Saturday, March 17, 2012

Catching up - marching into spring

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Song of Solomon

I've been traveling on business--last week took me to the following:
* Boston (high point was visiting the bar that inspired Cheers for a quick look and a quick chat with colleagues and low point was the Barking Crab--I really hated eating dinner on paper plates with plastic ware), with stops in Lexington (I didn't have time to swing by Concord and check out Orchard House as I had hoped), Framingham, and Norwood.
* Long Island (high point was watching my colleagues go off to see the Islanders play hockey while I got room service and prepared for the next day, low point was paying $12.95/day for wireless at a Marriott--it should be FREE!!!)
* Manhattan (high point was walking through Times Square to Rockefeller Center for dinner with a colleague who had not been to NYC before, low point was the mediocre dinner which was more for 2 than I paid for 7 for lunch the next day at a local Italian place in mid-town).
* Parsippany, NJ (high point was meeting in person someone I've worked with for years over the phone and internet, low point was lunch at a very, shiny chrome diner where I ordered a rueben and got a collosal open-faced monstrosity).
* Newark airport via Staten Island because when we tried to make a quick stop to check out the progress on One World Trade Center (it seems to be going up fast!) the cop directed me into a tunnel that spit me out in Brooklyn (high point was going across the Verrazano bridge, which I hadn't done before, low point was the little bird impaled on the barbed wire fence surrounding the Fed Ex center where we spent way too much time dropping off cases for overnight shipment to Florida).
* Tampa and points south: high point was the gorgeous weather--it had been nice in Boston and New York but it was absolutely perfect in Tampa (green, warm, not too humid, clear, lovely, ahhhh); low point was the Fed Ex shipment not arriving for a Friday morning meeting after all the hassle of shipping it from Newark the afternoon before...grrr).

And I finished two books! Even though I'm in the middle of Little Dorrit, I knew that this was not a good book to take on a hectic business trip, so I decided to catch up with Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne in Julia Spencer-Fleming's latest One Was a Soldier and then finally read Shopgirl, by Steve Martin, which has been sitting on my TBR shelf for awhile now.

I liked One Was a Soldier well enough while I was reading it, but then after I finished I realized that I was actually a bit disappointed with it. The mystery itself was satisfyingly interesting and I didn't figure out who-really-dunit-and-how, which is good, and I did smile at the end, which wrapped up the Clare/Russ story in a great way and then opened the door for another sequel. My issue is that Clare and Russ were never in danger in the way they were in the earlier books. Maybe the author decided to finally give them a break but the bad guy never really threatened them more than to just play pretty juvenile mind games with them, which doesn't get the heart racing the way it should.

In a previous review of this series, I confessed to being more interested in the Clare/Russ relationship than in the actual mystery, but now that I've read a book in which their relationship is front and center, I find I'm missing the excitement of the previous books. Just fickle, I guess. I ended up giving it 3 stars on Goodreads, but that doesn't mean I'll not be eager to read the next in the series, if and when it comes out.

Shopgirl was a different animal altogether. Overall, I found it somewhat oppressive, and just this morning realized that what I didn't like about it was the lack of dialogue. Steve Martin is a good writer--he is insightful, articulate, incisive, but not that great a storyteller, at least in this book, I haven't read any of his others.

His narrator is beyond omniscient. He delves so deeply into his characters' pysches that I feel like I cannot breathe, I'm in so deep. And yet, I don't really know them. Their voices aren't distinct or memorable or touching. They are more like mannequins or puppets play-acting a story rather than real people living it. This is ironic because the story is written in present tense, which should give the story an immediacy (ala Wolf Hall) but doesn't.

The whole time I read it, I felt like I was thinking in slow motion, which is a weird, oppressive feeling. Nevertheless, it's an interesting coming-of-age story. Not sure if I will watch the movie. It got wildly mixed reviews on IMDB, with reviewers either giving it >5 stars or just 1 star. You love it or you hate it, it sounds like.

In the interest of really catching up, just before my trip I read Flashback, by Nevada Barr, which is in her Anna Pigeon, park ranger, mystery series. I loved this book for a number of reasons. First, there's the setting. I really had never been aware of Dry Tortugas National Park, so I ended up Googling images of it whilst reading the book, and it's now on my top 10 list of place I really want to visit.

Set on a set of desert islands off Key West in Florida, the book provides two stories simultaneously. One is the mystery that modern-day Anna must solve as acting park supervisor, and the other is told via letters from an ancestor of Anna's, who was the wife of a Civil War officer in charge of the Union prison camp on the main island. The author did a great job of creating suspense and interest for two independent mysteries, and considering one was a historical fiction, I was pretty darned impressed with how well she managed this. I think this might be my favorite book so far in this wonderful mystery series.

Now, back to Little Dorrit...must speed-read it because we are leaving on vacation on Thursday, and again, it's not a good travel book. Who knows what I'll be reporting on when I get back from that trip...reading and otherwise!


  1. Sounds like a whirlwind trip with mostly good times - and some bad food experiences. :) And I totally agree that it's time that wireless internet be free for hotel guests now! I'm getting sick of paying for it. Good luck with Little Dorrit!

  2. Wow - that was quite a trip! I've read both Shopgirl and Flashback. I had mixed feelings about Shopgirl - I did like it better than the movie, though so be forewarned. For some reason I just couldn't get wrapped up in Flashback which was the first Nevada Barr book I've read. My parents rave about them, though, and have passed along several so I'll definitely be giving her anther read.

  3. I love the way you broke down the highlights and low points of your business travel.

    I'll never forget the time I had lunch in mid-town Manhattan and ended up paying $4.95 for a cup of hot water and a Lipton tea bag.....crazy

  4. Re 'Shopgirl' -- "He delves so deeply into his characters' psyches that I feel like I cannot breathe, I'm in so deep. And yet, I don't really know them." You've put your finger on it. The movie is the same, heartbreaking and yet chilling? Claire Danes brings so much to her character--one can hardly go wrong watching it for that reason. Both men behave so badly and yet rather inexplicably. It's an interesting choice for Martin to leave his protagonist in the dark at the end of her story--maybe intending to move it closer to life. Still the film felt a bit like Woody Allen's "Interiors," trying very hard to be significant, something Allen managed with infinite lightness later.

    Thanks for sharing your trip impressions and your take-along reading!