In the High Peaks

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)


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

3 Books Finished, One to Go, & Onward to Fall Reading

 On this tropically rainy day, I spent much of it reading, and finished my 19th book, Writers and Lovers by Lily King (2020). Casey, a young woman of 30, has been immersed in writing her first novel for the past 6 years. This book follows her through the final year of writing after a move to Boston. King shows us all of Casey's life at age 30. Her life as a waitress in Harvard Square is miserable but lavishly entertaining, her squalid apartment, her relationships, one with a man her own age and one with a famous writer just emerging from the devastation of having lost his wife. The tone, the voice, everything about this book is vibrant, super-charged with vitality, despite Casey's angst. An excellent read! The Boston setting was loads of fun.

On a much more somber note, I devoured A History of Present Illness (18) by Anna DeForest. The unnamed narrator is a young medical student, and this novel is not linear. It is actually composed of anecdotes and scenes of her encounters with the unnamed, unwritten bible of the medical profession, all the parts which are the opposite of the axiom "First do no harm." Unsurprisingly, the author is a palliative care physician as well as a neurologist and this is her debut novel. It's short, but because it's plotless, I don't think it could be called a novella. It's impossible not to identify with the medical student's introduction to surgery, autopsies, cadaver class, and end-of-life care. DeForest highlights the least humane aspects of medicine. If you have any interest in recent medical fiction, I do recommend it. The handling of controversial medical topics is unique.

And I finally finished Rumer Godden: A Storyteller's Life (17) by Anne Chisholm (1999). Godden had a fascinating life, having lived in British colonial India until 1944-45, when she was 37, at which time she moved to England. She lived in the Bay of Bengal as a child, in what is now Bangladesh, Calcutta, and during WWII lived in Kashmir. (Actually not under British control at the time she lived there.) She later made many return trips, some of them for movies made from her books. She wrote voluminously--and couldn't resist writing children's books as well. I look forward to reading many more of her novels. 

Books I'm looking forward to in September:  I am a diehard fan of Ian McEwan, so Lessons is on my list. Since it's a hefty one, I'll probably buy it. Anne Cleeves has a new Vera Stanhope novel arriving on September 6, so I'll be reading that.  

On hold now at the library is Julian Barnes's (another favorite author) Elizabeth Finch and Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah, the new Nobel Prizewinner. #20 will be one of these two.