Tag Archives: Books

show us your books – january 2021 reads

Winter – real winter – has finally arrived in Michigan with a vengeance. Lake Michigan is protecting us from the truly arctic temps sweeping down from Canada but it’s still dang cold. To that end, I am eager to see everyone’s reads this month and pad out my TBR list cuz I’m NOT going outside for awhile!

As always, I am joining the link-up hosted by Steph and Jana!

I’ll review my two “Nordic Noir” reads first – both recommended by the excellent Crime by the Book. The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg is the second book in the Korner and Werner series. Bodies drained of blood are showing up around Copenhagen, and as Korner investigates, it appears that they all have links to caregiving institutions. Werner is on maternity leave after an unexpected pregnancy, chafing at being home with a newborn and struggling to cope with her new normal. When she decides to do some independent sleuthing on the case, it exposes both of them to a murderer bent on vengeance. The strength of this series, to me, is the human element of Korner and Werner’s personal lives as they intermingle with their investigations, and the relationship between these contrary characters. A solid follow-up to The Tenant.

My starred review this month, however, goes to The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler. It knocks every other Scandinavian thriller into the ditch and is not for the faint of heart, but I absolutely could not put it down. The book opens with the grisly murder of a family in Sweden, a sole surviving teenager, and a hypnotist called in to try to see the murderer through the boy’s eyes. The book ties unexpected yet expertly woven threads of the hypnotist’s past and his family as well as the shocking secrets of the murdered family and the surviving boy. Overseen by charismatic lead detective Joona Linna, the action hurtles to its crazy climax with a tight, fast plot, excellent characters, and many twists and turns. Warning – it contains distressing elements of child abuse and murder, as well as incest, so probably not for everyone.

I read one other mystery this month, The Searcher by Tana French. I’ll start by saying that I love Tana French and normally I can’t put her books down. This one, however, was disappointing. The writing was solid and engaging, and I liked the main character, Cal Hooper, a retired American detective who has pulled up stakes in Chicago and moved to a small village in rural Ireland. His life is absorbed in renovating his dilapidated house and brooding about his broken family until a local boy shows up for help in finding his missing brother. Unfortunately, I just could not get engaged with the kid or the plot. I enjoyed French’s Dublin Murder Squad mysteries as well as Witch Elm but sadly this one just didn’t click for me.

My last read is a divergence but very enjoyable if you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, is the first manuscript that Wilder set down about her childhood and family. If you thought you knew anything about the Ingalls family from reading the Little House books, you will find that the true story is very different. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, a writer herself, collaborated heavily on the juvenile series, changing the history of the family and blending and creating characters that would appeal to children. This book is the real, adult telling of their journeys – it’s an absolute treasure trove of photographs, journal entries from both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, and includes amazing details about their creative partnership to bring the series to life. It also discusses with clarity the more troubling aspects of the juvenile series, and thoughtfully discusses the racism in the original books (heavily rooted in concepts of Manifest Destiny, their view of Native Americans as less than human, and yet also very evident in other scenes – remember Pa’s participation in the ‘minstrel show’?) An all-around excellent and absorbing read.

That’s it! With my library reopened, I hope to do lots of good reading in February and I look forward to sharing at our next link-up. Until then, as Mr Williams, the school superintendent, said to Laura’s pupils at the Brewster School during his unexpected visit, in Chapter 9 of These Happy Golden Years, “Whatever else you do, keep your feet warm.

Life According to Steph

tgif- willow tree roads

As I’m writing this I’m watching the demise of the old willow tree that has proudly resided in the backyard for decades. The tree guys came this morning & will be here for the next few hours (they are funny guys and one of them asked if he can use our microwave at lunchtime to warm up his chili – that’s a man after my own heart).

This is a melancholy moment- I loved that tree just like I love ALL the mature trees in my yard. This despite the undeniable truth that it has become a potential hazard to the neighborhood’s power lines. I am sad to see it go, but relieved in a way, too, and I am not looking forward to the gaping bare spot it will leave.

This week, I’ve been reading a couple of good books and I received a happy mail order. As I make my way through “Pioneer Girl”, the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the manuscript that she and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane adapted into the juvenile series “Little House on the Prairie”, I noticed a photograph of Lane’s journal. It was a five year diary with each day on the same page, so at the end of the five years you can look at any date and see five years of entries.

