The advantage of vacation early in the year: one gets well ahead on one’s reading.
The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien
The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien
Touchstone, Laurie R. King
Darker than Midnight, Maggie Shayne
Ritual, William Heffernan
Pandora’s Daughter, Iris Johansen
No One Heard Her Scream, Jordan Dane
As always, I began the New Year (and celebrated my birthday!) by re-reading Lord of the Rings. Every year I find something new in it; this year I spent a lot of time on the poetry, as a way of understanding the world’s disenchantment and re-enchantment. (Why yes, I do have a friend writing his dissertation on that topic. Why do you ask?)
I finished a bit quicker than usual, because I was on vacation and spent most afternoons on the beach with a book. Hard to complain, right? But I realized I would have to conserve the remaining books I’d brought with me if I wanted to make it to the end of vacation without going a bit stir-crazy. Fortunately the hotel had some English books I could borrow, but they were all fairly ridiculous thrillers. The Heffernan had the advantage of being partly set at Chichen Itza, where we’d just visited the day before, and partly set at the American Museum of Natural History where the boy volunteers - but really I wouldn’t read any of them again except under duress. Especially the Johansen. I’ve read a few of her stand-alone books and they’re pretty universally terrible, not to mention embarrassingly formulaic. Somehow in the back of my head I think they’ll be up to the level of her Eve Duncan series (which is, let me tell you, not a particularly high bar to set) but they never are.
The one bright spot - and I knew it would be one - was Touchstone. I love King’s work in general and yes, I do have a massive crush on her portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. This stand-alone thriller, though, focuses on labor-union skulduggery in 1920s Britain. King does a wonderful job evoking the feel of the period, and she’s equally convincing when writing about striking miners and about aristocratic country week-ends. She manages to avoid the worst cliches of both genre and period while doing it, too! It’s really easy to fall into faux-Christie, say, but she keeps her own voice. Not that the novel was perfect: the Big Twist was something I’d figured out in the first chapter, and it’s likely that most careful readers could do the same. Still, overall I’d recommend the book to anyone who likes a good thriller, even if you aren’t already a fan of King’s.
The second half of my reading to date gets its own post, but that may have to wait until after Shabbat. Shabbat shalom, everyone! Happy 2009!