Mount Mansfield, Vermont, from My Hotel Bedroom (Dec. 2017)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New English Crime Novel by Barbara Cleverly

My latest mystery is Diana's Altar, by Barbara Cleverly, a veteran English crime novelist. This novel is #13 in her Joe Sandilands crime series. A number of the early titles in the series take place in colonial India. Then Joe, a WWI veteran, swings back to England to work as a top investigator at Scotland Yard.  This one is Cleverly's latest in the series and was published in 2015.  It's set in Cambridge, England, during the early 1930s, just as many university students and a number dons are beginning to embrace communist ideals, causing MI5's and Scotland Yard's backs to raise hackles. 

Aside from that developing phenomenon, Dr. Adelaide Hartest, a low-status (though a daughter from a prestigious family), token woman in an all-male, prestigious medical practice, begins the novel by attending to two deaths on the same night, on All Hallows' Eve. One appears to be a suspicious suicide, a death by dagger, in a church known for its very odd Anglican vicar. The other is a death that Hartest clearly detects was a poisoning by arsenic in a country house owned by a money-purchased titled sir of ostentatious wealth.

Joe is very smart, funny, well-educated, and upper-class despite his choice of profession with MI5. He has tried and tried to betroth himself to Adelaide, who is resisting, according to her determination to retain her professional life. He supposes that she believes that marriage and professional commitment don't coexist for women at this time.

I was tipped off to this book by the Washington Post and NPR book critic, Maureen Corrigan, who gave this title a stellar review. I am enjoying it, I'm a third of the way through and longing for more, but I am despairing because I have only 5 days left with it before Overdrive claims the ebook back, without my consent. Overdrive is a tyrant that way.

And have you ever heard of Barbara Cleverly? This is the first I've learned of her. She was born in 1940 and is now 77. I'm very interested in trying one of the early, set-in-India, Joe Sandlilands books.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Buried in Snow and Fire and Fury and Other New Books

An Alberta Clipper that was supposed to provide us with 5 inches of snow has unloaded 14 inches instead. Believe me, we're not complaining. Magnificent snowshoeing today under a crystal-clear cobalt blue sky.  Wednesday will provide us with another significant storm.

I am nearly smothered by an avalanche of books. My February days are destined to have every spare second devoted to reading. As we all know, library holds always seem to drop at the same time, so my current reads are as follows:

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017), the February selection of the "Now Read This Book Club." I'm awe-struck by this historical/true crime nonfiction selection. Members of the  Osage Tribe, who had been removed to north-central Oklahoma in Osage County, became astoundingly wealthy in the early 20th century when oil was discovered on their territory. So wealthy, in fact, that they were able to afford grand houses, servants, top-of-the-line automobiles, and extravagant lifestyles. This altered status made them the totally unprotected targets of vengeful whites.  And therein lies this remarkable, true saga. I knew nothing about this stunning and alarming chapter in Native American history, as so many readers have commented about this eye-opening book.

I'm reading the final chapter of Peter May's 2015 novel Runaway, which is about a group of teens who flee their lives in Glasgow for what they hope will be rock 'n roll fame in London in 1965. More on this soon.

Still reading the fascinating Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Oh, gosh!! Here's how the following bit of news happened.  I needed to purchase an Audible audiobook before they took one of my book credits away, and on an impulse, I selected Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.

I'm 25 percent through and this is my verdict so far: Fire and Fury is sheer political entertainment. And because I listen while I'm knitting, I feel exactly like Madame DuFarge in A Tale of Two Cities.

Lots of the events presented in Fire and Fury, which Wolff says are fact, are already believed by the vast majority of Americans, save for the 30 percent of those who are "Trump's base." The rest of the stuff Wolff reports is believable, I suppose, based on public knowledge about the characters involved, though I will take nothing Wolff says as strict, unadulterated fact.
One of the tip-offs for me was a scene with dialogue between Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon that supposedly occurred at a so-called dinner party at Roger Ailes's home in Greenwich Village. Entertaining dialogue, of course. But reality? Doubtful, even though anyone who knows anything about Ailes and Bannon could certainly imagine such a conversation taking place. 

I've been trying for two days to complete this post, so I'll post it tonight, and post another very soon with the rest of the avalanche. Too many books descending all at once.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The "Now Read This Book Club" NYTBR and PBS Newshour

Okay, everyone. I finally (!) have a URL that leads to actual information about the PBS News Hour and The New York Times Book Review's joint venture, the "Now Read This" Book Club. The linking page does not say this, but supposedly, I have heard, that the Wednesday, January 31st broadcast of the PBS News Hour will have Jessamyn West, the two-times National Book Award winner and author of her most recent award-winning novel, Sing, Unburied Sing,  and she will be addressing readers' questions. Also, as I've mentioned, the title for February is supposed to be announced at that time. 

