Yes, I realise it’s been officially fall for a while now, but both the weather and my current location still scream summer to me, so I’m still operating in beach mode. And although it’s hasn’t been a conventionally productive period for me, it was quite relaxing, and exactly what I needed after a not so wonderful winter.
And it’s been somewhat productive in terms of pop-culture consumption. I enjoyed several books, movies and TV shows, and that’s exactly what this post is about: a handy list for me to keep track of everything I read and watched over the summer.
Let’s start with books.
As I’ve often said before, good beach-friendly reads don’t usually include ‘heavy’ works of fiction, so don’t expect this to be a list of classic literature but, rather, easily digestible novels that fall under the mystery/crime/legal thriller umbrella.
The one exception to this rule was The Handmaid’s Tale, which basically felt like required reading to add another level to my enjoyment of the Hulu show.
Not only did the books completely live up to its reputation, it was also a perfect ‘companion’ book to what turned out to be a completely gripping piece of television.
Next up, Stephen King: the new Mr Mercedes show is about to wrap its first season, so it seemed like the appropriate time for me to read the Hodges trilogy. I was an avid King reader when I was younger, but not so much in recent years. The Hodges books was a great way to ease me back into the latest works of the king of horror, and although there are better detective novels out there, there’s no doubt King can write compelling characters and intriguing stories.
Mr Mercedes, the first book in the series, definitely stood out as the best of the bunch, with Finders Keepers being a close second. I didn’t love End of Watch as much as the other two, but a mediocre Stephen King book will always be a step above 99% of what’s out there as far as I’m concerned.
Michael Connelly has been a favorite of mine for the last decade or so, and I’ve immensely enjoyed his Bosch series for years – and his Mickey Haller books more recently (the Amazon TV show based on the novels is also great, as was The Lincoln Lawyer). Alas, I was a little behind on my Connelly reading, so I picked up The Burning Room (not one of his best), The Crossing (a Harry Bosch-Mickey Haller crossover which was brilliant), The Wrong Side of Goodbye (another Bosch novel – I love how Harry’s story is evolving as he’s growing old) and The Gods of Guilt (a Mickey Haller novel – I always enjoy his courtroom antics).
I also read the first installment of his new Renee Ballard series called The Late Show. She’s not the most compelling lead character she’s written, but the quality of Connelly’s writing style is up to par with his other works, and the story was quite a fascinating read. I was secretly hoping that her story would intersect with Bosch or Haller at some point, but it looks like Connelly is going a different way with this one, and that’s fine by me.
I scoured plenty of book-lover sites for good legal thrillers and came up with a few suggestions I decided to follow up on.
First up, Scott Turow: I had read Identical and really enjoyed his writing style, so I decided to start the Kindle County series from the beginning: Presumed Innocent was fantastic (as was the 1992 movie based on the book starring Harrison Ford) and Turow’s writing style is excellent, but the next couple let me down a little bit, if only because I expected the series to feature Rusty Sabich. Instead, The Burden of Proof focused on the life of Rusty’s lawyer, Sandy Stern, while Pleading Guilty followed a completely new character. So I scrapped the rest of the series and just read Innocent, which catches up with Rusty again, twenty years after the events of the first book.
One of the most-suggested novelists on those lists was David Baldacci, but while I’d read one of his books years ago, I didn’t remember it leaving a big impression on me. Nonetheless, I picked up one of his latest, True Blue, the first of his Mace Perry series. It was a thoroughly good read, but didn’t quite explain the huge push and best selling status he’s been enjoying in recent years.
Also following up on the suggested writers, I’m currently going through my Richard North Patterson list of books. I decided to go with his standalone novels rather than the series, because I didn’t feel like committing just yet. In The Name of Honor was a perfectly good book, and I appreciate how detailed his depiction of the trial was. I’ve just begun reading The Final Judgment, and it seems intriguing, so I’m hopeful it will be just as good.
Among the good suggestions, however, I inevitably stumbled upon a few duds. First and foremost, John Grisham. I’d read a couple of his books before, saw all of the movies based on his novels, and quite enjoyed all of them. But Rogue Lawyer, one of his latest, was just awful. Or maybe it turns out to be a masterpiece – I wouldn’t know, because I couldn’t read it. And if you know me, you know it’s virtually impossible for me to put a book down once I’ve started it, so that should tell you how uninteresting I found this one. The central character was unlikable and the cases he was working on completely boring, so I read about 20% of the book and just though f*ck it.
I was also disappointed by another suggestion, Harlan Coben: I started his Myron Bolitar series and although I stuck with this one till the end, let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t really enjoy the writing style or the actual story, so no more Coben for me.
And that’s pretty much it for the reading material, although I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten a couple of books along the way (which means they weren’t too impressive to begin with).
On with the TV shows
Okay, so obviously I watched season 7 of Game of Thrones.
Other than that, this list is fairly short, but everything on it was top notch. From The Handmaid’s Tale to the brilliant dark humor of Ozark, the show most reminiscent of Breaking Bad I’ve seen lately (and that’s the highest compliment I could possibly give it), the few new shows I watched definitely surpassed my expectations.
I can’t quite put my finger on why, but season 2 of Animal Kingdom wasn’t as good as its first installment. I guess the dark tone overshadowed what little humor I could find in it, or maybe it’s because even those few characters who were somewhat likable last year became mostly unredeemable this time around. Still, it was pretty fun to watch.
Of course I still stuck with some old favorites, like Suits (everything since Mike’s season in jail has been a definite improvement) and Penn & Teller Fool Us (not as fun any more – Penn looks a bit bored by now, and the duo’s signature tricks are becoming less impressive by the week). Out of the cooking shows I follow, Food Network Star was just blah, but maybe that’s just because I can’t stand Bobblehead De Laurentiis; Masterchef Australia was a disappointment this year, and I haven’t started watching The Great British Bake Off just yet simply because the change of network and the absence of Mel and Sue spell disaster.
And I guess that’s about it for TV this summer? Surely I must have watched other stuff? Oh well.
The movies will be getting their own separate post, as they’re too random and this ramble is already way too long.