Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On What We're Reading

"She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain." (1873) ~ Louisa May Alcott ~

ROBERTA: Even though this topic may seem like the busman's holiday for Hallie, summer's coming and I'd like to hear what everyone's reading!

I just finished THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson and David Olive Relin. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this book. It was chosen as my book club's May read and the only only only reason I started it was so I wouldn't be considered a bad sport. No, no, not one more onerous tome about the miseries of the Middle East, I moaned, as I turned the first few pages. But I ended up enjoying it very much. Mortenson's astonishing work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is enough to give the most entrenched skeptic a glimmer of hope--no wonder it lurks near the top of the bestseller list. I found myself fascinated with this man's complete disregard for his own physical safety and comfort--so not my cup of tea!

And now I'm sailing through an old favorite's new book: Ellen Gilchrist's A DANGEROUS AGE. The characters are familiar from decades of her novels, though I've forgotten much of their history so I don't think it would be difficult to start with this book. A DANGEROUS AGE is set in America during the first years of the Iraq war, and Gilchrist's characters are all affected by it in one way or another. Really lovely writing and engaging characters. But sad...

And then I have a wonderful stack of options sitting beside my bed...will I choose Nevada Barr's WINTER STUDY, Julia Spencer-Fleming's I SHALL NOT WANT, Jennifer McMahon's ISLAND OF LOST GIRLS, or Roxana Robinson's SWEETWATER? An embarrassment of riches...

RO: Well - after finally delivering the manuscript for book two I'm ready to hunker down with some of the books I've been stockpiling all winter and spring. I started I Shall Not Want yesterday (thanks Ross!) and I was up at 3am reading it so that should tell you how much I'm enjoying it. Julia Spencer-Fleming just gets better and better.

My book group is reading Northanger Abbey and it's our last meeting before the summer break so I guess I have to buy/read it! After that, I'll be rereading Lucky You by Carl Hiassen for the wonderful Dianne Defonce's Beach Reads discussion (Borders Fairfield, June 25th, 7pm) that Hank and I will be participating in. And I'd love to finish Chris Grabenstein's middle grade mystery The Crossroads before his book party on June 3. I had to put it down, though - it was pretty scary! That covers June.

HANK: I have to start writing DRIVE TIME on June first--though a lot of it is in my head--so my tbr pile will not be budging that much, I fear. Love Julia S-F! And I can't wait for I SHALL NOT WANT. Downstairs, I'm reading Peter Abrahams END OF STORY. Upstairs, I'm reading Louise Penny's STILL LIFE. (Yes, I read the fantastically good A FATAL GRACE first, even though it's the second book. SO terrific.)

For the Borders beach reads, I'm taking that, and BODY IN THE GALLERY by Katherine Hall Page. (Come visit us there!) The astonishing Amy MacKinnon sent me an ARC of her soon-to-be-blockbuster TETHERED, so that's next.

Jonathan is reading CHILD 44, and is about to begin Peter Abrahams DELUSION. Then we're going to fight over who gets Harlan Coben's HOLD TIGHT.

JAN: Well, I just finished Josephine Tey's Daughter in Time, a classic, dubbed the best mystery ever by the New York Times and a favorite of my very first publisher. Let me start by saying I'm a history buff and I especially like the time period the mystery is set in: Old England, just prior to the reign of Henry VII. That said, I find it hard to believe this is the best mystery ever written. There is literally NO ACTION. It involves no special intelligence or detective work to unravel the mystery, and it all takes place in hospital room and the protagonist never leaves the bed. In fact, it's the sidekick, a young American (whose dialogue is completely British instead of American) that does all the investigating or should I say READING. The only thing I can figure is that it was really novel at the time to have a mystery set in such a dull circumstance. (Okay all your Josephine Tey fans, skewer me!)

Anyway, I'm reading screenplays these days, and recently finished The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was awesome, and I'm about to start Shakespeare In Love.

Roberta, I agree. Three Cups of Tea was an inspiring read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants new faith in human kind. And Hank, I think End of Story by Peter Abrahams is one of my favorite mysteries ever.


  1. Hi Roberta,

    This is a great topic. I just finished reading submissions for Level Best Books upcoming anthology "Deadfall." We have a lot of great stories and will be making decisions soon.

    Last night I started reading "Scone Cold Dead" by Kaitlyn Dunnett, an ARC given to me by her other self, Kathy Lynn Emmerson. I really enjoyed "Kilt Dead," the first in the series and look forward to spending more time in Moosetookalook, Maine.


  2. Anne Enright's Mann Booker prizewinner The Gathering.

    Ian Toll's Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy.

    James Hornfischer's Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors.

    Potato chip book: Lee Child's Bad Luck and Trouble.


  3. Well, I adore Daughter of Time. And I just finished End of Story...and can't wait to talk with you about it. The end--I could not believe it! Terrific. Knockout. So was the beginning. And the middle.

    But hey. Here's something odd. I'm also reading Stephenie Meyer's The Host. Just to see what all the fuss is about. And I happened to look at the cover of Walter Mosley's Blonde Faith. And listen you all--tell me those aren't EXACTLY the same cover! Exactly the same.

