20 Books of Summer challenge update
I’ve taken on Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge and have a little bit to report. I finished two books and DNF’d a third.
Mrs. Pargeter’s Pound of Flesh by Simon Brett. The fourth installment of the series went quickly and enjoyably. It’s slight, but the skewering of weight-loss and self-help gurus was a lot of fun. You don’t want to start here, but if you’re been reading the previous books then you’ll appreciate the appearance of Stan the Stapler, Ankle-Deep Arkwright, and other devoted associates of the late Mr. Pargeter. I saw the plot twists and the whodunit coming a mile away, but that’s not why I read these. I read them for Brett’s dry humor and the comfort of spending time with a well-executed cozy mystery.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith. This wasn’t on my original list but should have been, since I’ve had it cued up in the TBR for months, just waiting for a road trip. I switched to the ebook version to finish because we still had 4 hours of audio to go when we got to California and I wanted to find out whodunit. I’m a little worried that the Strike books are getting longer with each installment in the same way the Harry Potter books did. Nonetheless, it was another satisfying entry in the series. Strike doesn’t change much, and I’m still side-eyeing the possible Strike-Robin romance, but the mystery was twisty and interesting and Robin’s character continues to expand and develop. My discomfort with the Big Reveal of Robin’s past remains, as well as her essentially reactive role, and I’m so very tired of serial killers who prey on women. But Rowling is a terrific storyteller and while I’d more or less guessed the villain’s identity, the twist took me by surprise. Bring on the next installment.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I threw in the towel and called this a DNF around Chapter 34. That isn’t that far into the book, but I felt as if I’d been listening to it forever and I just didn’t want to spend any more time with these people. I really wanted to like this novel because I’d read a couple of interviews with the author and her approach to reimagining Pride and Prejudice seemed like one that would appeal to me. I liked the choice of contemporary Cincinnati a lot (neighborhoods of small cities can be very much like villages), and the updated careers mostly worked too. Bingley and Darcy as doctors was good, and Caroline Bingley as a manager of reality TV stars was clever. Unlike some reviewers I thought the Crossfit obsession was well chosen. But the personalities of the characters seemed off and not in a good way. Mrs. Bennet was so much more obviously horrible, and neither Jane nor Lizzy felt nearly as honorable or decent as they needed to be if they were going to be faithful to Austen’s originals (Lydia and Kitty felt appropriately crass). Liz, in particular, didn’t feel like the fulcrum of the family or the story; she came across as weak rather than constrained by circumstance. She was certainly quick to judge, but she was exhibiting so much bad judgment in her unforced choices that I wasn’t sure why I should believe her in other situations. And Darcy was just another guy, albeit a wealthy and handsome one: nothing special there. The Bennets in Eligible came across as privileged, mostly weak people who’d made bad choices, not ones who had landed in a difficult spot from a combination of choice and circumstance, so I didn’t really care what happened to them and they weren’t interesting enough to hold my attention in spite of that. Maybe the book gets a lot better as it goes on (always the hazard of a DNF), and maybe it would have worked better for me as an original novel. Or maybe it’s just an interesting failure.
I’m in the middle of reading Triad Blood by Nathan Burgoine, which I’m enjoying quite a bit, and I’ve got a combination of print and ebooks for my upcoming vacation. I’ll check in again in a couple of weeks and hopefully I’ll be on schedule.
I doubt Eligible would have improved for you if you were fed up by chapter 34! It continues on much as it’s been going, I think.
I was surprised how engrossing I found Career of Evil, because I too am weary of serial killers (or I think I am. Maybe they’re just real easy to do wrong, for my definition of wrong.) Not side-eyeing the possible romance though 😉
I really did want to persevere but I wasn’t enjoying her voice enough. And I really hated the Jasper storyline.
If JKR sets up the Strike-Robin romance with a lot more than we’ve had so far then I might be on board. But it would be so nice to have a friendship that stays a friendship.
Yes you know how I feel about “Eligible” – DNF few chapters earlier than you did ( 32) and very pleased “Triad blood” is working for you. Really liked it.
Once you laid out your problems with the characters I saw what you meant and I couldn’t unsee them.
I was waffling about Eligible, because I have a semi-professional interest in adaptations of classics, but your comments are the lasts straw and I took it off my “later” list at the library.
I really had fun with the first Mrs. Pargeter book, though. I have been binge-listening to the first book in a number of now “classic” mystery series (Marcia Muller, Robert B. Parker, Laura Lippman) and enjoying them, especially thinking about how books carefully of their time can quickly come to seem like historical artefacts (OMG, the 70s clothes in the first Spenser book! The politics! The slang! The drunk driving). I missed all these when they were new and they’re keeping me entertained while my husband is away and driving up my summer reading numbers, too.
I did think that the ways Eligible didn’t work for me were interesting to think about. It’s always been a comedy of manners rather than a romance for me, so I didn’t really care about the Liz-Darcy storyline. But you realize what a light touch Austen had, how her characters and overall story remained warm even when she was skewering someone. That was missing and it made a huge difference. And there wasn’t something in its place that drew me in. I’m curious to read Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey now, though, to see how she managed the challenge.