Inspector Singh Investigates #1

inspector singh.jpegShamani Flint’s first book in her Inspector Singh Investigates series examines a “Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder.”  The troublesome, overweight, snoring and shrewd Inspector Singh is sent from Singapore to look into the murder of tycoon, Alan Lee. His wife, a Singapore citizen and former model Chelsea Lee is behind bars for this homicide. Singh meets with her and his instinct tells him she didn’t do it.

Of course, the local police don’t take a cotton to an outsider snooping around, When Chelsea’s brother-in-law confesses to the murder, Chelsea and Singh are free to go, you might say, but Singh doesn’t buy this convenient confession and takes some vacation time to investigate.

Along with the murder, readers are treated to a vicarious trip to Kuala Lumpur. I have visited Malaysia a few times and I think Flint added the right spice to the murder mystery sauce here. I read it for a new book club that I’m co-facilitating and the club members enjoyed the story and it’s interplay of Malay, Chinese and to a lesser extent Indian culture. It was a pleasant, quick read that provided plenty to discuss.

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The Guest Book

Susan Blake took 10 years to write her novel The Guest Book.

Yikes!

Although the cover of my advanced copy claimed this as the “New Great American Novel” I found the structure of the novel confusing, the characters stereotypes and the plot contrived. I would have abandoned it except I was reading it for a new book club that I’m facilitating.

The story was about a rich WASP family (the term WASP is used in the book itself) that suffers some tragedy early on and then refuse to take in a Jewish boy from Germany during WWII. The patriarch of the three generations shown is in finance and his company invests in a company in Nazi Germany throughout the war.

The family owns an island and big summer home there. The idyllic summer home is an idol. The book shines light on the guilt and bigotry of the family. The chapters jump from era to era and managed to both bore and confuse me.

All the characters seemed similar. One granddaughter had epilepsy and that was the mark for her character. Most characters blended into each other.

I wish I didn’t have to read this whole book, but feel as a book club facilitator I should. The guest book in question isn’t mentioned till the last 85% of the book.

I hope the next book is better.

Leave it to Psmith

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I just finished another hilarious audio book narrated by Jonathon Cecil. Wodehouse’s Leave it to Psmith is a complicated frolic involving Freddie, a rich foolish young man, who tries to get his uncle out of a fix and to get a hefty sum so he can get enough money to buy into a booking scheme. If he only could become a bookie, he can marry his dream girl. All he needs is 1000 pounds. His uncle would help but his parsimonious aunt keeps a careful eye on all the family finances.

Eureka!

Freddie will get someone to steal his aunt’s insured necklace, hand it off to the uncle who’ll in turn submit a claim for the necklace, sell off the real one and give some money to Freddie, some to his needy niece and have some freedom for himself.

Who will take on this ridiculous endeavor?

Enter Psmith. A gentleman who’s fled a dull job for his uncle and has advertised to take on any work. Soon Psmith is posing as an erudite poet and entering the uncle’s country home to figure out how to get the necklace.

The story is great fun and wonderfully read by Cecil.

The Age of Innocence

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My friend Bill and I choose a novel to read and discuss online. This time it’s Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, which I find vexing. Published in 1921, Age of Innocence is a look back at New York society of the late 19th century’s wealthy class. It starts with the main character, Newland Archer a callow, complaining young man, who fancies himself superior to all around him. He takes no serious interest in his work or any endeavor. When Newland is about to announce his engagement to the pretty and docile May Welland, her exotic cousin Countess Ellen Olenska appears fleeing Europe and her aristocratic, boorish, brute of a husband. Soon Newland is captivated.

Most of the story is about Newland’s infatuation with the passionate Ellen, whom he’s willing to desert his young wife May for. Ellen goes back and forth between tempting and repelling Newland.

Much of the book consists of Newland’s thoughts on how awful New York society is. This slice of the upper crust is insulated and vapid and it’s easy for Newland, who doesn’t realize he’s no better, looks down on all around him. He’s cultivated no friendships. Unlike many of his era, he doesn’t strike out on his own creating new ventures or exploring new interests. For the most part he spends his time mentally criticizing May and plotting to find time to spend with Ellen, who under her surface of panache doesn’t seem to offer much substance that’s original or creative. She’s a flibbertigibbet in a Worth gown.

While Welty has a knack for wit and description, she aims at a view of a past society that excludes its finer points, such as charity and inventiveness. I wish she had taken a shot at her own era more directly and that she had included at least a couple characters I could admire. Because it featured so much sniping at tedious, stereotypical characters I found the book a chore to get through.

The Drained Brains Caper (Chicagoland Detective Agency #1)

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A disappointing graphic novel, The Drained Brains Caper (Chicagoland Detective Agency #1) is a tired story with stock characters and illustrations that aren’t anything special. The story revolves around 13 year-old Megan, a vegan who wanders into a pet store to buy a tarantula. The teen minding the shop informs her that while the pet sop sells pet food and supplies, it doesn’t sell pets.

The surly Megan gets in trouble at school and her father, a widower, puts her in a private school to straighten her out. The clichés abound. The kids in the school are Stepford children with no originality or backbone. Megan won’t conform and strives to find out what’s going on in this odd school.

The stereotypes are heavy-handed and tiresome. The artwork looks like a lot of graphic novels and thus out of place in a story championing creativity. At least it was a fast read. It’s odd that the premise is that adults are draining kids brains, when most teachers wish to spark thinking. The concept of adults plotting to bore kids is commonplace and tired.

Päntsdrunk (Kalsariänni)

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In the new books section at the library, a little book called Päntsdrunk (Kalsariänni) by Miska Rantanen beckoned. The illustrated book reminded me of The Little Book of Hygge so I took it home. Päntsdrunk is a Finnish word to describe the sloth and aimlessness of activities like hanging around the house after work drinking alcohol in your underwear. As that’s not exactly my thing even when I’m stressed, I didn’t love the book. However, it’s written with dry wit and is a quick read so I didn’t hate it either. It’s a gentle poke at Denmark’s hygge culture. It won’t make you laugh out loud and didn’t make me want to book a trip to Helsinki, but it’s cute.

Another Kingdom

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I don’t usually read adventure or fantasy novels, but I enjoyed Andrew Klavan’s The Good Great Thing, so I thought since he made his name writing adventurous thrillers, I’d give his latest book a chance. In Another Kingdom, twenty-something Austin Lively’s screenwriting career is tanking. His parents are highly successful as is his older brother and Austin dreads spending time with them. He’s close with his sister Riley, a fragile, imaginative girl who’s big into conspiracy theories and needs a Catcher in the Rye.

Austin doesn’t have the time to moan about dinner with his successful family members because out of the blue Austin mysteriously finds himself in some fantastic medieval-type world. It’s all the more puzzling because in this land, called Galiana, Austin is on trial for murder. Totally disoriented, Austin has no idea what to do to escape prison so he can avoid torture followed most assuredly by a slow, excruciating death. Boom, he’s back in Tinseltown at the local hipster coffeeshop or the studio. All’s not safe in L.A. though because soon some goons employed by a maniacal billionaire who’s after the novel Another Kingdom, that Austin’s studio wanted him to cover before his boss mysteriously recalled the assignment. Nothing makes sense. Everything’s over the top. Danger’s everywhere and Austin’s life is a series of volley’s from Galiana to L.A.

Klavan’s style is sly and witty, full of wisecracks. The plot is brisk, full of twists and turns to keep you guessing. All in all, it’s a fun summer read. I haven’t been sold on thrillers or fantasy, but Another Kingdom entertains.