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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Pinning

July26

I’m still unpacking the things I brought back from my mom’s in Ontario -and somewhere in there are the notes I made about the books that I read last October through December. I need to find those so I can finish off 2013 and start on 2014. This, just to explain why there might be another gap in posting here.
 

Pin it photo piniticon_zps56781660.png
 

In the meantime, I’m also busy pinning all (or, at least the ones I remembered to record) of the books that I’ve read in the last 17 (that’s right – I said seventeen) years. I have only three years to go (2007-2009) but I just thought to tell you all. You can find me here if you want to follow along while I finish up.
 

Books Read in September 2013

July19

books read
I can’t really remember what was happening in my life last September although I do remember all the books that I read. I guess it was just an “ordinary” month of life in Nova Scotia.

The four mystery books that I read are detailed in a separate post.

 

1. THE MOUNTAIN AND THE VALLEY by Ernest Buckler (Literary Fiction, Vintage, Canadian author, Atlantic Canadian) 4.5 star rating

Published in 1952, this is an Atlantic Canadian classic and is set in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, in the years leading up to WWII.

The Mountain & the Valley photo mountainandvalley_zps503b17b8.jpgIt’s the story of three generations of the Canaan family, particularly David Canaan of the last generation, and illustrates the eternal struggle between generations and the subsequent breakdown of families.
For example, while David and his father are working together outside, David’s father thinks: “Someone of my own name will always live in my house,” while David is thinking of how he can’t wait to leave.

But David must sacrifice his dreams of being a writer to stay and work the family farm.

Read this if: you enjoy the novels of John Steinbeck. 4½ stars


 

2. OPEN ARMS by Marina Endicott (Fiction, Contemporary, Canadian) 4 star rating
Marina Endicott is a multi-award winning Canadian author who read her work at the 2013 Read by the Sea festival in River John, Nova Scotia. When I heard her, I realized that I’d completely missed reading her work, so I determined to begin with her first book and read on!

Open Arms photo openarms_zpsf92d5e7a.jpgOpen Arms, a finalist for the 2003 Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award, centres on Bessie Smith Connolly, 17, who has been living with her grandparents in Nova Scotia, but has come to live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with her renegade mother Isabel. Isabel delivers newspapers in the early morning to pay the rent, and haunts the clubs at night, hoping to have a chance to “sing with the band” (any band). When Isabel goes missing, Bessie and her Nova Scotian grandmother go on a road trip to track her down. I loved Endicott’s writing and am definitely going to continue in her canon.

Read this if: you enjoy stories that explore the relationship between mothers and daughters without unnecessary sentimentality. 4 stars


 

3. REGENERATION by Pat Barker (Fiction, Historical, WWI) 4 star rating

I eagerly anticipated Pat Barker’s WWI trilogy that starts with this novel, a Booker Prize nominee.  photo regeneration_zpsa2bc6464.jpg But I wasn’t aware that Regeneration is based on real-life decorated British officer, poet, and pacifist Siegfried Sassoon.

It turns out that I’m not that interested in Sassoon and would rather have had a good plot than good history. Regeneration is good writing, but I was much more moved by fictional pacifist Robert Ross in Timothy Findley’s The Wars.

Read this if: you’re interested in finding out about Sassoon and the numerous soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, who questioned the morality of the Great War as it was being fought. 4 stars


 

4. CRAMPTON HODNET by Barbara Pym (Fiction, Vintage) 3.5 star rating

Crampton Hodnet photo cramptonhodnet_zps572e2e81.jpgOne of Pym’s favourite subjects is the behaviour of anthropologists as they study the behaviour of others. In Crampton Hodnet, she again examines this through a young anthropologist who has moved into her mother’s village home in North Oxford to complete a paper. She cannot help observing the inhabitants of the community. This, of course, serves as an outlet for Pym’s observations of human nature. This story is a little more “tied-up” than some of her others and was first published posthumously in 1987.

Read this if: you enjoy sly humour about the human condition. 3½ stars


 

5. LIFE ITSELF: a Memoir by Roger Ebert (Non-fiction, Memoir) 3 star rating

Roger Ebert is probably the best known film critic in the English speaking world. Until his failed surgeries following thyroid cancer that left him unable to speak, eat, or drink, he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times (and was syndicated around the world) and appeared on television for thirty-three years critiquing the movies of our time. Life Itself photo lifeitself_zps9055525d.jpg When a full-page photo of his face without his jawbone was published after a magazine interview, he went public with what was happening in his life.