I loved this idea and immediately ordered one for myself.

I can’t believe that Miss L will be 17 when this journal is completed.

It was a full moon yesterday which means I slept poorly and have a full docket of meetings and tasks to take me through until almost quitting time. I can’t wait to shut down my computer and brain at 5:00. Brandon and I have had to dial way back on intense movies and shows lately, finding them just too much on top of everything else. So I subscribed to PBS Documentary via Amazon Prime. We are happily working our way through the Ken Burns oeuvre starting with “Country Music” and that’s no doubt where we will spend a few happy hours this weekend.

I also hope to spend some time with the other book I’m reading- completely dissimilar to “Pioneer Girl” but also utterly absorbing. More about both of these in the next Show Us Your Books (always the second Tuesday of the month).

I hope you enjoy your weekend and get a lot of rest and good things to eat.

“Walking on willow tree roads by a river dappled with peach blossoms, I look for spring light, but am everywhere lost. Birds fly up and scatter floating catkins. A ponderous wave of flowers sags the branches.” – Wang Wei

xoxo

friday five

  1. Getting the majority of the griping out of the way up front (although I can’t guarantee there won’t be more), I’ve been super tired and unmotivated this week. I didn’t run, I barely accomplished the most critical items on my ‘to-do’ list, and I felt like I was in a state of torpor until midway through Thursday. It may be the weather (much cooler at night) but I just feel like I could sleep for hours.
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2. Brandon, however, has NOT been feeling tired – he’s still furloughed but he is up every day a bit before seven, watching the Tour de France on his streaming subscription, then hitting up the local skateboard park for a couple of hours with the old thrashers. He’s also been repainting our hallway, foyer, and stairwell, which is leading to a complete revamp of that area. We are swapping out some older pieces of furniture for a bench to go next to the door and I ordered a new foyer light fixture from Pottery Barn. I’m looking at new rugs. And we made the decision to paint our stairs, which is no small undertaking. We’re going for this kind of vibe.

But of course on a much smaller scale because I only have a few feet of exposed stairway rail and no wainscoting. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes!

3. I read a super inspiring book this week (YAY for our libraries being open!) and although I should wait to share this for SUYB, I have to mention it because if you’re a maker, it’s worth checking out. It celebrates all different kinds of artists who work with their hands, on everything from dyeing to stencilling to metalwork to fiber arts to glass to ceramics to fashion – EVERYTHING. I liked it so much I put the picture on IG and, in a bit of a fangirl moment, the AUTHOR HERSELF Melanie Falick commented on it. So cool. Every time I opened it to read another essay, I found new inspiration and new IG accounts to follow. Highly recommend!

4. I tried out a new recipe last week and it got two major thumbs up from Brandon. This chicken caprese skillet from Skinnytaste was definitely a hit. It reminded me of my favorite summer salad, with tomatoes and basil and balsamic and fresh mozzarella, didn’t take very long in my cast iron skillet, and I served it with orzo and garlic bread.

5. This is worth more than a friday five mention, but the passing of RBG hit me hard, and this subsequent week in politics has been particularly arduous. I have tried to simply keep gratitude for the amazing work she did for equal rights and not get overly emotionally embroiled (any more so than I am right now) in the repugnant response from the right, but it’s hard. Don’t even get me started on what a completely unredeemable and non-value-added human being Mitch McConnell is. And to top it off with Donald Trump giving the impression that he would be the first American president not to respect the peaceful transfer of power and throw our country into a violent, unsettled constitutional crisis is beyond egregious. And should be considered sedition. I cannot believe that even the most ardent Republican could be unaware of what this represents and the absolute Pandora’s box of true anarchy (TRUE anarchy – not the fascist, racist conservativism complaints about BLM and other protesters exercising their CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS to assembly that Trumpsters CLAIM to be anarchy – I guess they only care about the parts of the Constitution that THEY want to defend, such as the right to bear arms, hypocrites) they would allow to be opened if they do not speak out against this. Do they really want a Dictator for Life?

