In the High Peaks

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Lots of New Books in the House and End-of-Year Reading

 Merry Christmas, everyone! Our holiday has been frigid, with a depth of several inches of glare ice on the road, but we have plenty of food, have internet and streaming, and plenty of electricity and heat. My heart goes out to those in Ukraine who do not have their most basic needs met this Christmas. We will give what we can to them. But then Ken and I think, what about all the other people in this world who don't have adequate food and shelter? It's painfully unfathomable.


I'm within 15 pages of finishing Rhys Bowen's 2021 offering in the Royal Spyness series, God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen. I enjoyed this one, which was set almost entirely in a large house on the royal Sandringham Estate, the home of Georgie's husband Darcy's Aunt Ermintrude, a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary. The Queen has confided in Georgie that there is great evil afoot. (Georgie is a first cousin twice removed from King George.) The Prince of Wales has been shot at during a royal shoot, his equerry was killed mysteriously, and so much more. Aside from the murder(s) mystery, I really enjoyed the description of a 1930s upper-class English Christmas, especially the full descriptions of all the meals that were consumed. That's the cosy side of this mystery. The combination of a fun, light read with some grisly murders mixed in!

I'm also reading Christmas Holiday by W. Somerset Maugham, inspired by Katrina's mention of it in a post on her blog Pining for the West (see sidebar). Published in 1939, Christmas Holiday has been critiqued as not being among his best novels, but I'm finding it very interesting. I will say that it's only the first of Maugham's novels I've read. I'm sure I'll have more to say about it later. 

Unlike most of this year when I bought almost no books at all, I have purchased quite a number of books in November and December. These TBR books include the following:   

The Last Chairlift by John Irving

Lessons by Ian McEwan

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man  Paul Newman

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre

The Private Eye: The Letters of John Le Carre

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

THEN!!!  There are the 3 new books currently on hold for me at the library! Help! Well, actually these are riches, and I will respond by reading furiously!

OH! And I'm currently in the midst of Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope for the Classics Club Spin, review due no later than January 29.

Monday, December 19, 2022

I'm Way Behind! Hoping You'll Bear with Me--

 Our foul weather has put me in a daze--It took us three days to deal with the heavy, wet concrete of 28 inches of snow. Have never seen anything like it! Impossible to deal with. We had to call in reinforcements! Now, Monday, we finally managed to get out after three days locked in. All of this to say that I'm way behind in responding to all of your comments. Tomorrow offers a clear day to buy loads and loads of food an hour to the south, because even worse weather is in the future forecast. It will feel so good to get tons of food in the house and then I won't have to worry about anything. Let the weather do what it will, which it is forecast to do the meanest and worst. Inches of rain on Friday at 50 degrees on top of all this snow, followed immediately by a deep freeze to 10 degrees. Yes, it will be a skating rink around here. Flooding predicted.

I'm reading steadily and happily with Barchester Towers.

So much more to say about reading, but wanted everyone to know why I've been silent. Will catch up soon!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Classics Club Spin: Barchester Towers It Is! And The Letters of John Le Carre

 So far, I've read 74 pages of Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. (511 pages in all). I know that many of you have read it and liked it, which is very encouraging as I tackle it on these ever so dark December afternoons, when dozing off is so much more tempting than continuing to read.

My December reading has not been stellar, by any means. I loved the first four mysteries in Martin Edwards's Lake District Mysteries series, but the fifth, The Hanging Wood, was nowhere near as good as the first four, in my opinion. I finished it today. I'm sorry to say I thought it was a clunker. I do hope the sixth will be better. 

In the MAIL: My copy of A Private Spy: The Letters of John Le Carre, edited by his son Tim Cornwell arrived. It was published here on December 6th, and looks so fascinating, I could not put it down. He loved writing letters! Much more to say on this topic.


Saturday, December 10, 2022

Classics Club Spin #32

Well, I've finally managed to pull together a list of twenty. My main problem the last two days has been that I totally lost my previous list, but after searching and searching, I found it, and made a few changes, and now here it is. 

I do hope that everyone participating lands with a book they've been thirsting to read!! 

1. Home of the Gentry by Ivan Turgenev

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

4. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

5. Short Stories by Shirley Jackson

6. Barchester Towers by Trollope

7. Another Nature title by Henry David Thoreau

8. The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

9. The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier

10. And Quiet Flows the Don by  Mikhail Sholokhov  

11. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

12. Testament by Vera Brittain

13. Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

14. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

15. The Things They Carried and Other Stories  Tim O’Brien

16. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

17. Emma by Jane Austen (I can't believe I haven't read this one.)

18. Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek by Annie Dillard

19. The Razor’s Edge  by W.S. Maugham

20. The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Looking Back on November Reads

Just a short post. For some reason, I'm of a mind that I have nothing really worthwhile to say, but I will push on regardless.

I LOVED Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine Mathews. I dreaded seeing it come to an end. I slowed my pace of reading. I did everything I could to avoid finishing it. Nantucket Island is such an atmospheric environment, in all ways, and this novel embraced it, and was the best of this series I've read. I will read more now. (This one was number 3 for me, although it is the most recently published.)

