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Thursday, January 26, 2017

My Favorite Titles of 2016--Part One

I read a new record number of books this year--a total of 54, and I thoroughly enjoyed my reading year. I had very, very few duds. And I benefitted from having such a wide variety of reads, which I hope to demonstrate in the next series of posts.

Part One include my "Stellar" reads:

My all-time favorite read of this year receives this accolade largely because it was the right book at the right time. My best reading experience was The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. At the time, I had been stricken with a vicious sinus infection (last March), and I must say, this book and its characters' foibles and complicated lives made me forget, for hours at a time, most of my misery. Thank you!  Oh, I will definitely read this one again.
Excellent writing and spot-on, smart dialogue, yes. A wonderful escapist read, absolutely. And yes, the adult children who placed their hopes on "the nest," which would make their lives perfect forever after, were egotistical and self-satisfied, but Sweeney rendered them as superbly human. I found them all likeable, despite their predatory instincts. Their lives were, in my opinion, lovingly depicted by Sweeney, while simultaneously maintaining a sharp, satirical eye throughout.

My next two favorite reads were both by the same author--P.D. James. She never disappoints, and each of her novels I look forward to re-reading some day. Original Sin was the first novel by James that I read this year and I gave it 5 stars. The other James novel I hesitated  to call a favorite at the time I read it, but, in retrospect, The Black Tower was so well done, that I have recognized its value all the more several months later, largely because of its power to stay indelible on my mind  The latter was published 20 years before Original Sin. I am an undeniably impassioned P.D. James aficionado, as some of you know.

Equally a favorite as the two P.D. James novels, was The Lewis Man by Peter May. This thriller/crime/mystery is the second volume in May's "Lewis Trilogy," Lewis being the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides in Scotland. The first book in the trilogy, The Black House, is so deep, so profound, so wondrous in creating a landscape, so dark a noirish world, and so incredible an unspeakable crime, that it is one of my most spectacular reads of the past decade. But what makes all this darkness tolerable is the detective, who is the spirit of light, returning to his homeland in the Hebrides.

The Lewis Man continues the saga and the complicated personal life of the prime detective. This novel, too, was exceedingly well done, though probably nothing will ever top The Black House.
And now, I face the fact that there is the third book, The Chess Men, also set on the Isle of Lewis and featuring the same characters, but I'm blocked because I don't want to come to the end. I have noted numerable times in the past that this is a stumbling block for me.
After all, I haven't finished the third volume of Stieg Larsson's trilogy, though it's sitting on my shelf. I think I should read it. I think I can handle that it's the end of the trilogy, but I hate that it's the end of his work.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Few Words about Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I read Small Great Things during the final week of 2016, when I felt that lame-duckness I've described in a previous post. I tore into it because I had heard from people I respect that it was well worth my time. And I agree it was. But did I ever find, as I was reading the novel and afterward, that I desperately wanted to discuss it with someone or lots of people who'd read it.

For me, Small Great Things was enormously provocative. It provoked me to disgust at the views and actions of the white supremacist father of a newborn. (I almost had to abandon the novel, but I pushed on due to the advice of people I know to just stick with it.) This proved to be a good thing. I was provoked to anger at the careless speech of the white, so-called liberal attorney, Kennedy who represented the African-American nurse in the newborn unit. (Kennedy actually believed her statement "I'm colorblind." I was provoked by the actions and non-actions of the African-American nurse who had worked for 20 solid years in the newborn unit at a major hospital and who was almost willing to give up the fight. **I believe the novel's provocations were its best feature--it made me confront my own feelings and beliefs and attitudes. And I was left speechless, because I had nobody with whom to talk about it.

Picoult noted in her acknowledgements that she had wanted for decades to write about racism in America. And finally the time had seemed right for her to do it. I think she succeeded in this effort, not so much for writing  a flawless novel about racism, but because she raised countless discussion issues for every white and black American to really think about.

I highly recommend that you and some friends read this novel and discuss it together.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

OMG! Lost Comments Just Found--Weeks of Them--Apologies!