On that dismayed and sour note, I apologize and wish you a happy weekend. I may be curating my social media, I will be exploring my “maker” side, I will be eating a big messy burger from the Rolling Stoves, drinking some wine, and I will hopefully be getting my running mojo back a bit. Be well and enjoy. xoxo

show us your books! august reads.

Linking up with hosts Steph and Jana for another month of bookish show and tell.

It was a doozy of a month so I’d better just jump right in.

The First Mrs Rothschild by Sara Aharoni was a Kindle Unlimited rec for me – not my fave, it dragged in parts but provided an eye-opening look at life as a Jewish woman in the Frankfurt ghetto. This was more interesting to me than the financial machinations of the Rothschild family.

A Cold Trail, Robert Dugoni (Tracy Crosswhite #7) brings me up to date with the Crosswhite series and I am eagerly awaiting #8. In this offering, Tracy, her husband Dan and baby Dani are back in the small town where they grew up. Tracy is dealing with being a new mom and making decisions about her career and in the meantime, investigating the unsolved murder of a teenage girl years before. I love Tracy.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – A murder / suicide at a grand old decrepit British mansion during a weekend party? Yes please. But not straightforward, as this story unfolds in a Groundhog Day sort of way, with the protagonist being placed in different characters as the day repeats. I liked this, and I liked the characters and the mystery, but the plot grew increasingly outlandish. Extra points for an ominous Plague Doctor making creepy appearances.

Abandon by Blake Crouch was also hard for me to put down. A journalist attaches herself to a group of hikers (including her long-distant father) striking out to explore the ruins of a gold mining ghost town in the mountains. What caused all the inhabitants of this town to disappear without a trace? The supernatural elements build with questions and atmosphere. I liked where this story was going and was totally hooked when Crouch did the bait-and-switch. (No spoilers.) I didn’t love where the story went as much as I could have if it had continued to develop a more supernatural / ghostly explanation but I tore through it, on the edge of my seat throughout.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata was a quick read and a good breather from more tense books. Keiko is an outsider in her Tokyo culture, and can only find a place for herself, a sense of self-esteem and purpose through her job at a convenience store. Her family and friends do not understand her lack of interest in marriage and children and her contentment in what is considered to be a lowly, dead-end job (not a “career”). This is a bit sad but also funny and daring for a Japanese female writer who shrugs her shoulders at traditional expectations & expressions of female sexuality and independence. Interesting to me as I have been to Japan and work in a Japanese company, so have seen some elements of the culture that are described here.

Verity by Colleen Hoover was another suspenseful read. An introverted writer takes the seemingly-golden opportunity to step in for a very successful author and finish her popular series after she is badly injured. She quickly becomes embroiled with the author’s sexy husband and with the author’s hidden journal, full of horrifying secrets. I didn’t like the ending, which felt like a ripoff, and although I was fully absorbed, it loses points when I don’t like any of the characters and can’t find a sympathetic viewpoint.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol – Miss L likes graphic novels so I bought her a handful of them for her birthday. I picked this up after she was done with it and thought it was well-done – a teenage girl from an immigrant family struggling to find her place in her private school becomes involved with a ghost who seems pathetic and eager to please, but quickly turns Anya’s life upside down. I liked the overall messages in this book (being true to yourself, the traps of popularity, loyalty to friends, etc) and enjoyed discussing it with Miss L when we were done.

Opium and Absinthe by Lydia Kang was recommended by a bestie and it was my favorite read of the month (saying a lot in a month of overall great reads). In turn-of-the-century New York society, Tillie Pembroke’s older sister has wealth, beauty, heart, and an excellent match – and then she turns up dead with two puncture wounds in her neck. Tillie – younger, more headstrong, always in her sister’s shadow – sets out to find the killer, using Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” as a guidebook. Along the way, she develops addictions to heroin and morphine, and, at a cost, breaks all the molds that her family and society have set for her, finds love and a purpose in life. I liked this book so much – the characters, the atmosphere, the mystery, the setting, and definitely plan on reading much more of Kang’s work.