I listened to Left on Tenth by the writer Delia Ephron (younger sister of Nora Ephron). This is Delia's memoir of her several years fighting the bitterest leukemia of them all and the struggles to survive via a bone-marrow transplant. I never would have listened to this memoir, were it not that the new-found love of her life saw it through with her steadfastly every step of the way. It was a harrowing tale, and a devotion of love, but I can assure myself and everyone who reads this, please read this memoir before you endure a bone-marrow transplant. I, for one, would never willingly partake in the horror she lived through. 

The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan was well worth the time I spent studying it. (Non-Fiction November). I hope to dedicate a post to it, and include the controversies that surrounded its publication early in 2022.  

Right now, I am thoroughly embracing The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks, which, I'm happy to say, is a superlative historical novel, with all the facts and time period accuracies in place. Elizabeth Gow was the Scottish nanny of the eventually kidnapped Charles Lindbergh, Jr., son of "Lucky Lindy" and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It's very well done. 


Friday, November 11, 2022

Updated: A Benjamin Black aka John Banville Mystery and a new Nantucket Christmas Mystery

 I only have a few moments to write because dinner is upon us. But I'd like to say how much I have enjoyed John Banville's mysteries since I first started reading them in autumn 2021. At that time I read Snow, and adored it. John Banville is an Irish writer, lives in Dublin, but now that I've read him I'm quite positive his ancestry is Anglo-Irish. Or, as the saying goes, he is of "Prod" ancestry (Protestant). How else could he write so knowingly of the "Prod" policeman Strafford?  

Actually, John Banville is a writer of literary fiction and won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea. But several years later, he began writing detective fiction under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Then after 2020, he continued writing detective fiction using his real name John Banville. He is an exquisite writer--his writing is flawless

 and he makes it look so easy!  I just today finished his 2020 Benjamin Black mystery, The Secret Guests and loved it! Set in WWII 1940 Tipperary, when two posh young girls are escorted from London to stay in a mouldy old estate to save them from the Blitz. Guess who they were? But are these two girls SAFE in the neutral Republic of Ireland, where old anti-British tensions still run high? This novel is based on actual rumors that the Royal Princesses were secreted in Ireland during the Blitz of 1940. In fact, John Banville wrote a piece about the rumor in The Irish Times.

I'm thoroughly enjoying Francine Mathews's Death on a Winter Stroll, the latest Merry Folger Nantucket Christmas Mystery. Merry is now Nantucket Island's Chief of Police and has her hands full during the island's traditional Winter Stroll Weekend, when  thousands of people descend on the island to walk the cobblestone streets, view Christmas decorations festooned in every shop, listen to roaming carolers, and participate in loads of other festivities.  I have read the first two novels in this series Death in the Off-Season and Death in Rough Water and enjoyed them.  And I did not know that Francine Mathews writes the Jane Austen mysteries as Stephanie Barron.  This one is rated 4.49 on Goodreads!

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Favorite Books from the Glorious Month of October

     Finally back to the blog after a glorious October. We had an unusually long, exquisitely beautiful fall foliage season that distracted me from most chores and activities, though I managed to keep up with my 2-hour daily reading habit. I must say, though, that only a few books were truly noteworthy of the eight or so that I read. 

     In the historical fiction category, I really enjoyed An Indiscreet Princess by Georgie Blalock. I’ve never read a book, fiction or nonfiction, about Queen Victoria’s children. This one is about Princess Louise, who had a passion for sculpture and pushed her boundaries so that she could study sculpting. By all accounts she was an accomplished artist, and managed to mingle, secretly, with a group of artists in London, including James McNeil Whistler. And she falls in love. This one is impeccably researched, although the author could not get access to Louise’s personal papers in the Royal Archives, and Louise’s partner’s family burned all of his papers after his death. I was also fascinated to learn about the adult lives of Queen Victoria’s children.

     I just finished one of the best thrillers I’ve read in quite some time. In my view, anyway, Catherine Steadman’s recently published The Family Game is the best of the four thrillers she has published. I know many of you were taken with her debut, Something in the Water. I liked it, too, but I thought that The Family Game was more polished and the loose ends more neatly tied up by the end. But I need to qualify that. Steadman’s novels, even though she’s a stellar producer of fireworks, always have some aspects that don’t quite hang together. This one was a superlative ride, however, and sometimes that’s what matters most.  Londoner Harry (Harriet) is a novelist and is married to Edward, an American and the oldest son in an ultra-rich family. When Harry is introduced to his family, she soon realizes that the secrets they keep are fraught with danger for everyone, but especially for her. Set in New York City and at The Hydes, the family’s palatial estate in the wilds of upstate New York, the action takes place between mid-November and New Year’s.

