To Kindle Or Not To Kindle

So this post isn’t really about mystery books per se, but about how I read them.  I am a book-aphile.  Is that a word?  Well, you get the idea.  I love books.  I love their smell, their feel, their look, their covers, their font, the feel of their paper.   The list goes on.  I visit bookstores when I travel and when I’m at home.  But, I also love my kindle.

61zt-C5umRL._AA160_When my husband recently published his first novel, Waking The Rider, he did so only in e-format.  So anyone wanting to read his book would have to download it from Amazon and either read on her kindle, or use the kindle app to read on a tablet or laptop.  More on Waking The Rider in a bit — it’s an awesome sci-fi with a bit of mystery that plays out over a trilogy of books (with the second, The Light of Gylffa and the third, The Keeper coming on-line soon)!  So, go on-line and download it.  :)  (It is only $4.99, not the exorbitantly high $12 or $15 of many e-books).

Anyway, a number of folks we know did not have a kindle and did not know how to download his e-book.  I was pretty shocked.

I am not always a first adopter.  In fact, I reluctantly began using my kindle only a few years ago when I was traveling more often.  I felt like a traitor to my beloved books.  I soon realized, however, that the kindle allows me to “carry” hundreds of books with me on a plane, train, tram, bus, etc. in a tiny and lightweight reader, with a backlight so I can read with the lights off as well.

Now with this blog, I have so many books on my “to read” list that I carry my kindle with me most times, picking it up when I have a few minutes to spare before a school pick-up or in a waiting room.  Though my biceps would probably benefit from me carrying an actual, heavy book, my brain does not.  Some days I feel like reading just one book, other days I might want to switch books after a few minutes.  The kindle allows that flexibility.  (I’m not really trying to be a kindle-pusher, it’s just the e-reader that I have.  I do note, though, that I’m not a huge fan of tablets trying to double as e-readers, like the iPad.  They are heavy, clunky and have a lot of screen glare.  It might seem tempting to get a device that can “do it all”, but I love having just an e-reader — it’s just for books, not games, not the Internet, not e-mail, just books.)

But, Amazon, I’m talking to you here, the price for e-books is ridiculously high in some cases.  I simply do not believe that it costs the publishers just as much to produce an e-book as a traditional print book.  There is a certain amount of formatting time involved, but that exists with print books as well (typesetting, galleys, proof sheets, etc.).  And, once that formatting is done, a click will allow for unlimited downloads – no print, paper costs exist.  So why do some of these e-books run upwards of $12-15??!!?

I encourage you to embrace your local library system that allows for e-book downloads (or pay to join a system as a non-resident if they have e-book checkout systems, such as in Lee County, Florida).  I joined their network as a non-resident guest (my mom lives there) and the annual fee that I pay is less than two e-book downloads on Amazon.  To be sure, I sometimes want to read a book when I want to read it – i.e., immediately - and have ponied up plenty of money in support of my on-demand book habit.  But, you can manage the cost by checking out library e-books as well.

I have not totally abandoned print books either.  If I can pick up a used print book (yay Powell’s), I will often grab a few.  And, if I really love a book or an author, I will buy the print book.  My overflowing bookshelves, however, require me to have a policy of buy-one/get- rid-of-one in order to keep my husband from going berserk.

So, many of the books I discuss and review in this blog are ones that I’ve read in e-form.  Most really.  If I have a print copy, or a book is only available in print, I’ll let you know.  If you haven’t yet embraced an e-reader, dip your toe in!  I think you’ll be glad that you did.

The Paying Guests

Sarah Waters’ latest offering, The Paying Guests, destroyed my sleep (and concentration) for several days.  And I mean this as a compliment.  For the most part, I couldn’t put it down, but at the same time was almost afraid to keep reading for fear of what would develop.

UnknownWaters is a great story teller, although her book isn’t a true “mystery”.  Much like my beloved Columbo series, we readers are privy to who and how the death (is it really even a murder?) occurs, and we then watch to see how fate is meted out for the protagonists.  Like many of Waters’ books, The Paying Guests, centers on the intimate lives of Victorian women, and perhaps even more prominently than some of her other books, features a lesbian romance between the two main characters, Frances and Lilian.