There are several chapters about his childhood and early career, three or four chapters on specific celebrities (I enjoyed the one on John Wayne), a chapter on Siskel (from which you likely will not learn much), one on (unnecessarily) justifying that he married a black woman, and then a few chapters on his illness and how things went off the rails. You might find facts to interest you, but don’t expect a great deal of deep introspection, despite the book’s title.

Read this if: you are a huge fan of Ebert. 3 stars

 

Do any of these appeal to you?

 


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Generally, I link to the lowest priced version of each book (which is usually paperback) but in many cases hardbacks and audio books are available.


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Mystery Books Read in September 2013

July16

 

I continued with series debuts in September – and one series epilogue that introduced me to an author that I must read more of!

Any of these tickle your fancy?

 

RING IN THE DEAD by J.A. Jance (mystery/Crime Fiction, Police Detective, Novella, Epilogue) 4 star rating
This was a Kindle novella that I received free as part of a promotion for Vance’s work. It’s also available in paperback.

Ring in the Dead photo ringinthedead_zps2b5f1059.jpgThe protagonist, J.P. Beaumont, is retired from policing when some papers belonging to his deceased ex-partner surface and raise perplexing questions. J.P. reminisces about a particular case with said partner and does some current sleuthing to find the answers.

I thought the whole package—J. P., the mystery, the writing—quite classy. This is my first Vance and it did the job it was intended to do: I’m starting at the beginning of this series of 21 books and if the first couple live up to the promise displayed in the novella, I will happily read the series through, and meet up with J.P. in retirement again.

Read this if:
you’ve never read Vance’s Beaumont series and want the perfect intro; or if you’ve read the series through and mourned when J.P. hung up his gun – here’s a tidbit more for you. 4 stars

 

THE PERICLES COMMISSION
by Gary Corby (Mystery Fiction, Amateur Sleuth, Ancient Greece) 3.5 star rating

Pericles Commission photo periclescommission_zpsb39063d1.jpgThis stars Nicolaos, a young Athenian in 461 BCE, just after the (still unsolved) assassination of Ephialtes, the man credited with bringing democracy to Athens.

It’s cozy mystery meets history lesson. Corby presents a plausible solution to the real-life crime.

Read this if: you want a fun introduction to ancient Greek, particularly Athenian, culture & political history. 3½ stars

 

BURIED IN A BOOK
(A Novel Idea Mystery) by Lucy Arlington (Mystery Fiction, Amateur Sleuth, Cozy, Bibliophilic) 3.5 star rating
Buried in a Book photo buriedinbook_zpsf152c2a2.jpg

Lila Wilkins, out of her journalist job at 45, moves to a small North Carolina town where she obtains work reading manuscripts at the local literary agency, A Novel Idea. This is a cozy mystery with the attendant plot coincidences.

Since it’s been some months since I read this, I really can’t remember much more about it but, at the time, I rated it 3½ stars.
 

ERASING MEMORY
by Scott Thornley (Crime Fiction, Police Procedural, Canadian) 3 star rating

Erasing Memory photo erasingmemory_zps2f462715.jpgOkay, this one I remember – but not fondly. MacNeice, police detective in the southern Ontario Canada industrial city of Dundurn, investigates the murder of a beautiful young musician.

I was interested in this book chiefly because Dundurn is really Hamilton, Ontario, our “hometown” for 12 years before we moved to Nova Scotia. To my disappointment, the city doesn’t really play much of a part in the story which was a little far-fetched and hard-edged to suit me.

Read this if:
you enjoy tough police procedurals or you’re a long-time Hamiltonian who’s looking for a new series. 3 stars

 


Disclaimer
: I am an affiliate of Book Depository and if you purchase there after clicking on any of the above links, I will earn a small percentage of the sale.
I choose to link to Book Depository, when possible, because they have reasonable prices and free shipping JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
Generally, I link to the lowest priced version of each book (which is usually paperback) but in many cases hardbacks and audio books are available.


BOOK DEPOSITORY has free world-wide delivery:
buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Books Read in August 2013

July12

books read
I travelled to Ontario in August to attend a niece’s wedding so a couple of the books I read were on my Kindle. I’ve wondered in the past whether I’ve rated books I’ve read on that device lower simply because it’s not my preferred reading experience. Both of August’s books rated 4 stars, though, demonstrating that I can enjoy Kindle reading.