The Sound of Rain by Gregg Olson is Nicole Foster Thriller #1 and another absorbing, suspenseful read. Nicole Foster is a former homicide detective who’s hit bottom – thanks to her terrible taste in men and a rampant gambling addiction, she’s lost her home, her dog, and her job on the force. She’s also haunted by the case of a murdered child and a terrible family life, starring a vicious and narcissistic younger sister. Nicole has to go all the way down (which is hard to read) in order to fight her way back and work through the case – which has crazy ties to her problematic personal life. It’s always hard to read a book where none of the characters are appealing and Nicole is certainly a very ambivalent protagonist. It’s hard to root for her until about 3/4 through and even then, her choices are really not good. But she claws her way out and it’s quite a ride with an absolutely bananas ending (that seemed a little “huh” to me). But I’ll read the second Nicole Foster and hope she’s in a better place.

I hope your reading month was as excellent as mine was!

show us your books – july 2020 reads

As always, linking up with my hosts Steph and Jana for Show Us Your Books!

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I’m going to get the big one out of the way first even if it wasn’t chronologically the first one I read.

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel was essentially my July reading project. It tipped the scales at 882 pages and every page was well worth it. This book rounds out Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, which started with Wolf Hall. The whole trilogy is simply excellent and mind boggling in its ability to bring these people – Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour – to vivid life. No doubt my best read for 2020 as of yet and I would also recommend the PBS miniseries “Wolf Hall” which is actually a mashup of the first 2 books in the trilogy. It stars Mark Rylance as Cromwell, Damien Lewis as Henry, and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn.

The Closers by Michael Connelly. An 882 page hardcover was just not going to happen for a “beach read” due to sheer size and lack of portability, so for my up-north outdoor reading I took along a battered Harry Bosch paperback and thoroughly enjoyed the change of gears from Cromwell. In this contribution to the Bosch franchise, Harry has returned to the Cold Case Unit after his short-lived retirement from the police force and tackles the unsolved case of a fifteen-year old girl abducted from her home and shot.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler tells two stories that join up at the end – the first, of a struggling librarian / researcher trying to keep his family home from sliding into the sea (literally) and a traveling carnival from the 1880’s. Aforementioned young librarian (aptly named ‘Simon’) comes to own a mysterious antique book about this circus inscribed with his grandmother’s name. Hopefully this book can help Simon unravel why women in his family are prone to drowning. I thought the premise was great but the execution missed the mark;  it left me a little disappointed. Still, it passed the time just fine.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have the Answer To When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco. Mastromonaco worked for Obama during his time as a Senator and also during his much-missed White House tenure. This book details her almost-magical entry into politics and in its chatty, breezy way tells you everything you need to know if you’re a privileged young female working in the White House. If I sound jealous I’m not really, although it would have been my dream during my senior year in college. I guess that’s why it’s a good thing you don’t get everything you want – I would NOT have been well suited for politics (I’m barely presentable for widgets). Anyway I enjoyed this book and it made me almost weep for missing Obama. My only criticisms are her fondness for the word “stoked” and that she is very prone to telling the reader all of the nicknames of the people she worked with and that got super name-droppy and cringy after awhile. (Sample: “The next day I assembled the SkedAdv team to deliver the news to them. Emmett, Dey, Jess, Big Liz, Astri, JoeJoe, Pho, Chaseh, Tedders, Nool, Teal, Q, Levitt, Donny, and Little Kate the intern.” I swear I almost stopped reading.)

Hope you all had some great summer reads and I look forward to catching up next month! xo

Life According to Steph

 

show us your books – june 2020 reads

Another month joining up with our hosts Steph and Jana for SUYB!

Life According to Steph

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Looking back at June, I actually did a LOT of reading – it just didn’t really feel like it because a few of my reads just felt “meh”. I apologize in advance for my dour reception of several of these undoubtedly fine works.

Without further ado:

The Splendor Before the Dark (Nero, #2) was not as good as the first one in Margaret George’s Nero pair, “Confessions of Young Nero”. I love Margaret George and have her books about Cleopatra, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I on my shelf and bought this one in hardcover. I’m happy to own it but I was disappointed that even the burning of Rome seemed a little dull. It’s also tough to get my head around a sympathetic portrayal of Nero, although that didn’t bother me in the first novel, so who knows.

