Monday, December 19, 2011

Riding in Cars

I love to drive, especially if I’m on a summer trip heading to some beautiful place in the Northwest.  Though I go with a group, I'm generally driving alone when I do these long trips so I like to set myself up in my own little comfy world.  I'll have a cooler for some water and sandwiches, tasty snacks and plenty of good music on my IPod.  Of course, once I discovered the joy of listening to audio books while driving, I quickly became addicted. 
There were, however, a few lessons learned along the way.

The first lesson came while I was driving home from Montana on a particularly fast curvy section of I-90, just before the Columbia River.  Near the end of the book I was listening to, the mother dies.  Most friends know that I cry easily at movies, so it should come as no surprise that tears were streaming down my face.  This made it somewhat difficult to see the road.  Not a good thing but I survived.  

At a rest stop, I put in the next book.  I was already eight and a half hours into the ten hour trip home and I was a bit tired.  How was I to know that shortly into the book, a couple would be having an intimate encounter for a chapter and a half?  Apparently I must have gotten a little into it because the next thing I knew I was doing 90 mph over a mountain pass.  Again, not a good thing.  At least I noticed before anyone else did.  Can you imagine trying to explain to a trooper that my excessive speed was the fault of my audio book’s intense sex scene?  Oh my!

My last lesson came one December when I listened to The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.   Dark is how I would describe that book.  Even the ending is strange and sinister.  I had enjoyed and even liked his other book, The Shadow of the Wind.  It was also somewhat dark but at least it ended with a bit of hope.  Winter here is dark enough.  Listening to this coming into the holidays was just way too bleak and gloomy for me. 

I was a little slow but I finally learned that I’m very affected by what I listen to when I drive.  I know not to choose books that are really dark, where the mother dies and where there are detailed sex scenes.  Or, if listening to the latter type, at least I know to watch my speed and close my windows if I'm stopped at a streetlight....

One "perfect for the car" book I’ve listened to is The Splendor of Silence by Indu Sundaresan.  The setting is early 1940’s India and, though the story is a bit of a stretch at times, it caught my imagination.  It is true that I have rightly been accused of being a hopeless romantic, but I couldn't help myself with this book.  It has intrigue, romance, adventure, social unrest and beautiful scenery.  The wintry Northwest sky outside my car may have been a mix of grayish blue and green, but all I saw were the rich gold and red tones of India.  One minute, I was flying across the desert on a horse; another I was trudging through a deep jungle.  I could smell the heady spices of the country and the food and I fell in love.  It was a magical world that enchanted me.  Interestingly, I did eat a fair amount of Indian food during that time too…

I feel like it's time to be enchanted again.  After all, December is the month for magic.  And perhaps, a little vegetable korma on my way home from the library wouldn’t be a bad idea either…


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Voulez Vous?

I do love to travel internationally, though these days, I generally do so mostly through books.  Paris is definitely a favorite.  I had a most memorable trip at age 16, when a good friend and I spent a month there on our own.  Between her language skills (mine were limited) and my sense of direction (she had none) we managed to make our way around Paris and had the time of our young lives.  Many evenings, we’d pick up a bottle of good inexpensive wine and somehow always managed to find a couple of cute guys to share it with us.  I must say we certainly did have a grand time “learning” French….

Chatting with that friend recently, I was reminded just how much fun we did have back then.  When I read a story set in Paris, I think of her and I can still hear her exasperated voice telling me in that dismissive tone just how French something was, whether it was a situation, place or person.  Given that she is half French and her ex is French, I figure that’s allowed since I know how much she really does love it.  She’s taught me well and because of her, I can generally tell if a book about Paris rings true.  One of my favorite French crime series by Fred Vargas does just that. 

A recent trip north up to Vancouver and the phone call with my old friend put me in an international state of mind.  I made a meal of pâté, some cheese and a baguette, added a nice glass of wine and then cracked open the latest crime novel about Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, An Uncertain Place.  