This is the first month of the book club. There is also a Facebook Page for the Club. The day I visited I really squirmed at some of the readers' comments,  and correspondingly at the replies they received. It would be nice if people didn't use an online book club as a firing squad, one way or the other.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Prairie Fires, Peter May, and NYTBR Book Club

I'm still reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. I'm thoroughly intrigued and I've been studying all the annotations, because they've been so interesting. The history and life stories are complex, which makes the reading even more of a pleasure. Though I read it for part of each day, I'm now only just over 200 pages, in this approximately 450 dense pages of a book. Not a single dull page, for anyone wanting to attempt it.

I just finished The Body in the Casket and enjoyed it. I'm now wanting to read the debut novel in the Faith Fairchild Mystery series, The Body in the Wardrobe, mostly because it won two awards--one was an Agatha for debut mysteries, and the other I can't recall at the moment.

I'm not sure what I will read for fun while I wait for the stand-alone, new Peter May mystery, Runaway, which is about Jack's difficult years as  an older teen in Glasgow, Scotland. I've read two out of the three of his Lewis Island Trilogy books, all except for  the third, Chess Man. I've gone madly superlative about Peter May before. The Lewis Island books are so dripping with setting and atmosphere, that they both ensnared and enchanted me. I can say that because I've read these books, I have absolutely no need to visit Lewis Island to find out what they're like.

I'd also like to mention that the New York Times Book Review is sponsoring a Book Club open to everyone, whether you're a subscriber or not, in conjunction with the PBS News Hour.  The first book,  for the month of January, is the 2017 National Book Award Winner, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessamyn West. I'm sorry to say I didn't find out about all of this until this past Wednesday, BUT, evidently the author will (supposedly) be on the PBS News Hour on Wednesday, January 31st to discuss the book and respond to readers' questions and thoughts. The book for February will be announced during this broadcast. Dinner is nearing the final preparations, so I can say that there is a Facebook page for this. I wish it were not Facebook, but there we are.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Body in the Casket and Other Progress in Books

I'm halfway through the fun, witty, and oh so clever mystery, The Body in the Casket by Katherine Hall Page. It's the latest novel in the Faith Fairchild mystery series, published in early December 2017. I have read and admired others in the series, most recently The Body in the Snowdrift and The Body in the Sleigh. Our sleuth now has two older teenagers at home to add zest to her life and a thoroughly modern minister husband. Faith is the manager and chef suprima of her own catering business, Have Faith.  This mystery takes place during January, when her family and her business is ensconced in their suburban Boston enclave.  (Summers and vacations take them to an island in Maine, where a number of the mysteries take place.)

The premise; A former, successful Broadway producer wants Faith to cater a weekend birthday celebration for him. All of the guests were once (very strangely) involved in his last theatrical production, which (mysteriously) flopped, ending the productive careers of the birthday boy and a number of his guests. Much to her surprise, Faith has been hired primarily for her sleuthing prowess, and second for her catering skills. According to the former producer, one guest is intent on murdering him. Prior to the weekend, a top-of-the-line cushy coffin has been sent to the producer's address.

Perhaps needless to say, I'm luxuriating in the change of pace since my last read. The only problem is that this one has only about 225 pages. Sigh.

Other Book Updates: I'm still reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I've described in a previous post. Every page fascinates! Extremely worthwhile.

And any day now I have a Peter May mystery that will come in for a landing on my Nook, via SimplyE at the New York Public Library. This one is Runaway, which is May's latest, a 2017 publication. Can't wait for that.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Immortalists

Tremendous buzz about Chloe Benjamin's second novel The Immortalists, which, as of today, has just been entered as #7 on the NYT Bestseller List. It is also one of Amazon's Picks for January. The premise is intriguing--four siblings venture to the home of a woman, known via the neighborhood grapevine, as one who can predict a customer's date of death. The children range in age from fourteen to seven years.

Before I divulge my personal reactions, I can affirm that the novel is a compelling read, which gropes with a multitude of facets concerning life and death, and also probes the interconnections among family members over the course of decades.

The Immortalists is a rich, multi-layered novel that I believe is absolutely ideal for book discussion  groups--I am convinced that each reader in a group will have their own unique ideas, opinions, and questions about the novel that they will be eager to discuss with others. How I wish that right now I had a book group meeting coming up where we would soon talk about it, because I'm so longing for other people's points of view.

The next paragraph may be a Spoiler for some people, so here's my Spoiler Alert!

For personal reasons, I can say that not only did I not enjoy or appreciate this book, I disliked it and I disparage it. I also came away with the awful sense that reading it gave me nothing, nothing at all worthwhile to take away. It provoked me. It made me angry.

If a fortune teller had given me an early doom date, I would have eventually, after agonizing over it,  confided in my mother, even if I had done something that she would have disapproved of and would have punished me for (like going to a stranger's house without telling an adult).
The most surprising thing to me is that the siblings do not share their death dates at the time, nor while they were older children, when they were most vulnerable. They each kept their death dates totally secret during childhood. I can't imagine that the 7-year-old would not turn to his older siblings for comfort. I just can't imagine it. They ventured there as a team. Why wouldn't they share info afterwards? When don't siblings turn to each other? They went there, in fear, together. I just don't get it. They played together, did things together all summer. But this, this they kept secret? Just Not believable. Not to me. I found each death to be a savage, stupid, unnecessary death.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Woman in the Window and More January Reads

Due to extreme weather coming, with a high probability of a damaging ice storm, I am posting now, because if the storm goes as projected,  we will be without internet for multiple days. I am just starting to read The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (January 2018). That will be this weekend's read.