A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand is the rare book about food and wine that did not make me hungry. Jim Harrison is a Michigan writer who we ultimately had to share with Montana by way of Hollywood (“Legends of the Fall”) and he’s apparently quite the libertine when it comes to food and wine. There is a LOT of drinking in this book of essays and the fact that it’s expensive French wine didn’t ease my feeling that I was getting a hangover by osmosis, absorbed through my fingertips through the pages. Also a lot of big eating of very heavy meats (lotta pig here, folks) and game and several Mario Batali name-drops. He’s such an amazing, lyrical writer that I’ll just forgive him this one.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier – I loved “Rebecca” but this one was not what I expected. Although it is set in Cornwall and it was kind of exciting to see some of the town names that I’ve heard mentioned watching “Poldark”. Kind of a gloomy gothic number and while the heroine has her fair share of pluck, I honestly didn’t much care about anyone else.

(Wow – I’m already coming across as quite the disgruntled reader this month, aren’t I? Buckle up, the worst is yet to come.)

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams was a Kindle Unlimited recommendation and I feel like it perfectly fit in with two other Kindle recs that are upcoming in that they were stridently mediocre. This one was perhaps the least palatable of the three, telling the story of a strange 1930’s love triangle between New York socialites that comes to a heady climax during a seaside summer in a posh oceanfront enclave. There is flippancy, red lipstick, cigarettes and martinis, unrequited love, anti-Semitism, someone named “Budgie” and misunderstandings rife throughout. Just when you can’t take any more of this, a hurricane sweeps through like a wonderful deus ex machina to wipe the slate clean and resolve all angst. Sigh. I guess if you like beach reads plus light historical romance this would be a good pick.

A Steep Price, by Robert Dugoni (Tracy Crosswhite #6) – thank God for Robert Dugoni and Tracy who saved my June reading from the crapper. This one wasn’t my favorite in the series but it’s still a solid page turner that features a bit more from Tracy’s colleagues and supporting players in the police department as she navigates the early stages of her pregnancy and investigates the intersection between a missing persons case and the body of a young Indian woman found in a well.

This Won’t End Well – Camille Pagan’s writing belongs, I’ll say right off the bat, to a genre that I’m not super into. Historical fiction and mysteries, psychological and supernatural thrillers and some YA & literary fiction are solidly in my wheelhouse but lighthearted chick lit with witty romance and navel gazing thrown in are not my cups of tea. That said, I blew through this in a couple of days and can’t say anything really bad about it except that it’s just not a genre that I enjoy much. But it is light, funny, and easy to like with a suitably cute and neurotic heroine in a bit of a life tailspin thanks to a recent firing, a case of sexual harassment in the workplace, a mysterious new neighbor, and her fiance’s completely unexpected and unexplained departure for Paris. You’ll probably like it better than I did but don’t blame me if you don’t.

The Price of Paradise by Susana Lopez Rubio was my final June Kindle rec and the one I enjoyed the most. Set in Cuba in the 1940’s, the main character is a young immigrant from Spain seeking his fortune in Havana. He works his way up at an exclusive department store and runs afoul of the local gangster when he falls in love with his wife. Again, not my favorite genre but this was better than the Pagan or the hurricane book.

I also did a lot of running during the month of June and most of my time on my feet was spent listening to Stephen King’s latest book of novellas, If It Bleeds, which I got on Audible. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors and when he’s good, he’s brilliant (The Stand, The Shining) and when he’s not so good he’s still better than most anything else out there. I enjoyed this listen more on the strength of King’s masterful ability to unwind a story with patience, to put you into the skin of the character, and invest you in something that seems so outlandish. The titular novella was my favorite, due mostly to Holly Gibney – she is a great female detective character (I will always picture her as portrayed by Cynthia Erivo in the wonderful HBO miniseries featuring her, “The Outsider”). All the narrators are wonderful but particularly Will Patton, who narrates many of King’s works (as well as James Lee Burke, another favorite writer).

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show us your books! april 2020 reads

My reading choices have been rather varied this month and are mostly based on what’s available with no library to avail myself of. Last summer my father gave me a couple of paper sacks full of books that he’d finished with, and when I rearranged my bookshelves recently I got sucked into the Lucas Davenports that I’ve inherited from him. I read Naked Prey (#14) and Night Prey (#6) and since he gave me about fifteen of them, I’ll probably be picking them up periodically from now until the end of the year. I find John Sandford very reliable and comforting (much the same as Steve Hamilton).

