In the High Peaks

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.