You can find the single mystery book I read at the bottom of this post

 

1. I DO NOT COME TO YOU BY CHANCE by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani (Fiction, West African) 4.5 star rating

This is the second book by a Nigerian author that I’ve read this year, and although I’ve given it the same rating I issued Half of a Yellow Sun, this one has a completely different tone.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance photo Idonotcometoyoubychance_zps421611e6.jpgSet in modern Nigeria, this book follows Kingsley Ibe, a young village man, who wants to fulfill the responsibilities of oldest son and is encouraged to do so by his traditional parents, who think that education is still the way to a well-paying job. But rapid changes in modern society have altered “the rules” and Kingsley finds himself turning to a black sheep uncle who involves him in 419 schemes. Despite the subject matter, this novel is almost light-hearted – and outstandingly enjoyable.

Read this if: you’re interested in those ubiquitous emails scams from the “other” side. 4½ stars

 

2. LIAR AND SPY by Rebecca Stead (Fiction, Children’s Chapter/YP) 4 star rating

Rebecca Stead’s 2010 Newbery Medal winning novel When You Reach Me is one of my favourite children’s chapter books of all time, and so I went into Liar and Spy with unrealistically high expectations.

Liar and Spy photo liarampspy_zps603a5f74.jpg Georges and his parents have recently had to sell their house in Brooklyn and move to a near-by apartment. There Georges meets Safer and his younger sister, and reluctantly joins their spy club.

Liar and Spy reflects Stead’s straight-forward style, and understanding of youngsters in their early teens.
She builds suspense in a very believable situation and has, not one, but two surprises at the end. I highly recommend this for young and older readers alike.

Read this if: you enjoy well-written stories that appeal to younger readers because they’re not quite what they seem; or you’d like a book that both you and adolescent can read, enjoy, and discuss. 4 stars

 

3. I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME by Horace McCoy (Fiction, Vintage) 4 star rating

I Should Have Stayed Home photo Ishouldhavestayedhome_zpsc244a391.jpgMcCoy wrote in the 1930s in a contemporary setting. This story revolves around Ralph, a small-town hick who’s come to Hollywood to break into pictures, and his roommate Mona who is equally desperate to become a star. McCoy didn’t sugar-coat the reality of Hollywood life or the effects of the Depression on Americans of all stripes.

I’m not sure who approved the cover of this re-issue but I think it’s very much all wrong.

While I was reading this, I was thinking it felt like The Postman Always Rings Twice meets They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, so I wasn’t too surprised to learn that McCoy did indeed write the latter.

Read this if: you’d like a look at old-time Tinsel Town, stripped of its tinsel. 4 stars

 

4. UP, BACK & AWAY by K(im) Velk (Fiction, Historical, Time Travel, Children’s Chapter/YP) 4 star rating

Up, Back & Away photo upbackampaway_zps15d6008b.jpgFourteen-year-old Miles undertakes a mission for an ailing elderly friend, and finds himself transported from today’s Vermont to the English countryside of 1928. There he must find “a girl and a secret”. With not much more than that to go on, he bravely sets out to fulfill his mission.

I loved this book and recommend it to readers of any age.

Read this if: you enjoy the time and setting of Downton Abbey; or you’d like to see how a modern teen can adjust to life—and society—of 85 years ago. 4 stars

 

5. A FEW GREEN LEAVES by Barbara Pym (Fiction, Vintage) 3.5 star rating

 photo fewgreenleaves_zps50a3fbd1.jpgReviewer Trixie says: “After writing about London settings, Pym returns to the small country village of her beginnings. But, this village lacks the comfortable traditionalism of her earlier Some Tame Gazelle. Much of the book dwells on the changes that have come about in the English countryside by 1980.”

A Few Green Leaves
is not depressing, however. It is instead humorously realistic about the incongruities between what people have been raised to expect and what actually is. I greatly enjoyed this, as I have all of Pym’s writings.