Otherwise, I’ve been picking up Kindle deals as I see them, and getting some long-held reserves from my local library’s online lending library. Including:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I went through an Atwood phase just before we moved to Australia years ago, and I’m sure I read this then; anything Atwood reminds me of Melbourne in the winter. I don’t think this is her best, but even marginal Atwood is head and shoulders above almost anything else you can find to read.

Sorcery & Cecilia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede – I think I started reading this over a year ago and just finished it. Think Jane Austen mixed with twee magic and wizards, written entirely in the form of letters back and forth between cousins – one in London for her Season and the other stuck in her family’s countryside estate – and you’ll have it. I loved this at first, and found it funny and charming, and then it just dragged on, and on, and on. And on. Unfortunately the Kindle deal I got was for the trilogy so I’m in it to win it with the next two in the series, as well, but only after a good long break.

The Trapped Girl (Tracy Crosswhite #4) by Robert Dugoni – Gosh I’m enjoying this series. I picked it up after a recommendation from our host Steph and this was a Kindle deal, I think, so best of both worlds. Looking forward to hunting down the next installment.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou was another Kindle deal. It had been on my list for a long time but after listening to a podcast series and watching the HBO documentary about Elizabeth Holmes and her Theranos craziness, I pretty much knew everything I was reading and there were no new insights. I will say that everything I find out about Elizabeth Holmes reinforces what a nut job and despicable human being she is and how insane it was that she snowed so many respectable older men (I’m not going to speculate how that transpired for fear of sounding cynical).

Hard Rain / Skoenlapper (S-boek Reeks #1) by Irma Ventner was part of an offer by Amazon to read international authors; Ventner is a South African novelist and this translation of a thriller featuring the romance of a photographer and a newspaper reporter was interesting if not a total page turner. I enjoyed it, and burned through it quickly, and would likely check out others in the series if they’re translated and available at reduced prices via some sort of Kindle deal or from the library.

The Dry by Jane Harper (Aaron Falk #1) was the best book I read this month, hands down – another Kindle deal. When he visits his hometown in Australia to attend a funeral, a long-dormant death & scandal comes back to haunt Aaron Falk. Falk, a Melbourne police investigator, soon begins to wonder if the deaths, though spread over decades, are somehow connected. Set during a punishing drought, the story is atmospheric and tense, rife with bits of Australia that made me remember my all-too-brief time there. Can’t wait to pick up the sequel.

So there are my reads – thanks as always to our hosts Steph and Jana for the virtual linkup;  I look forward to seeing what other bloggers are reading.

And as a postscript, one of my favorite authors Tana French will be releasing her next book in October! Here’s the article.

Be well and stay safe. Until next month, xoxo

Life According to Steph

 

show us your books! march reads (quarantine edition)

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As always, joining up with our hosts Life According to Steph and Jana Says for this link up!

Before the Stay Home Stay Safe order came down, I rushed to the library to stock up on books. There was a reserve waiting for me, but nothing I wanted in New Arrivals (it was my first experience with a shelf picked bare due to quarantine) so I stormed the Mystery section and pulled several titles off the shelves. Fortunately, I enjoyed all of them, and I present:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – a young girl in the early 1900’s embarks on a fantastic journey via a strange book and a series of magical doors to find her family and her own identity. Despite the promising premise, I would say this just passed the time for me. It had some shiny moments but ultimately fell flat.

The Return (Inspector Van Veeteren #3) by Hakan Nesser. (modeled by Sarge in the pic above.) Love a good gloomy Nordic mystery. When kids find a headless, legless, footless corpse (always a great set up), Inspector Van Veeteren, scheduled for surgery, becomes embroiled. Told in many flashbacks as the Inspector comes to suspect that a notorious double murderer may actually have been innocent. Not the best Van Veeteren I’ve read but it was solid.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. A girl seeking a new opportunity answers an ad for a live-in nanny position. Suspense ensues. Gah. I can usually tolerate Ruth Ware but this one felt like a slog. The twist felt completely unbelievable and the ending was irritating.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley. In the summer of 1950, precocious chemist and amateur investigator Flavia de Luce – age 11 – stumbles across a series of alarming events, including a man breathing his last in the cucumber patch. Flavia sets out to solve the crime and vindicate her father AND torment her older sisters. Although this series could get overly saccharine, I liked this book a lot and found it a great antidote to quarantine. I’d love to see Flavia as a young adult.