My expectations for The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn were minimal at the start. It received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, so I figured it was worth a try, especially because I was eager for a "can't wait to turn the page" thriller.

I  finished the novel Wednesday morning,  in a gasp. I gasped aloud several times during  my reading, and positively shouted out loud at least twice. (Sorry, Ken, to alarm you!) If you like a carefully constructed, ingeniously concocted thriller of a wild ride, then this is the book for you. I have not read a thriller of such capacity since Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. Forget Gone Girl or Woman on a Train.

Gasping and shouting are not what is really great about this novel.  A woman of middle age, an agoraphobic, is unable to move beyond the confines of her front and back doors due to what appears to be a prior, undisclosed trauma. Her husband and only child, a daughter, seem to live elsewhere, though the three of them keep in frequent contact by phone.

Anna drinks wine excessively and she takes lots of prescribed psychiatric medications. Her therapist visits her once a week (he doesn't know the extent of her drinking), as does her physical therapist. Aside from her online chess matches and her agoraphobic chat group, she does have an obsession--watching the neighbors of her NYC neighborhood via her windows. And this is where the entire thriller really begins.

I commend the author for developing Anna as a character so thoroughly, to the point where I felt extraordinary compassion for her--not customary in a thriller of this type. I rated this one 5 stars, for sure. At four hundred pages, I leapfrogged through it. A total page-turner. Aren't they fun?? What a rush!


Friday, January 5, 2018

January--A Stellar Month for Immersion in All Sorts of Books

After finishing Winter Solstice, Elin Hilderbrand's  fourth and final novel in the Quinn Family of Nantucket Island saga, I immediately leapt to read a novel that is way out of what has been my comfort zone for the past two months or more. I selected a very new thriller The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, just released. I need something to jolt me out of my "light romance cocoon," which I've been luxuriating in. It's definitely time. Although a light romance or two will continue to have their place in my Reading Diet!

I've also started reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Ingalls Wilder, another new title, by Caroline Fraser, an American historian. As a person with a lifelong serious interest in history,  I must say that I am so in awe of this book and what Fraser has done.

At long last, a superb, exhaustively researched, scholarly (yet how very readable!) treatment of the life and writings of Ingalls Wilder. From what I have discovered from perusing the book,  this work goes to great lengths to manage the myths and add the extraordinary, previously unrealized facts of Wilder's life. Yes, there is lots of new info here for Wilder fans.  Although The Little House series of books will always be glorious American  literature, Wilder's real-life story is the genuine, gritty, uncompromising article. Yes, this volume is a hefty 491 pages, but each page fascinates. I cannot recommend it highly enough. **No wonder The New York Times selected it as one of its Ten Best Books of 2017.

I have a history project ongoing at the moment. This one combines history and climatology in the 17th century. You have probably heard all about the "Little Ice Age," which impacted the northern hemisphere severely, from approximately 1350 to 1825. Actually, those dates are very broad for the phenomenon. The crux of the period of global cooling occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The books I've been reading have kept my mind percolating fiercely. I'm most interested in how the Little Ice Age affected the settlement, culture, and society of New England in the 17th century.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Am I Ready for Reading in the New Year? Oh, Gosh!

Actually, I have made a list of reading intentions for the New Year--particularly the beginning of the New Year. I have quite a towering TBR pile of books I've accumulated in the past few months.

I want to read The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown. I greatly admire her and have for many decades. And I think I admire her most for how breathtakingly vital she made The New Yorker while she was editor, in the years preceding her tenure at Vanity Fair. After she left, The New Yorker retrenched and eventually hired the throwback David Remnick as editor in 1998, who absolutely REFUSES TO HIRE women  journalists to do any investigative journalism for his precious magazine. He publishes the occasional woman writer's short story or poem, but no serious journalism. Personally, I don't think it helps The New Yorker's circulation. Circulation was very high when Tina Brown was editor. Sorry, David. You belong to the 1950s. And so does The New Yorker's circulation. How sad for such a historically prestigious magazine. How difficult for David Remnick to realize--women buy magazines, too.

In other reading, I'm investigating historical climatology--the effect of climate, especially climate change, on historical events and epochs. Has this ever been a fascinating line of research for me this week! I'm particularly interested in the climate of The Little Ice Age, which lasted from the 1500s through the 1700s. Fascinating, but deep reading. I'm especially interested in the effect of climate on  the settlement of New England in the 1600s. Wow...

For pleasure, I'm still reading Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Solstice, the fourth and final volume in her Quinn Family or Winter Street Inn Nantucket novels. Oh, gosh!! I have followed this series, book by book, and it's very, very good.   ***It looks as though my current proclivity for lighter reads of fiction is still very much with me. And I only have POTUS to thank, really, for making me see how important it is to nurture one's soul very, very well when all hell is breaking loose in this country. Thank you, to all my readers, for allowing me to be frank.