Read this if:
you’ve read some other of Pym’s works and would like to see them “gel”. 3½ stars

 

6. ALL QUIET ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Magnus Mills (Fiction) 3.5 star rating

I read this book to earn 30(!) points in Semi-Charmed’s Summer Reading Challenge in the category of a book by an author born in my birth year (1954). It was my introduction to Mills.
All Quiet on the Orient Express photo allquietonorientexpress_zps80b82dc5.jpg
The protagonist in this work is an itinerant handyman who lands in an Lakes district (England) campground at the end of the tourist season and is engaged by the owner for various odd jobs, most of which seem to involve green paint. As time progresses the jobs do indeed become ‘odd’. The reason for that is eventually revealed, along with an unusual end.

Read this if: you’re a Magnus Mills fan; or you’re in the mood for a literary ‘odd story’. 3½ stars

 

7. THE END OF YOUR LIFE BOOK CLUB by Will Schwalbe (Non-fiction, Biographical, Bibliophilic) 3.5 star rating

ife Book ClubThe End of Your L photo endofyourlikebookclub_zps79d8f863.jpgAlthough this could be said to about the books that Schwalbe and his mother read and discussed as she underwent treatment for pancreatic cancer, it really is about Mary Ann(e) Schwalbe: her life, and her battle with that cancer. If you know that going in, you might not find this as disappointing as I did.

Read this if: you’re interested in the story of one courageous woman who worked hard for world change, even through the unchangeable diagnosis which resulted in her death. 3½ stars

 

8. A WEDDING IN DECEMBER by Anita Shreve (Fiction, Women’s) 3 star rating

This story turns on an odd premise: Bill and Bridget were college sweethearts who rediscovered one another at their 25th reunion. A Wedding in December photo weddingindecember_zps0177d7ff.jpg Bridget was already divorced; Bill left his family; they’ve booked their hasty wedding—Bridget has breast cancer—at a Massachusetts inn that another college classmate owns. Instead of inviting current friends and extended family, they have chosen to gather their college classmates.

It’s an improbable premise, peopled by the requisite stereotypes, most, if not all, with questionable morals.

Read this if: you’re thinking of attending your college reunion. It should be a warning. 3 stars

 

9. YOUR DAUGHTER FANNY: The War Letters of Frances Cluett, VAD, compiled by Bill Rompkey and Bert Riggs (Non-Fiction, Epistolary, Memoir, WWI, Newfoundland) 2.5 star rating

Your Daughter Fanny photo yourdaughterFanny_zpsb29b8a48.jpgIn 1916 Fanny Cluett, a nurse from Belleoram Newfoundland, volunteered to serve in the nursing corps in WWI France. During her journey, training, and posting in Europe, she wrote letters to her mother. Many of these have been collected and reproduced in this book, along with a foreword by Nfld politician Rompkey.

Read this if: you’re interested in Newfoundland history; you’re from the Fortune Bay area in Newfoundland; or you’re looking for a primary source document for your research on WWI. 2½ stars

 

 
Since I read only one mystery book in August, I’ve decided to include it in this post with my more general reading.

 

LEAVING EVERYTHING MOST LOVED
by Jacqueline Winspear (Fiction, Mystery, series) 4 star rating

This is the tenth and latest instalment in the ‘mystery’ series featuring investigator Maisie Dobbs in 1930s London.
Two young immigrants from the Indian community in the city have been murdered. Maisie is hired to find the killer
by the brother of one of these women.
As usual, the mystery is secondary to Maisie and the other players in her life: James, Billy, and Sandra. These relationships and the growth of the characters is the main draw for me to this series.
Read this if: you’ve read the previous books in the series – it’s really best read in order. 4 stars

 


Disclaimer
: I am an affiliate of Book Depository and if you purchase there after clicking on any of the above links, I will earn a small percentage of the sale.

I choose to link to Book Depository because they have reasonable prices and free shipping JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
Generally, I link to the lowest priced version of each book (which is usually paperback) but in many cases hardbacks and audio books are available.


BOOK DEPOSITORY has free world-wide delivery:
buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

OR: Pick up some bargains at
BOOK OUTLET.com
OR
BOOK OUTLET.ca

Books Read in July 2013

July10

books read
July was another heavy reading month: when the weather gets hot, I slow down. All that beach reading paid off.

I’ve posted the mysteries I read in the month, separately, as usual.

 
1. SALT, SUGAR, FAT by Michael Moss (Non-Fiction, Health) 4.5 star rating

Salt, Sugar, Fat photo saltsugarfat_zpsfad5aaaa.jpgAs the obesity issue in North America becomes critical, we want to be informed consumers. This fine piece of investigative journalism by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Moss is not so much a shocking exposé of the processed food industry as confirmation of what we’ve suspected all along.

