July Reading Round Up
This month the reading has been heavy on the detective fiction. I am doing some interesting food reading, but that will most likely end up either as individual reviews or as parts of food philosophy type posts. I’m also doing a fair bit of food and theology reading as part of the sermons series I’m working on. That reading though is more of the using chapters and sections of books in my research as opposed to reading any book from start to finish.
My first book for this month was a return to an old favourite of mine among detective writers, J. A. Jance. Betrayal of Trust is one of the novels in the J. P. Beaumont series, set in Seattle. The Beaumont novels were ones I got into fairly early in my life of reading detective fiction. Along with reading several of the Beaumont stories I’ve also read a couple of the Joanne Brady novels as well.
This story deals with topics such as bullying, internet sex crimes, power, and privilege. Beyond those topics the book is about belonging, and about how the above factors make it either easier or harder to belong, and to form lasting bonds. While solving the crime, with the help of his wife/police partner, Mel Soames, Beaumont discovers some surprising things about himself and his past.
The pacing and plotting of the novel is fast and tight. On the whole, there are not a lot of likeable characters outside of Beaumont, Soames, and their usual police associates. Even some of the law enforcement people aren’t entirely likeable. Still, despite the dark story line, and the unpleasant characters, there are still some characters that draw your sympathy.
The only thing I would really like to see more of, is Ralph Ames, Beaumont’s friend, lawyer, and generally all round good guy. Also, the end of the novel is worth hanging around for if you’ve read several in the series.
I often visit the Strong Badger, a coffee shop in my neighbourhood. It’s not really a coffee shop/bookstore, but Brock, the owner, does have a supply of books for sale, or to be read while you enjoy your beverage. One day while flipping through the books, I noticed this book Priest, by Ken Bruen. I’d never read anything by Bruen, but the title grabbed my attention, although why I can’t imagine.
Priest is one of the middle novels in the Jack Taylor series. Taylor is an ex-Garda (Irish Police) who has gone on to work as a private detective. An alcoholic with a great deal of pain in his past, Taylor struggles with his day to day existence. His alcoholism has led to tragic results and destroyed several relationships. He is generally speaking an unlikable character, but quite compelling at the same time.
Set in Galway, Ireland, and its surrounding areas, the story opens with Taylor in a Psychiatric hospital, in a bleak state of mind. The second chapter introduces the crime, the beheading of a priest.
From their the story continues as a study of loss. The loss of innocence of children at the hands of predatory priests. Loss brought on by Taylor’s inattentiveness. The loss of the churches position in Irish society. All of this is set against the background of the “New Ireland,” which while bringing gains for many, is bringing loss to many of the characters that Taylor associates with.
The mood of this book is bleak and unrelenting. The characters are every bit as grey as the Galway sky. The subject matter is heavy, and while the crime is solved, there is no real resolution, and certainly no redemption. As well written as the book is, it still took several days to read. One needs to take breaks from time to time. Nonetheless, I will be looking for more Jack Taylor books to read.
This is another book I picked up at Strong Badger. Unlike Priest, I read Blind Spot over a couple of visits while enjoying coffee, and waiting my turn for the open mic. I’ve never read any of the Jesse Stone novels, but I’ve watched one of the films with feature Tom Selleck (how he manages to be police chief in a small Massachusetts town, and New York City, is beyond me).
The story begins with the assassination of a young girl in Stone’s hometown, while Stone is at New York for a reunion with his old Minor League baseball team. The two events seem unconnected at first, but as the plot unwinds there are many relationships that need to be untangled. Among them a woman who is hiding a secret that intrigues Stone, almost as much as her sexual attraction does.
Blind Spot is a beach reading kind of story. The characters are fairly and simply drawn. While Stone shares Jack Taylor’s alcoholism, it comes across more as a quirk than anything. There is no really reflection in the character. Reed Farrel Coleman, who is the latest in the line of writers to help the publishers make money off of Parker’s legacy does a workman like job with the story. I think though, I’ll go back and read some of Parker’s original novels before I read anymore of these continuation stories.
Fed Up – Jessica Conant-Park, Susan Conant
Fed Up is the fourth book in the Gourmet Girls series of cozy mysteries. By now Chloe Carter and her cohorts are becoming familiar and predictable in their ways. Predictability in this case is a good thing, in that I know what to expect from the characters.
The plot of Fed Up, is built around Chloe’s chef boyfriend, Josh, being a contestant in a local cooking show. The show involves finding random people and going shopping with them, and then returning to their house to cook a surprise meal(there was actually more than one such show). While at the house, the wife dies from food poisoning, and Chloe must solve the mystery, exonerate Jsoh, all the while planning her friend Ade’s wedding.
Fed Up has a more madcap feel to it then the first three novels, and I don’t think it benefits from this. While the familiarity of the characters is good I find the plot and detection of the killer to really stretch the bounds of credulity. There is though an interesting twist toward the end of the book. Despite some doubts about the direction of the novels, I’ve started Cook the Books, the final novel in the series, so I will finish it off in August.
John McQuaid’s Tasty is the only book with food as it’s primary focus that I managed to read this month. Tasty surveys the history of taste from the dawn of time continuing on to the ;point of speculation on what the future of taste might be.
I would describe this book as sceintsy. That is, we get a lot of the surface arguments about the science of taste, but no aspect is dealt with in any depth. On the whole I think McQuaid does a good job explaining taste. This is a good book for piquing your curiosity about why we eat what we eat, and more importantly why we like what we like and why others don’t like the same things.
My only disappointment with the book is that it doesn’t make any connections or raise questions about the seeming difference around taste goals. For example, McQuaid talks about how testing has shown that whnen people are given more varieties of a given product to sample they are less likely to by any, than when they are given fewer varieties to sample. So, what does it mean when chefs and scientists are constantly pushing to find more flavour combinations? Are we actually making it impossible for us to make any choice? This is just one question that came to my mind while reading Tasty.
However, the fact that the book raises so many questions is one good reason to add this book to your library,