctor suggests that she do something she's always wanted to do, she knows immediately what she wants to do: be a spy. And through a serendipitous chain of events (and some effort on her own part) she's sent off to Mexico to pick up a package for the CIA. A simple errand, certainly nothing dangerous. But...what would be the fun in that? I love that Mrs. Pollifax is rather an ordinary woman, nothing special about her except that she is curious about people and about life, that's she's a nice person and a good person, and in a tough situation, she's tough, too. She surprises herself and surprises others with her creativity and ingenuity. The last books in the series seem not to have the qualities I like in the first books; maybe the author was tired of her character (Agatha Christie was said to have detested Poirot by the time she was done with him). But the first 8 or so are marvelous.)

2. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. When I read the first book several years ago, it didn't really do much for me at the time. Rather than one lot sustained plot, the book seemed like a collection of short stories, one solved mystery after the other. But I liked it well enough to keep reading the series, and once again I was drawn by the main character. Like Mrs. Pollifax, Precious Ramotswe decides to do something new, in this case, start a detective agency. With no actual experience detecting but with a lot of common sense and a good heart, Precious takes on all manner of mysteries, from cheating husbands to mysterious deaths to missing merchandise and missing children. I love the language (and the narrator for this series on audio is fabulous) and the simplicity of the people and the place evoked by the language. I feel absolutely inadequate to describe what the author is able to accomplish in creating his characters and this wonderful setting that manages to be both exotic and simple at the same time.

3. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. I hesitate to mention these books because they are pretty "worldly" but there is much that is right with them. A determined but very human main charactor, two fabulously described men--both incredibly sexy (my favorite after Kerry Blair's Greg Howland, my ideal man :-) and a range of characters both rotten and hysterical. Stephanie's grandmother is a delight—and a menace at funeral viewings—her stoner friend from high school is just funny, and Bob the dog—well, he just makes me laugh. Stephanie’s adventures and misadventures in bringing people to justice are endlessly creative (she's a bail bond enforcer, or "bounty hunter"--but only because it's the only job she could get). I know I wasn't going to talk about LDS books but I have to say I thought Betsy's Murder by the Book had a lot of the same charm--the main character with a bit of an attitude and a penchant for Pepsi and Moon Pies, the attractive men, the fire/bomb that comes too close (Stephanie has a fair amount of bad luck that involves explosions). Oh, and both main characters have their mothers, and societal expectations, to deal with. Happily, I feel good recommending Betsy's book without reservation, which I can't do with Evanovich's. But this is my list so I'm including the Stephanie Plum books.

4. Kinsey Milhone, by Sue Grafton. Kinsey is a private detective, also single (I think I’m seeing a pattern here, although Precious Ramotswe does get married at some point in the series). Kinsey is a pretty low-maintenance type of person—trims her hair with her finger nail clippers, and her idea of a good meal is McDonald’s. I’ve read all the books from A Is for Alibi up to U is for Undertow, and I think the author’s maintained her quality without showing obvious signs of fatigue with her character or series. I don’t remember a lot of individual plots but Kinsey is often assigned to find missing people and usually the cases go in unexpected and often dangerous directions. Of course, they do. If they didn’t, who would read the books? I like Kinsey because she’s determined and sulf-sufficient, more of a loner than the other characters I’ve described, and she has her own issues with family which often work well with the larger plot of the story.

5. Lisa Scottoline's Bennie Rosato books. Bennie runs an all-female law firm and Scottoline's Italian heritage shows wonderfully in her characters, settings, and plots. And she's just tells a dang good story. Loved Vendetta Defense, which an Italian friend gave five thumbs up to (what can I say, she's Italian).

In talking about favorite books, as with thanking people, there's always the danger of forgetting something and someone. But here are the ones I've enjoyed. I’d love to hear about other authors and series.

1 comment:

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Val, our lists are so similar! I must admit to not having tried Mrs. Polifax, yet, but I will. I, also, love Stephanie Plum. I've laughed out loud reading those books. That said, I haven't mentioned them yet to my daughter, who undoubtedly will love them one day, but I can't have that on my head. ;-)

Lately, I've also enjoyed some good ole Agatha Christie. The woman set up characters with depth in a matter of a few pages. As a writer, I'm learning a lot.

Loved your post!