What I've Been Reading and Watching

Saturday, December 28, 2019
I’ve already written a couple of end-of-year blog posts and it’s too early to write a looking-forward post, so today I’m just going to do a little ruminating on things I’ve read and watched lately. We’ve had some cold, rainy days in Tucson, which has led me to want to snuggle in my recliner with a book, my Kindle, or a movie. I see why the move to Arizona was a good one, since I’d probably accomplish nothing all winter if I still lived in the northeast.

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction as background and research for my historical mystery series. I rarely read non-fiction from cover to cover, instead sampling a bit here and a bit there, flipping pages to find what I need to know to write a scene. That makes it hard to write any kind of review about these books, since all the information gets muddled together.

Here is some of the fiction I’ve read this month:

The Case of the Dangerous Dowager
(Perry Mason #10)
by Erle Stanley Gardner - 5 stars

At least, Goodreads tells me I rated this one five stars. I honestly had to read the blurb to remember what this book was about. My brain is too full of my own books right now to remember what other writers have written, but I still enjoy a Perry Mason mystery, and I do remember being eager to get back to reading this one.

Sins of the Fathers - Matthew Scudder #1
by Lawrence Block - 3 stars

I have to say the skill of the author kept me reading this novel. In fact, on a recent Sunday afternoon, I had to read to the end to find out what the conclusion of this mystery was.

It was tough, because at one point, the hero commits what was, to me, a senseless act of violence. This is a dark character who deals with many other dark characters in the course of his unofficial private investigations.

I read mysteries to see justice done. I enjoy the puzzles and the exploration of the various characters’ psyches, but sometimes there are psyches I’d just as soon not get to know. That includes most of the characters in this book, and is why I could only give it three stars.

First there is Scudder himself. In addition to his need for violence to purge his own emotions, he drinks a lot, and is a failure at his marriage and his relationship with his sons. Then there is the father of a young woman who comes to him after his daughter, who disappeared, is found brutally murdered. Her male roommate confesses to the crime, then commits suicide in prison, supposedly from remorse at what he’d done.

I found reading this book somewhat like watching the coverage of a disaster on one of the twenty-four hour news channels. You’re horrified by the events as they unfold, but you can’t tear yourself away. For this reason, I might read another of the books in this series. But not soon. I have to read a few books with happy endings before I come back to Matthew Scudder.

In the TV and movie category, I pulled out some old favorites to watch after I got tired of watching Hallmark Christmas movies. They really do all have the same plot.

I’ve watched the first two Harry Potter movies and probably will screen the rest by the time we get to 2020. I devoured the books when they were originally released, and the movies are faithful to those. Plus, I can watch movies when my eyes are too tired to read after a day at the computer.

I also watched Die Hard, which I’d seen before, but wanted to see again since so many people put it on their list of Christmas movies. I’ve never thought of it as a Christmas movie. It is a well-done action flick and a good demonstration of keeping the plot moving if you can get past all the swearing in it. USA (I think it was USA network) bleeped all the f-bombs, but there’s still enough swearing to make the air turn blue.

I watched the first season of The Last Ship, which I own on DVD. (I own all but the last season of this series, because I think it went one year beyond its prime.) I loved this series when it was on. The premise is most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a virus while a Navy vessel has been on a secret mission to the Arctic. While the Naval personnel think it’s a mission to test weapons, the real mission is to retrieve the primordial strain of the virus and develop a vaccine to prevent it.

It’s old-style, in that the Russians are the bad guys (at least in Season 1), and there’s lots of heroism and patriotism in it. The characters have more depth than the usual TV series and they tend to end every episode on somewhat of a cliffhanger, so you want to immediately binge-watch the next one.

Of course, I also watched White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ll probably watch Entrapment on New Year’s Eve because it’s about the millennium bug and stars Sean Connery, so what’s not to like?

What are your favorite seasonal movies, the ones you can’t miss during the holiday season?

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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