     Perhaps the best book from a literary perspective, is the new mind-bending novel We Spread by the Canadian writer Iain Reid, who is best known for his novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things. (The link will bring you to a blogger's review that expresses exactly my thoughts. Do scroll down to his "My Thoughts" section.)  I have seen We Spread categorized as psychological suspense, suspense thriller, literary fiction, science fiction, you name it. The fact is the novel doesn’t fit into any one genre.  Penny is an elderly artist living on her own in a New York City apartment, and she’s not doing well living on her own. She takes a tumble and finds that she ends up in an unusual assisted living home that has only 4 elder residents. It’s the most unsettling book I’ve read this year. Reid has crafted this so that the reader can never be sure exactly what is going on, what is reality and what is not, and the relative soundness of Penny’s mind. 

November Plans:  For Nonfiction November, I am about to start reading The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan, a book I purchased early this year and haven't yet had time for.  I've been saving it for November. But! When I searched and searched Nonfiction November online, do you realize it's all on Twitter and Instagram? I was going to try to post an icon or something.  Oh, poor Twitter--poor Twitter followers! Elon Musk is the penultimate evil wizard of social media, sad to say. If I were an avid Twitterer, I'd be frantic, frankly.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Trying Like Crazy to Catch Up!

 It's hard to believe that it's been one month and one day since I last posted! September, perhaps my favorite month, has flown by without my checking in a single time. 

Struggling today to keep my head above water because I had the bivalent Covid vaccine yesterdayat 9 am, and to think I was expecting it to be nothing! But it hit me extra hard for some inexplicable reason, which has kept me very quiet and which has reminded me I need to drop a line or two here. 

On a hot, very humid final day of August, I finished reading the recently published After Lives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, who is the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature (2021). Although he lives in England now, he grew up in Madagascar and spent all of his youth in Africa. I was fascinated by this novel, set in East Africa from the 1880s to the 1940s. The book relates the stories of the members of one extended family, many of whom are both African and Indian (Muslim), mixed. I must admit that I’d thought I was acquainted with the colonial history of East Africa, but I soon learned how woefully limited my knowledge was. In addition to the British, there were the German colonials (Deutsch Ostfrika), the Belgians, the Portuguese, and the Italians, all in the late 1800s trying to vie for dominance of East Africa. This was a fascinating family history set rich in its historical context.

 I absolutely LOVED reading Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads, which was published earlier this year. It's set at Christmas 1971 and Eastertide 1972 and just a bit beyond. It's about a pastor's family in Illinois--four children, of whom three are teens and one just a bit older. Becky, one of the children and one of the main characters is 18 at the time, as I was in the same year. The difference is that Becky is still a senior in high school and I was a college freshman at that time.  Each member of the family is at a crossroads, which pulls them apart. About Franzen: I am in awe of his powers as a writer of fiction. This is the first novel I've read by him, and I will say I can't believe how powerfully crafted his scenes are. Whoo...gasp! He is masterful, and I will read more of his novels now that I know his powers. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes and The 20 Books of Summer Finale

 I'd originally intended to put Julian Barnes's new book, Elizabeth Finch, on my list back in May. But the August release date was late enough that I figured I'd never get it from the library in time. But it worked out. The narrator meets the most enigmatic, charismatic, and life-changing teacher when he takes a Culture and Civilization course. The students are mostly in their late twenties, as is the narrator. His inner life is transformed, but is it the middle-aged Elizabeth Finch that transforms him, her ideas and strategies of inquiry into religious and philosophical controversies of the past three millenia, or his academic relationship with her? This is a fascinating "novel of ideas," as many critics have pointed out.  In the hands of another writer, I would have given this novel a pass, but I am an admirer of Julian Barnes and find his novels tremendously thought-provoking. If this one doesn't sound like the book for you, do try his novel The Sense of an Ending, his Man Booker Prize winner. It's one I'll reread again and again.

My final 20 Books of Summer List is as follows. I really enjoyed almost all of the books I read. Participating definitely made this a much more interesting summer than it would have been otherwise. I hope to do it again next year. I had to replace 7 books. Based on this experience and my practice since 2021, I can see that pre-planning what I read really works for me. I tend to balance the subjects and genres of what I read more than ever before, and think through ahead of time what I want to read. A nice bonus.

1.     All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami  (trans. fr. Japanese)  ck

2.     Outside by Ragnar Jonasson  (trans fr. Icelandic)  ck

3.     Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles (NF) ck

4.     The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten  ck

5.     Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer  ck

6.     This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub  ck

7.     The Midcoast by Adam White  ck

8.     Flying Solo by Linda Holmes  Replaced by: The House across the Lake by Riley Sager  ck

9.     The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill  ck

10.  The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy  Replaced by The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley  ck

11.  Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark ck

12.  Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney  Replaced by Writers and Lovers by Lily King  ck

13.  The Wild Hunt by Emma Seckel  Replaced by  A History of Present Illness by Anna DeForest

14.  I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart (2021) Replaced by Rumer Godden: A Storyteller's Life by Alice Chisholm  ck

15.  The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman  ck

16.  The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer  Replaced by:  Elizabeth Finch by Julian Barnes ck

17.  Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum   Replaced by: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton  ck

18.  After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris by Helen Rappaport (NF) Replaced by: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life after Warming by David Wallace-Wells  ck

19.  The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards  (Lake District #4)  ck

      20.   In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden  ck (Classics Club Spin)