Thank you to every reader who has left comments in the past 6 weeks or more!  I did think it unusual that the last comment I had was on November 14th, but then I figured that perhaps readers were very busy with the holidays and life in general, not to mention...other national upsets.

So Blogger, you have "tricked" me, I suppose! Where once I saw my comments and my ability to publish them, there has been nothing at all. So this evening I searched deeper, in a different place, and lo and behold found them.

I am so sorry that I have not replied to all the interesting comments. I will post and reply to each and every commenter. My regrets!!

P.S. Later Saturday evening:  I thoroughly enjoyed spending more than an hour responding to each comment, which I've so gratefully received. If you have some time, please look back to find them. Thanks to all!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Unexpected Absence and New Reads

I'm astonished that I haven't posted an entry since New Year's Day. That long, really? I have a lot of catching up to do. There are so many books I've read that I haven't commented on. And I still haven't written about my favorite reads of 2016! Yikes.

I've been pre-occupied because my mother became extremely ill and passed away a week ago last Thursday night. The good news is that my mother's end of life was short and her doctors and nurses worked so hard to make sure she did not suffer. It seems that the medical community is making this more of a priority these days, even more than they did just eight years ago, for example, when my uncle died. Why, they even have special M.D.s now, whose specialty is "palliative care." So my mother had a palliative care specialist and an internist working together to help her. Both were women and were outstanding--very compassionate. My brother and I are so grateful for the care she received.

So back to my reading life:
Reading is not coming easily to me right now. I'm trying, though.

Under the Influence (2016) by Joyce Maynard is my favorite book of 2017 so far. I read it during the first week in January. It's obvious to me that I now need to read more of Maynard's fiction. This novel is exceptionally well done, and is a fascinating character study, a page-turner, and leaves the reader with so much to think about afterwards. I'm in awe of Maynard's skills and talents. I must read more of her novels.

It's about a woman who had a problem with alcohol and fought to beat it, successfully. So the "Under the Influence" title is not  so much about her former addiction to alcohol as it is her addictive relationship with an extremely wealthy couple of her age who "befriend" her--a relationship that threatens her individuality, her family (a young son), and her sense of place and balance in the world.
Highly recommended!

I'm now reading Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, a debut novel published in 2016.
Tess, a very young woman (age 21 or so) leaves her home in Ohio for New York City. She has had a neglected upbringing and longs to escape to the city--for something bigger than herself. She manages to get a job at a top restaurant and enters the life of backwaiters, waiters, sous-chefs, the mean and terrible Chef, and the enigmatic owner Howard.
This novel does one thing very well--it portrays the lives and experiences of those working in a top restaurant and the various relationships among the servers and workers who labor there. But at 352 pages, it is much, much too repetitive, an observation which is really a critique of the plot.

I see this novel as a compendium of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of the restaurant-worker's experience. But I feel that we are left with as little character analysis as might appear in a short story. The story doesn't really move. I keep waiting for things to change, and have read almost all of it now, and I don't think much more is going to happen.

Whenever I cast doubt on a novel, I always hope that some reader will comment and explain why they liked a book and why. Please feel very free. I love to hear reader's opinions!



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Roaring into the New Year with Victoria and Ruth Ware

I've been working diligently composing the "My Best Books of 2016" post. Alas, it is only half-completed. So I thought I would write an update stating that I raced through the new novel Victoria by Daisy Goodwin, who is the creator and scriptwriter for the Masterpiece Classics presentation of the young Queen Victoria, to be released during the coming year. I finished it just before midnight New Year's Eve. It's spell-binding.

I realize I know so little about Queen Victoria's family and background. I know more about her marriage to Prince Albert and their children, but her heritage is something I know nothing about. I'd like to read more about her grandfather George III and uncle George IV, as well as all the ins and outs of the monarchy during the years prior to Victoria's reign.

In any case, I do recommend Victoria.

Then I leapt into reading The Woman in Cabin 10  by Ruth Ware. I must say that I find this novel has many more thrills and chills than in A Dark, Dark Wood, which I enjoyed, but did not find as interesting or as fear-inducing as some readers have reported.