Moss’s intent in writing this book was “If nothing else . . . as a wake-up call to the issues and tactics at play in the food industry, to the fact that we are not helpless in facing them down. . . Knowing all this can be empowering. You can walk through the grocery store and, while the brightly colored packaging and empty promises are still mesmerizing, you can see the products for what they are.”

Read this if: you’re concerned about the growing obesity levels in North America; or you are determined to make informed choices about your diet. 4½ stars

 
2. A LONG WAY GONE: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (Non-Fiction, Memoir, Sierra Leone) 4 star rating

A Long Way Gone photo longwaygone_zps98b5f8a8.jpgWhen the civil war in Sierra Leone came to Ismael Beah’s village, he was a thirteen-year-old boy, doing what other boys all over the world do: hanging out with friends, listening to music and practicing dance moves. In fact, he was in a neighbouring village to enter a competition. He was not able to return to his home village that day and he never saw his family again

Over the next three years, Beah was on the run for his life until he was rescued by UNICEF personnel and rehabilitated.

This is a touching memoir with detail that brought the author’s terror to life.
I would have liked some more information about his life in the USA and the challenges he faced in assimilating into his new life, but that is a small quibble.

Read this if: you want to understand how young African boys become soldiers with guns they can barely carry. 4 stars

 
3. A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC by Shel Silverstein (Poetry, Children’s) 4 star rating

 photo Light_in_the_Attic_cover_zps6fce6ac5.jpg
This children’s book of verse was one of my daughter’s favourite books when she was growing up – and one of mine too. It’s not just poetry – it’s masterful word play and lots of humour.
As a bonus, the multi-talented Silverstein (singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, & author of children’s books) illustrated his own work.

It was difficult to choose just one example of his poetry to share with you!

How many slams in an old screen door?
Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
Depends how good you live ‘em.
How much love inside a friend?
Depends how much you give ‘em.

Read this if: you’re looking for a book to encourage a love of words in a youngster in your life; or you’re a young-at-heart lover of words yourself. 4 stars

 
4. THE SWEET DOVE DIED by Barbara Pym (Fiction, Vintage) 4 star rating

Barbara Pym continues on a path away from the genteel middle-aged ladies of the Anglican church. The Sweet Dove Died is named for a line from Keats:

I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving;
O, what could it grieve for? Its feet were tied
With a single thread of my own hand’s weaving.

 photo sweetdovedied_zpsafdf0c7f.jpgThis is the feeling encapsulated in Pym’s story.

Lenora, a middle-aged woman befriends well-to-do Humphrey, 60, and his nephew James. Unwilling to admit her aging, she is in love with the 25-year-old nephew while the uncle is enthralled by her. Lenora uses that situation to her best interest until James is enticed away by the young American, Ned.

As in life, the situation leads only to unhappiness all around. I love that Pym didn’t sugar-coat the outcome.

Read this if: you enjoy tales that look honestly at relationships between men and women, in a satiric fashion. 4 stars

 

5. GOOD KINGS, BAD KINGS by Susan Nussbaum (Fiction, Social Issues) 3.5 star rating
Good Kings, Bad Kings photo goodkings_zps3a3f257b.jpgI didn’t really understand what this book was about before I started it, and had expected a story set in a home for “juveniles with disabilities” to be darker than this ultimately is.
The author, who was the 2012 winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, does a marvelous job of making her young characters come alive and ‘investable’ to the reader.
The only drawback is (what I thought to be) a weak ending.

Read this if: you want to better understand what it is like to live ‘disabled’, especially as a teenager in a care institution. 3½ stars

 

6. BOBCAT by Rebecca Lee (Fiction, Short Stories) 3.5 star rating  

Rebecca Lee is the kind of author Bobcat photo Bobcat_zpse995ec70.jpg who weaves words into art so lovely you’ll be bewitched by her language even when her stories don’t have the impact you wish they did.
Set mainly in academia, Lee’s short stories are of “infidelity, obligation, sacrifice, jealousy, and . . . optimism.”

Read this if: you’re an admirer of words and beautiful sentence structure; or you enjoy intelligent insights into university life. 3½ stars

 

7. GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn (Popular Fiction, Suspense) 3.5 star rating
Gone Girl photo gonegirl_zps5cbae3d9.jpg
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? “Nothing” is probably best.
I went into this already knowing—or guessing—some of the story, and that really deflated the suspense for me.

