Friday, December 19, 2014

Triple Header - two books and a TV show

Northanger Abbey
by Val McDermid
1 star - nope
ALR Blue

Let's get this one out of the way first. I stopped reading this book almost a week ago, but I've been loath to write a review as it pains me to give one star to an author whom I have heretofore enjoyed and who is also still living (and presumably running search engines for reviews, or at least her publisher is).

So even as I struggled to finish this book, I stuck with it as long as I could thinking that surely Ms. McDermid would pull things through. Alas, she did not.

Home schooled Cat Morland has spent her life in the sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset. At the age of 17, she is offered the opportunity to travel to Edinburgh, as the guest of neighborhood friends, to enjoy the annual Fringe Festival. I did like Cat at first. Her view of the world had been derived primarily from books and so she embarked on her journey with all sorts of romantic notions of what adventures might await. She meets some people around her age, gets wooed by a mysterious young man, also wooed by an obnoxious bore, bonds instantly with a couple of other young ladies. They drive around and talk to each other and, finally, around page 200, Cat arrives at the mysterious abode that is featured on the cover of the book. 

Too late, too late. 

I'm going to suggest that this book would be a delight for a young girl in her early teens, but for a middle-aged woman, well, as I said before, nope. What really pushed me over the edge was reading the text messages the characters sent to each other. While they were admittedly, few and far between, every time I saw something like "Jst got bk 2 house. C u @ bookfest in 10?" my literary brain experienced extreme agony. 

Don't know what happened in the end. Don't care.

The Epats
by Chris Pavone
4 stars - ah, that's better
ALR Blue

Phew! Good thing I had this one in my queue (thanks to a recommendation by a reader pal). 

Kate Moore, ex-CIA, just wants to live a normal life. She marries the most benign man she can find, has two children, and when her husband's job as a computer security expert requires a move to Luxembourg, it seems like the opportunity she's been looking for to leave all that spy stuff behind once and for all.

If only. While Kate goes out of her way not to investigate her husband, his comings and goings and secrecy are a bit disconcerting. Enter Julia and Bill. Nice, normal American ex-pats, or evil assassins? 

Kate can't ignore the signs that something is amiss and she sets out to discover the truth about her new friends, as well as her husband. Plenty of twists and turns and nail biting scenes. It's a stay up late to finish kind of book. 

Henning Mankell's Wallander
starring Krister Henriksson
based on the characters created by Henning Mankell
2005 -
5 stars - more!
ALR Green - the main character has a nice chocolate lab who appears in most episodes

Not to be confused with the English language Wallander series starring Kenneth Branagh. Ick. Don't watch that one.

You know, when I think of Scandinavia, I envision lots of healthy, glowing people enjoying the benefits of socialized medicine, long vacations, and generous maternity leave. Their houses gleam, the snow is clean, and everybody is smiling and talking in those beautiful languages.

Well, that's not quite the Sweden of this series. Kurt Wallander is police inspector in the town of Ystad, Sweden, and things are very much not clean and bright. Murder, kidnapping, child abuse, extortion, all the yucky stuff that unfortunately keeps police forces busy around the world.

Krister Henriksson in the title role, captures the lonely, aging, supremely effective detective created by Henning Mankell extremely well. In fact all of the roles are well cast and the characters are developed as the series unfolds. I enjoy TV series where there are story lines showing the day to day of the characters. So in addition to watching Wallander and his team solve mysteries, we also see Wallander struggling with his life choices, the chief prosecutor trying to manage her teen aged children, an officer trying to balance work and family, and, in season 2, a couple of rookies fumbling their way through their first year on the force.

The episodes are an hour and a half long which is a great format. It provides opportunity to really develop the stories. I found the Swedish (with English subtitles) a bit disconcerting at first, but now that I'm used to the cadence of it, I really like that this version is in Swedish (heck, isn't that what they speak in Sweden?).

Here we have one of those rare occurrences where the television series is just as good as the original books. The books and the series are different enough that you can enjoy them both. I'm watching the series on Netflix streaming. 

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