Set in post WWI London, the book opens with Frances and her mother in need of money to continue the upkeep on their Champion hill home.  Frances’ father has died, and both brothers as well, in the war.  In order to maintain their lifestyle, Frances arranges to rent out a suite of rooms to a young couple Mr. and Mrs. Barber (Leonard and Lilian).

Frances and her mother have a somewhat difficult time adjusting to their new lodgers, but Frances is extremely bored with her life of cleaning, cooking and looking after her mother and the too-large home.  She soon befriends Lilian, also a bored wife who occupies her time with decorating the new rooms, and making new clothes and accessories.  Slowly, eventually, Frances and Lilian become lovers, and Waters’ build-up to this relationship is both believable and sensitive.  While I wasn’t sure that the relationship was entirely genuine on the part of Lilian (I’m still not convinced that she didn’t manipulate Frances to act on her behalf by first becoming her lover), Frances was certainly in love with Lilian from almost their first meeting.

Waters describes Victorian London beautifully — the parks, the jarring experience of riding a tram, the intimacy of a get-together at Lilian’s sisters’ flat, the bohemian allure of Chelsea — and invites, almost drags, the reader into the drama of the courtroom scenes, both at the local level and at “The Old Bailey” court where the final drama plays out.

It would be a true shame to give away the ending, or the basis for the psychological drama that plays out in Part III of the book.  So, I won’t.  Be prepared for a roller-coaster ride as you enjoy (or sometimes maybe you even dread a little) this page-turning read.


Chinese Mystery

Among my favorite fall finds are a series of books by Chinese ex-patriate, Qiu Xiaolong — the Inspector Chen series.  Having visited China a few years ago, and having spent a fair chunk of time in Shanghai (the primary setting for this series), I have devoured these books.  Qiu does a great job of describing the “Chinese socialism” of the 1990s, on the brink of exploding into what could only be described as the Chinese capitalism of today.

qiusbooks$20049I stumbled onto Qiu’s first book, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), when I was browsing the mystery stacks at Powell’s Books.  I picked it up based on a solid staff recommendation and am so glad that I did, as you’ll note from my earlier “Fall Reads” post.

When Red is Black is the next book in the Inspector Chen series that I read (although I believe it is the third in order of publication so now I am going back to read Loyal Character Dancer, the second).  The book continues to develop the friendship between Yu and Chen, two polar opposites, and this relationship is a true highlight of Qiu’s books.   Yu’s wife, Peiqin, has a prominent role in the book, providing a sounding board for both Yu and Chen concerning the “book within a book”, Death of a Chinese Professor.  

When Red is Black juxtaposes life in a traditional shikumen-style house (shared in Communist China by twelve to sixteen families) with proposed life in the New World housing development project proposed by a “Big Bucks”, Mr. Gu (also to be developed in the style of a shikumen house).  Gu convinces Chen to work on a lucrative English translation of the New World business plan (via which Gu ultimately obtains funding by American investment bankers), all while Yu (with assistance from the vacationing Chen) investigates an actual murder that took place in a ramshackle shikumen-style building in one of Shanghai’s slums.  Qiu’s ability to jump from stark reality to the “New World” version of the future is effective and metaphorically allows the reader to feel the strain taking place in Shanghai and the rest of China.

The mystery itself, much like in Death of a Red Heroine, isn’t particularly complex or twisted.  It is a rather straightforward development based on Yu’s investigation, although the party (via Party Secretary Li of the Shanghai Police Bureau) certainly threw  at least one red herring in Yu’s path in an effort to encourage a quick resolution to the “politically sensitive” crime.

I enjoyed When Red is Black perhaps more than the first book of Qiu’s that I read, particularly because we see more how business is done (or was done) at the highest levels in China.  And we see Chen delicately strattle this “Big Bucks” world, as he calls it, with his relatively low-key existence as an Inspector in the Police Bureau.  Definitely a must-read in the series.

And, see the Book Reviews for my review of The Enigma of China, one of Qiu’s latest in the Inspector Chen installments and my favorite so far.