I admit Flynn is skilled in conveying how evil can come in Amy’s pretty package, but I didn’t get the sense of wickedness in Nick that others seem to have found.

Read this if: You’d like a character-driven thriller; or if you’re going to see the movie – you should always read the book first! 3½ stars

 

8. THE CRANE WIFE by Patrick Ness (Fiction, Literature, Magical Realism, Fable) 3.5 star rating 

The Crane Wife photo cranewife_zpsb9357fce.jpgBeautifully written, this modern-day story feels like a folkloric myth and although it is based on Japanese lore, it has universal appeal and could easily be Ukrainian, Finnish, or Native American.

Middle-aged & lonely George Duncan helps an injured crane that lands in his garden one night, and then finds his life changed by the appearance at his shop the following day of a beautiful Japanese woman. The story depends on magical realism so be prepared to suspend disbelief.

WARNING: one character in particular uses profanity including that word that begins with the sixth letter.

Read this if: you enjoy folklore or fairy tales; or you are a fan of beautifully crafted prose. 3½ stars

Note: I won this in a contest held by Tracey at Carpe Librum. She mailed it all the way from Australia (to Nova Scotia, Canada) for me! Thank you again, Tracey!

 

9. INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HEATWAVE by Maggie O’Farrell (Fiction) 3.5 star rating

Instructions for a Heatwave photo instructionsforaheatwave_zpse08ae10e.jpgThe adult children of Robert & Gretta Riordan converge at their mother’s house after their father disappears one morning on an errand to the corner store.
Instructions for a Heatwave is a pretty standard ‘family-issues’ novel centering on an Irish immigrant family in London. It’s well-written but I think I would have appreciated it more if I was British.

Read this if: you’re interested in stories that demonstrate the continuing strength of origins on immigrants. 3½ stars

 

10. CRISS-CROSS by Lynne Rae Perkins (Fiction, Young Readers) 3 star rating
What was the last book you read in which a main character was named “Debbie”. Ah-ha! I thought so: it is—or never was—a popular name for heroines.
Criss-Cross photo crisscross_zpsbda45870.jpg
In this novel for young people Debbie is a fourteen-year-old in 1973, waiting for something to happen in her life. Hector, 14, is also waiting. Together with three other teenagers they gather weekly in one teen’s father’s truck to listen to a radio show called Criss-Cross.
Ultimately, this is a sweet but unmemorable story. It won the Newbery Medal for Best Children’s Literature in 2006, but I’ve read stronger winners.

Read this if: your name is Debbie & you’re participating in a reading challenge like Semi-Charmed’s Summer Event; or you’d like a gentle, realistic tale that will take you back to the early 1970s. 3 stars

 

11. ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO by Jonathan Tropper (Popular Fiction) 3 star rating

One Last Thing Before I Go photo onelastthing_zps99005626.jpgDrew Silver’s life is in the toilet: he’s divorced from the woman he loves, estranged from his teenage daughter, and he’s living in a community of other pathetic lonely divorced men who are also waiting for their wives to take them back. When he’s diagnosed with an aorta that’s going to split and kill him, he opts to not have surgery since he feels his life isn’t worth living. Instead, he’ll use the remaining time to repair relationships with the people in his life.

It’s just a notch above formulaic and mundane.

Read this if:
you need a reminder to pay attention to the people in your life while you still have time. 3 stars
 
## - Although I completed many of the 2013 reading challenges that I “unofficially” entered, for the rest of my 2013 reading record here I’m going to desist with noting which books fulfilled what requirements. I suspect that nobody but me really cared anyway.


Disclaimer
: I am an affiliate of Book Depository and if you purchase there after clicking on any of the above links, I will earn a small percentage of the sale.
I choose to link to Book Depository because they have reasonable prices and free shipping JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
Generally, I link to the lowest priced version of each book (which is usually paperback) but in many cases hardbacks and audio books are available.


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Mystery Books Read in July 2013

July9

 
July’s mystery reading was comprised of four series debuts, two historical and two modern-day. They took me to three U.S. states and the English country-side. I feel as if I’ve been traveling in time as well as distance.