  4. Hey Hank,
    Yes, The end of END OF STORY knocked me out. I couldn't BELIEVE he was letting his protagonist behave in such a way. It was shocking. Peter broke all the rules and got a way with it. That's why I loved it so much. (And because he's a terrific writer, and not because there was just a touch of identification with the protagonist and her career desperation.)

    On Josephine Tey, I think maybe if I hadn't had such high expectations, I might have liked it more. But there's no getting around, the nature of the beast. It a static story, and I found myself wishing I was just reading the straight history.

    I know, I know. I'm the only person in the planet who had this reaction.


    Here's the link to THE HOST. Hope it works. Then go to Blonde Faith.

    And JAN, yup. Totally agree on all counts! Now reading Delusion.

  6. Susannah, would LOVE to hear what you think of The was a book group read a few months ago. Met Walter Moseley at VA Festival of Book..what a charmer. Quite enjoyed Blonde Faith.. and I have to say I'm not hating Northanger Abbey as much as I thought I would. You can almost feel Pride and Prejudice coming in this earlier book.

  7. Guess I should upload a gals look cute..

  8. Hank, thank you!

    I love to know what other people are reading. We're renting a cabin in a few weeks in the deep woods of Maine and I want to pack lots of books. Like Jonathan, I plan to read Child 44; The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien; Trish Ryan's He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not; Justin Evan's A Good and Happy Child; and Kate Mosse's Sepulchre.

  9. Oh Amy, how long are you going to be in the woods? You'll surely need more than five books:)

    Roberta, who ran out once in Spain and won't let that happen again!

  10. Just for kicks I went to Amazon and read about "Host" and viewed Stephanie's "Trailer" for it.

    Being a human is complicated enough, so I have some philosophical issues with a parasitic invasion. Personally, I could take that in a whole 'nother direction. Who's to say we haven't been invaded. Sounds paranoid - doesn't it :-)!

    Glad to hear that Jan is reading screenplays. I thought "real" writers only read books/manuscripts. I will say it takes a certain discipline, imagination and interest to do that. Some I've loved - "Jerry McGuire", "Chinatown", "I Am Sam" and "You've Got Mail". I used to get a now defunct magazine called "Scenario" that published 3 or 4 scripts each quarter.

    Hank - I emailed you a side by side of the two covers. Yeah, amazing similarity. I like the angle in "Host" better. Of course, that angle gives a little more substance to the story line, which is something I like about yours.

    Jan - Do you read published shooting scripts or originals? Originals seem to be hard to find. BTW - Love your new cover as well.


  11. Hi Mike,
    Right now I'm reading whatever I can get my hands on. Two are shooting scripts and one is an original. I'm trying to reaquaint myself with the form, after a long hiatus. Trying to write one about a real life murder in Boston in 1976. I'm off on my trip and probably won't be around to comment on anyone's comments for a week. I CAN'T BELIEVE no one has argued with me about Daughter of Time.

  12. Jan -

    Here are a few comments I would make about the medium - and some of the differences I've found compared to manuscripts. I'm sure you know all this, but just in case I say something useful -

    Personally, I like a 3 act sequence format. Yes, yes I know there are various opinions about that, but when you look at the medium - you've got between 90 and 120 min typically to tell the story you want to tell in a satisfying way. So somewhere around page 27 plot point (1), then page 60 -80 plot pt. (2) and then resolution. Obviously, there is lattitude around this, but what I discovered about experts in any field, they have isolated the basics and weave complexity around that.

    Basically you have scene - INT, EXT etc, description, action, dialogue.

    Unlike novel writing - the scene descriptions must snap. It's not about elequance, it about voila. Tight, highly visual and descritpive without burdening the reader - also known as the director. The whole point to me about scene discription is to communicate to the director your intention quickly and accurately so he can immediately begin to see his vision. Obviously, tone is significant, but descriptive adjectives are particularly significant as well. The characters never "think" in the action. The action is ONLY what the camera will see. The dialogue must carry ALL the character development.

    I knew a director who would set up 4 - 7 cameras for a scene, just so he had enough so that it could be properly assembled in edit. Then layered on that were the takes.

    Dialogue - must reveal the character, establishes the character arc through the piece. etc.

    The biggest difference - is the use of subtext in dialogue. Also, allow enough lattitude in the action description to let the actor and the director present all that is there. Their artistry is highly significant.

    Enjoy your trip!!!


  13. Okay, I was going to stay out of the Josephine Tey debate, but, well...couldn't. I'm not going to argue with you, Jan, because you're exactly right & I've never been able to figure out why I love the D of T book so much. BUT...if you even consider ever dipping another toe into Tey's world, can I recommend either (or both!) Brat Farrar or The Franchise Affair. The only way to describe those books as having tons of actions is to, well, compare them to D of T, but I love the characterization and the psychology. Okay, and the Britishness.

    I need to find a copy of Chris Grabenstein's kids' book. I knew it was coming, but not that it was out--loved his older mysteries.