Exploring audio books on foot: part two

Continuing…

Aside from feminist comediennes and sport-based biographies, mysteries are the audio books that keep my legs rolling forward.

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Me after finishing 19 miles… listening to an audio book, of course

A few months ago, I would have told you that mystery is not a genre I choose. This would have been a lie. Apparently, I’ve selectively remembered my childhood obsession with Nancy Drew (remind me to post my Nancy Drew shelves, where I’ve collected 90% of the original 56 tales with their classic covers) and my favourite recommendations from my days as a bookseller, which were, at their hearts, mysteries (The Thirteenth Tale, The Rule of Four, Gentlemen and Players). I should not have been surprised that I like mysteries so much. But I was. So much for self-awareness.

I started off with The Girl on the Train, because everybody seemed to love it. Mass appeal equals a relatively uncomplicated style plus a fast-paced plot: the perfect equation for an audio book whose primary purpose is distraction. I did not enjoy The Girl on the Train. I’m not sure why anyone does. It’s not suspenseful, it’s boring. It’s like only reading the second half of Gone Girl. I tried running to it twice and stopped because it was making me (or time) slower. I finished it while digging out new gardens in the front yard, the physical work thankfully distracting me from the book’s tedium (this is the polar opposite of its intended purpose). Not a successful first choice.

But I didn’t give up, mostly because when I continued to Google “best audio books for running,” a host of mystery novels kept popping up among Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling and Born to Run. Sure, many lists recommended The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl (and these articles were quickly nixed), but one in particular suggested Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling.

jk-rowling-robert-galbraithNow, for all of you regular humans, Robert Galbraith is a pen name of the goddess J.K. Rowling, author of the much-lauded and world-shifting Harry Potter series. I, by consequence of being a bookworm, a fantasy nerd, a person with splendid taste, and someone who was born in 1988 and thus grew up with the characters as the series progressed, am a deeply committed Harry Potter fan. But I had never read any of J.K.’s adult fiction. There was no reason to believe that I wouldn’t like it, and there were many reasons to believe I would be highly diverted by her storytelling prowess, so I downloaded The Cuckoo’s Calling and introduced myself to Strike and Robin.

It was love. This was exactly the type of mystery made for running. Once I warmed to the characters, which, admittedly, took a good third of the novel, I enjoyed the dynamic plot. It’s a modern private eye novel, where ex-SIB investigator Cormoran Strike and his temp assistant Robin Ellacott look into the suspicious death of a tabloid-favourite model. I won’t give anything away (nor will I share any deep reflections on the next two books in the series, The Silkworm and Career of Evil, though I quickly downloaded and ran to those as well), but I will say the following: I love that Strike is better at his job than I am.

Part of the fun of a mystery is trying to get to the “whodunnit” before the characters do, but there’s also something deeply dissatisfying about anticipating the big reveal/twist. It’s irritating to get to the end already knowing who the killer is, or that a dead character is really alive, or that it was a memory all along, or whatever. Most of the time, Strike made connections more quickly than I could make predictions, and even when I figured out one element, the mysteries were layered enough (or convoluted enough in some cases) that not all was spoiled. Yay!

Another thing to enjoy about these novels is the relationship development between the characters. If we must give Rowling only one compliment, it’s that she’s great at writing characters who feel familiar. They are human, and we care about them.

 

— To be continued again —

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Belated Fringe reviews for your reading pleasure

Hi, friends.

I know it may look like I went to the Winnipeg Fringe and never returned, but that was not quite  the case. I did see an awful lot of shows (but thankfully, not a lot of awful shows). I shattered my previous Fringing record. Here are my brief reviews of those experiences:

Burning Hearts: a skillfully told and atmospheric one-man show. 4 inspirational ghosts out of 5.

The Telephone: a bit hammy for my taste, but the singalong was cute. At the very least, you should leave with a smile. I give it 2 rotary phones out of 5.

White Pants from Hip.Bang: 4 spilled glasses of wine out of 5. Everything you need from a sketch show. Highlights? Cooool Tips and the “clothes fastener” improv.

Three Men in a Boat: 3 Britishisms out of 5. The actors were incredible, but I’d rather see them in a different play.

Channeling Kevin Spacey: Solid, well-acted and funny (esp. if you’re a Spacey or Pacino fan). 3.8 gold chains out of 5 from JT. Round down for me.

For Body and Light presents Coming and Going: Moody and damp contemporary dance and spoken word poetry. 2.5 rubber boots out of 5 for neato concept and lighting but strange execution. (5 yeses out of 5 for local poet Chimwemwe Undi’s opener.)

Hey ’90’s Kids, You’re Old: 5 Baby Bottle Pops out of 5. Delivers the perfect balance of nostalgic warmth and legit teasing. Highlight is Where’s Waldo and Carmen San Diego online dating, but every sketch is strong. Best for those born in the 80s (obvs).