 
RULES OF MURDER ## by Julianna Deering (Mystery Fiction, Amateur Sleuth, 1930s English manor house) 4.5 star rating

Rules of Murder photo rulesofmurder_zps114200b4.jpgThis is a new series starring Drew Farthering, a young member of the gentry, who is pressed into service as a detective when an obviously murdered body turns up at his parents’ country estate during a weekend party. This first offering is set in 1932.

Although Publisher’s Weekly trashed this book, I think the author captures not only the setting, but also the pace and sensibility of a Golden-Age mystery such as those written by Christie or Marsh, while being a little camp a la early Allingham.

The title refers to the “Ten Commandments of Mystery Writing” set out in 1929 by Ronald Knox. It’s great fun watching the author flaunt (or is that flout – you’ll have to read the book to find out) the rules one by one.

Rules of Murder is a clever debut and I’m looking forward to reading the next in this series.

Read this if: you’re an Agatha Christie fan; or you can never get enough Downton Abbey 4½ stars

 

A SPARK OF DEATH
by Bernadette Pajer (Mystery Fiction, Historical, 1900s Seattle, Amateur Sleuth) 3.5 star rating
A Spark of Death photo sparkofdeath_zps51c2c426.jpg
This is the first in the Professor Benjamin Bradshaw mysteries set in early 20th century Seattle. “When U(niversity of) W(ashington) Professor Bradshaw discovers a despised colleague dead inside the Faraday Cage of the Electric Machine, the police shout murder–and Bradshaw is the lone suspect. To protect his young son and clear his name, he must find the killer.”

I confess that I didn’t understand the electricity issues and, even though the mystery was fairly clued but not obvious, and Bradshaw himself is likeable, I probably won’t continue in this series.

Read this if: you understood those high school physics classes about volts and resistance; or you’re a UW or Seattle fan. 3½ stars

 
CLAIRE DEWITT & THE CITY OF THE DEAD by Sarah Gran (Mystery Fiction, Detective, New Orleans) 3.5 star rating

A friend of mine described Claire deWitt to me as “180 degrees from Nancy Drew”; I have to agree many times over. This debut of the series is set in New Orleans one-and-one-half years after Katrina and concerns a man who went missing during that hurricane.
Claire deWitt & the City of the Dead photo cityofdead_zpsef2ea07b.jpg
Claire uses the I Ching, vivid dreams and a book written by her dead French mentor to be “the best detective in the world”. The only way you’ll come close to finding this solvable is to follow Claire’s mantra to believe nobody and trust nothing.

There is a dark side to both Claire and to post-Katrina New Orleans (the titular city of the dead) but I can’t help but think that Claire’s tongue is firmly in her cheek a lot of the time.

Read this if: you’re interested in Katrina’s devastation in the poverty-stricken Lower Ninth Ward; or you want a fresh new voice in a mystery series and don’t mind the spiritistic elements. 3½ stars

 

A TINE TO LIVE, A TINE TO DIE ## by Edith Maxwell (Mystery Fiction, Amateur Sleuth) 3 star rating

 photo tinetolive_zps59ccd01e.jpgCameron Flaherty, downsized from her corporate job, has moved from the city to take over her inheritance: her great uncle’s farm in rural Massachusetts. There, she sets up a Community Supported Agriculture project. In this first of a planned series of “local food mysteries”, a killer strikes on Cameron’s property just in time for her customers’ first produce pick-up.

I found the characters typical for a cozy mystery, but the murderer in this story was so obvious that I discarded him as a suspect.

While the mystery was less than stellar, I did very much enjoy the premise of the series: leaving the city, and going back to the land. After all, that’s what Exurbanis is supposed to be about!

Read this if: you’d like a look at how a (albeit idealistic) Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program is run. 3 stars

 

## I received The Rules of Murder and A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers
 


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SAD TIMES or Why I’ve Fallen of the Face of the (Blogging) Earth

July8

Okay, so I was never the most regular of bloggers and I was way behind in 2013, just giving you my monthly reading summaries.
It was July when I posted “Books Read in May”.
It was October before I posted “Books Read in June”.
But I was this close to posting July’s books in November – and truly, really, catching up before the year-end.

And then my mother died. Very suddenly, very unexpectedly. If you’ve lost your mom, you know what a life-changing event this is. It’s like losing the solid ground you’re standing on. And , for good or for bad, we will all go through it.

 photo rug-pulled-out-warning_zps2b8c6dd2.jpg

To add to my unmooring, I became responsible for sorting through Mom’s things, a task that took five months half a continent away from my husband, my friends, and my home.