Now, if you’re looking for a traditional crime novel or the standard police procedural fare, a la CSI, well, this isn’t it.  Adamsberg is a most unusual detective, and while I’m sure his department’s style is not typical of the real Parisian police, many things about him and his team are so very French, as Monica would say.  He’s kind of spacey and distracted and he frequently goes off on odd intuitive tangents.  His disheveled and sleepy appearance is such that many around him forget he’s there.  This works to his advantage, because of course, he misses very little.  Though there are often many forces against him, he and his team of misfits manage to solve the most unusual crimes and they generally do so in a very unusual way.  Quirky is a good word to describe these novels. 

His eccentric band of officers includes Danglard, his right hand man who has a fondness for good wine but still manages to have an extraordinary encyclopedic knowledge.  Another is Betancourt, an Amazon of a woman who, while dismissed by some, has earned the respect of her boss with her extraordinary strength of mind and body.  There’s even a cat named Snowball who lives within their headquarters.  Don’t think he’s just there for a little ambiance; this cat’s paid his dues as well. 
Adamsberg is a creation of French writer Fred Vargas, the pseudonym of the French Medieval historian Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau.  She uses much of that knowledge throughout to add a little more depth to our stories. The first in the series is The Chalk Circle Man, though not the first translated to English, it is now available.  My current book, An Uncertain Place, is the sixth of the series but there is another out for those who read French.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait for the translated version.    

In spite of my 5 years of French, about all I can remember are some words from a popular song, how to ask for the good wine, a few courtesy words and of course, how to find the bathroom.  That gets me through most situations and for any others, I can point! 

I’m off to discover how my French detective gets himself out of his latest jam.  As I sit back in my comfy chair, I'm thinking that perhaps another glass of that nice pinot noir would help me and Adamsberg along…Voulez Vous? 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time for a Dimestore Novel

There are times when we’re simply in the mood for easy.  Too much going on the week before, lots of stuff to get done and by last night, that was me.  I was tired and it was a challenge to even pick out the next book to read.   

I have so many books that occasionally my house resembles a messy library.  Books are everywhere and in almost every room, including bathrooms; and they seem to speak to me.  Have you ever seen that holiday commercial where the ornaments and party items speak to the customers?  That’s what my books were doing.  Each one saying “Me, me, pick me!”  

Yes, it is true that I have a very active imagination and there are some who’ve commented that I’ve probably lived alone way too long…

But when they all start to scream for attention, it can get a little loud.  In the running there was next month’s book club selection, a few non-fiction choices, some how-to's and one international detective novel that I’ll probably start this weekend.  

What did I actually pick?  Well, that would be what I call my commercial break book.  You know the kind I mean, those fun books which don’t require much brain use; definitely not the books you talk about at book club or even share with those outside of your immediate reading circle.  These are the guilty pleasures we love to delve into.  I crawled into bed with my choice, turned off my brain and relaxed into it with my very comfy cat snuggling close.  Bliss!

We all have our versions of what we read at those times.  Personally I love mysteries; whether it’s the old fashioned who-done-it or the paranormal kind.  Given the size of the mystery and paranormal sections at the book store, apparently I’m not alone.   

I include in this genre books like John Sanford’s Prey series or the various crime novels by either Ed McBain or Elmore Leonard.  More dated, but just as fun, is John MacDonald’s Travis McGee books.  On the paranormal side, there are the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris.  True Blood is based on that series but the books are a little less edgy and a bit more fun.  Carrie Vaughn is another author I like.  She writes about Kitty, a late night Denver DJ who just happens to be a werewolf; trouble just seems to find her where ever she goes. 

Carol O’Connell writes a mystery series about Kathy Mallory,  She's a young, smart and beautiful detective, who is also seriously emotionally scarred and somewhat of a sociopath.  Can one be only somewhat of a sociopath?  The series starts with Mallory’s Oracle and currently continues through nine books, ending with Find Me.  Along the way we learn how Mallory came to be and watch as she grows a soul.  Like other books of this type, she has her helpers; one very bright (and wealthy) Cyrano type, who is in love with her, and a couple of policemen who have watched over her since she was a child on the streets of NY.  Murder, mayhem, mystery, they have it all.  Too bad I’ve already read them all. 

So, what dime store novel did I choose last night?  Well, I went with Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn, chosen by my cat Angel.  He liked the title.  Hmm, I wonder if I should be concerned about that since I'll be going out of town soon...