Die Roten Puntkte: Best Band in the World: With lyrics like “You’re like a verb, always doing things to me” Die Roten Puntkte really is the best. 5 bananas out of 5.

The Orchid and the Crow at Fringe was excellent. Funny, sad, and smart. I give it 4.5 yellow jerseys out of 5.

Saw Snafu Dance’s Snack Music and loved the skittles and the puppetry. It’s too bad the audience didn’t provide much improv help. 3.5 out-of-tune zithers out of 5.

ViVA Dance Company’s Dreamscape kept getting stronger with each piece. I give it 4 barefoot pirouettes out of 5.

Major Matt Mason Collective’s Air was incredible. I left with numb fingers from the anxious fists I made. I give it 5 doubling cubes out of 5 (and a bag of chips). ***My favourite of the whole Fringe, ever***

Spotlight: Short performance which the moody, anxiety-ridden creative types will find familiar. Patchy casting (ironic) with a couple bright spots. 3 last chances out of 5.

How to Talk to Human Beings: witty, dialogue-heavy script with solid acting (Gilmore-esque with more neuroses). 4 polite Canadians at the end of their ropes out of 5.

Mmm. Unexpected book love.

My lovely sister came back from her month-long tour of Central America bringing with her an assortment of  gifts. Because she knows me, I received  a selection of jewelry (or as I said, “Oooh! Pretty foreign bobbles!”), a skirt/dress that is patiently waiting for April when I can wear it without getting a chill, and – as an afterthought – a book that she picked up and read in Mexico.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a book about books. Well, not quite. It’s a delicious Gothic mystery set in 1950s Barcelona. Here, have a Publisher’s Weekly synopsis:

Ruiz Zafón’s novel, a bestseller in his native Spain, takes the satanic touches from Angel Heart and stirs them into a bookish intrigue à la Foucault’s Pendulum. Daniel Sempere, the son of a widowed bookstore owner, is 10 when he discovers a novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax. The novel is rare, the author obscure, and rumors tell of a horribly disfigured man who has been burning every copy he can find of Carax’s novels. 

As he grows up, Daniel’s fascination with the mysterious Carax links him to a blind femme fatale with a “porcelain gaze,” Clara Barceló; another fan, a leftist jack-of-all-trades, Fermín Romero de Torres; his best friend’s sister, the delectable Beatriz Aguilar; and, as he begins investigating the life and death of Carax, a cast of characters with secrets to hide.

Though some reviews have accused Zafon of straining to dramatize his plot, I found his storytelling rich, gorgeous, and enthralling. His plot twists are a fair mix of predictable and surprising, and his description was simply wonderful.

Love from your reviewy friend.

Fitness experiment and other updates

‘Sup ink splAters.

You may remember that a few weeks ago (“Be it resolved”) I decided to test a fitness book, Shape Up Size Down by Sally Lewis. I am now halfway through the four-week plan and I’m certainly impressed.

I’m down a dress size already, and while I will note that I’ve combined the required workouts with 40 minutes/day on the stationary bike, I’m surprised at the positive results. Not only does this program slim and tone, it also helps with posture. Another big plus that I didn’t fully appreciate before is the variety of the program. Because I get the chance to concentrate on specific areas of the body each day, and with different exercises, I’m never bored.  So far, I’m giving it an enthusiastic endorsement.

That being said, it’s certainly not perfect. It doesn’t give much detail as to how you are supposed to continue with the plan after the four weeks is up – designing a program for maintenance rather than weight loss. Also, the big sell of this book was that it took only 20 minutes a day (actually, 2 10-minute workouts a day). I’ve been doing it for 17 days and I can tell you that there is no way someone can do those exercises in that short a time. Half an hour, maybe, if you’re familiar with each exercise. I take about 40 minutes, especially now that the number of exercises per day has increased.

Still, I have high hopes for the next week and a half. Barring my fitness ball catching on fire, I’m sure these last 11 days will be smooth (and svelte) sailing.

Other Updates

Work placement is over. It was wonderful, and I’m extremely happy to announce that I will be working part-time with the press. I’m as happy as… um… the winner of  a  giant-pile-of-coloured-marshmallows eating competition. Or… uh… the person who gets the corner piece of a cake with delicious icing. Or… hm… a cat that discovers she can fit in an open sock drawer.

“Work placement is over” means that I am back at school. Pressure is on to work on my book, which has suffered a bit these last couple weeks, and I’m sorting out the workload of a barrel of new classes. “How many classes are in a barrel?” you ask. Umm. Four. Plus PR. It’s a fairly small barrel.

There’s likely more, but I’m writing an article so I’ve got to be responsible and close the blog window.

Happy Wednesday.