A Bitter Truth and A Casualty of War (Bess Crawfords #3 and #9), by Charles Todd – I’m reviewing these together because no need to go into a lot of detail on the plot points. A WWI nurse from a good family solves crimes against the backdrop of the war. Enjoyed – I like Bess as a heroine and that time period is very interesting to me, the plots were a little more forgettable.

The Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes. Now that I’ve plowed through the library hoard, I’m falling back on Kindle deals. Never read anything by JoJo Moyes but got sucked into this one, set in 1946, about a bunch of Australian brides sailing to England on a decommissioned war ship to meet the men they wed in wartime. I liked the characters and the descriptions of them taking over the war ship like a raging bunch of old-timey sorority girls.

And that’s my offering for this April Tuesday, still in quarantine. Take what you’d like and leave the rest. I look forward to seeing what you’ve all been reading during this crazy month. Be well and see you next month. xo

Life According to Steph

 

the curse of interesting times

I totally blew Show Us Your Books this week but I wanted to share the below. If you’re into graphic novels, I devoured these last month and can highly recommend them. The art is gorgeous and even though I’m not sure I completely followed the plot, I loved them (and actually ordered the collection on Amazon so I can own them myself).

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We hit almost sixty degrees here in Southeast Michigan last week so I got some muddy spring running in (and then bought new running shoes as my old Brooks were then well and truly trashed).

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I was voter #38 at my precinct on Tuesday and while my first choice candidate wasn’t a winner, I am still very optimistic about the overall turnout and the fact that two important local initiatives passed – one related to a school bond proposal and the other, a millage renewal for the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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So…how is everyone doing?

Personally, I’m swinging between feeling concerned & wanting to be educated about the corona virus and being utterly annoyed at the mass hysteria. Every talking head on our evening news is on the virus train (live at Costco to show every Tom Dick and Karen with their massive carts full of paper towels and gallons of water). Opening Facebook is an exercise in seeing every armchair expert sharing their views or freaking out that we’re on the verge of societal collapse or wondering how they’re going to handle it if their kids don’t have school. I’ve promised myself that I am not posting anything on Facebook related to the virus unless I have something personal or factual to share.

This is my blog, though, so I’m not adhering to those rules – ha.

I feel generally prepared. I am not hoarding, but I stocked my freezer & pantry with some extra food in case of a home quarantine and I’ve already discussed my toilet paper stocks. I’m working from home today, as my company is stress-testing our remote networks to make sure they can support a working-from-home population. Being in the legal department, I’m privy to some behind-the-scenes discussions about how to handle our corporate response to the pandemic and while of course those are not for dissemination unless and until they are needed, suffice it to say that I’m pleased and impressed by our company views on keeping employees safe, healthy, calm, and productive.

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sarge is ready to quarantine

That said, what comes next? These are interesting times and all we can do is look at countries who are ahead of us in the curve and try to extrapolate. I think it’s realistic to expect that schools may close for awhile (all public universities in Michigan have suspended in-person instruction and have moved to online for various lengths of time) and we may be asked to home quarantine for some period of time. We will see what happens but by all means, let’s stay calm, be prepared, and support our brothers and sisters.

show us your books! january reads

It feels like I’ve had a lot of books in the fire this month (that was a strange half-metaphor that I should probably go back and delete and reword but I’m guessing you guys know what I mean) but my stats are disappointingly low when I go back to recap. Never mind. There were a couple of good ones that I can’t wait to tell you about!

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The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup was a Nordic thriller and I love a good Nordic thriller especially in the middle of winter. Sveistrup is the man behind the Danish show “The Killing” – I didn’t watch the Danish original, but I really enjoyed the American version starring Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman. Chestnut Man follows two seemingly mismatched detectives tracking a serial killer and although I didn’t like it quite as much as other thrillers I’ve read, I was hooked until the big reveal at the end (which I didn’t see coming). I would definitely read more by this author about these characters.

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths – yes, yes, another Ruth Galloway mystery but now I’m caught up in the series with no more to read or write about until there’s a new offering. In this most recent, Ruth takes a trip to Italy to help consult with a colleague about some Roman remains (and temporarily escape her complicated relationship with local police officer DCI Nelson who is her daughter Kate’s father). As always, the mix of history, archaeology, a charming protagonist in Dr Ruth Galloway, and a thorny love story makes this series a total winner in my book.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold is my starred review this month. I confess to being a bit of a Ripperologist so when I bought this on my Kindle I thought I was in for another assessment of Jack and yet another opinion on his identity. However, Jack the Ripper is really a marginal character, as much as he can be – the book is an intensely researched, thorough, and sympathetic deep dive into the lives of his canonical five victims. These women are rarely considered, but reading about their tragic lives in Victorian England and how they have been viewed (and disparaged) made me realize they aren’t simply the victims of a deranged serial killer, they are truly victims of the society in which they were born women. Rubenhold reconstructs the terrible reality of misogyny, poverty, domestic abuse and addiction that these women experienced, in most cases trying to take care of an ever-growing number of children (see below) on paltry earnings. It can be no surprise that these demands resulted in alcoholism, divorce or death, and left them and their children at risk, in and out of slums and workhouses. Although the press coverage (both then and now) describes them as prostitutes, except for one, they were not in fact sex workers by trade. What they were was poor, abused, homeless, and addicted. History has done these women a grievous disservice and Rubenhold’s book is a long overdue revelation about our collective instinct to blame and forget the victim while turning the perpetrator into a celebrity.

“A woman’s entire function was to support men, and if the roles of their male family members were to support the roles and needs of men wealthier than them, then the women at the bottom were driven like piles deeper and harder into the ground in order to bear the weight of everyone else’s demands. A woman’s role was to produce children and to raise them, but because rudimentary contraception and published information about birth control was made virtually unavailable to the poor, they…had no real means of managing the size of their families or preventing an inevitable backslide into financial hardship. The inability to break this cycle – and to better their own prospects and those of their children – would have been soul crushing, but borne with resignation.” – Hallie Rubenhold, “The Five”

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans may have been my starred review if I hadn’t read The Five. Brandon and I have divergent belief systems – he is a committed Christian and I am an agnostic – and we frequently discuss the nature of faith. I am perplexed by his ability to see the Bible as a sacred text and believe, unquestioningly, in it (at least, the New Testament); he is perplexed and somewhat sad that I can’t, although he is very non-judgmental. This book really brought me closer to understanding the upside of Christianity. Rachel Held Evans was born into a conservative Christian family but left the evangelical church after years of struggling with what she saw as its exclusionary and judgemental views. The very reasons that she left the church are the reasons why I am not a Christian. Sadly, Ms. Evans died at age 37 from illness but left behind several works questioning and researching Christianity. From the New York Times: “Her congregation was online, and her Twitter feed became her church, a gathering place for thousands to question, find safety in their doubts and learn to believe in new ways. Her work became the hub for a diaspora. She brought together once-disparate progressive, post-evangelical groups and hosted conferences to try to include nonwhite and sexual minorities, many of whom felt ostracized by the churches of their youth. She wrote four popular books, which wrestled with evangelicalism and the patriarchy of her conservative Christian upbringing, and documented her transition to a mainline Christian identity, which moved away from biblical literalism toward affirmation of L.G.B.T. people.

And this month I have a bonus audiobook- The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I read a lot of criticism about this book, with many reviewers disliking it as meandering and incomprehensible and at worst, pointless. While I don’t think I totally understood it all, and it could have benefited from some editing, I enjoyed listening to it. Her writing is so detailed and the worlds she builds so compelling that I could see myself in every scene even if it was a dollhouse full of bees the size of cats on a sea of confetti. I wish there could have been more from my favorite character Kat – knitter, secret-diary-writer – but all in all it made my dark wintry commutes fly by.

Whew!! Kind of a deep SUYB this month but all good stuff. Can’t wait to see what you’ve gotten into!

Life According to Steph