And while I was gone, we lost both of our dogs. One, to old age: an expected ‘put-to-rest’, but the other to an agonizing death due to a cancerous tumour on his spleen that burst at the worst possible time to obtain veterinary help.

Thus, I’ve reeled through the past seven months. And, it may seem, I’ve fallen off the face of the earth.

It’s very possible that no one out there cares, but I’ve come to rely on my blog as my personal record of books read. So for my benefit, if for NO one else’s, I’ll be posting throughout the next few weeks to at least catch up last year’s reading record.

It’s part of rebuilding the ground under my feet.

Literary Blog Hop Giveaway WINNER

November14

 photo winneris_zpsf53a251e.jpg
I turned to trusty random.org and drew the winner of my contribution to the ninth Literary Blog Hop Giveaway hosted by Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog

Congratulations to

Aloi at Guiltless Reading

who has elected to receive Adaobi Tricia Nwabani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who entered this giveaway.

Literary Blog Hop GIVEAWAY November 2013

November9

Literary Blog Hop November 2013 photo literarybloghop_november_zps04a479a8.jpgTHIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

I’m participating in the ninth Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog, which is taking place from Saturday November 9th through Wednesday November 13th.

I’m offering any book by the following authors, all of whom I’ve read & enjoyed in the past three months. (Maximum value $15.00)
I’ve included African, American, Australian, British, and Canadian authors, so there should be something for everybody on this short list.

Barker, Pat
Endicott, Marina
Gilmour, David
Nwaubani, Adaobi Tricia
Nussbaum, Susan
O’Donnell, Lisa
Spark, Muriel
Strout, Elizabeth
Winton, Tim
York, Alissa

This giveaway is open to anyone living any place to which Book Depository delivers. You must subscribe to Exurbanis either by RSS or email.

To enter, leave a comment on this post with the name of an author of literary fiction whom you enjoy reading.

Be sure I have an email address to contact you. Then be sure to hop on over to Judith’s blog and see what the other participating bloggers are offering!

I will select the winner using random.org at 5pm Atlantic time November 13th.

Books Read in June 2013

October18

books readI keep hearing the words of the old Chicago tune in my head: “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” Maybe not, but I’m sure you realize that this summary is several months late and I am so far behind telling you what I’ve read that I may never get caught up. But I do have to try. Thanks for putting up with me.

I got a lot more reading done in June than in the previous month, completing ten books including several that I’ve rated four stars or above. I hope you enjoy these summaries.

I’ll post the mysteries I read in the month, separately, as usual.
 

1. HALF OF A YELLOW SUN ## by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Nigeria-Biafra war) 4.5 star rating

Set in 1960s Nigeria, before and during the civil war that birthed —and then snuffed out— Biafra, Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of a small middle-class family, supporters of the new country.  photo half_zps8996c6a5.jpgAt first, only the ideal of the academics in southern Nigeria, the move to secede gained impetus after a shift in government power that resulted in ethnic killings, based on tribal lines. The “take-no-prisoners” approach to battle launched the country into a bloodbath from 1967-1970.

Half of a Yellow Sun focuses on a middle-class professor and his family through the early 1960s and then through the war. There are reports of what the soldiers are doing, but for the most part, the emphasis is on civilians – why they supported Biafra and how the war affected them.

(S)he unfurled Odenigbo’s cloth flag and told them what the symbols meant. Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of the yellow sun stood for the glorious future.

Both of the author’s grandfathers lost their lives in the war, and Odichie writes with a familiarity of circumstance unavailable to an outsider. The story is powerful, even though it is removed from the front lines – or perhaps because it is. The exodus of refugees, erosion of living standards, and mass starvation are brought to life by this compelling novel.

It was an eye-opening history lesson for me and raises the question again of the ethics of involvement in foreign conflicts.

Read this if: you want an introduction to the politics of Nigerian history of this time; or you want to know why all those starving children stared at us from the UNICEF posters in 1969. 4½ stars

 

2. QUARTET IN AUTUMN ## by Barbara Pym (Fiction, Vintage, Gentle Satire) 4.5 star rating
Quartet in Autumn is a departure from the usual Pym fare of light and sometimes silly situations. It was published in 1977 when England “rediscovered” her. For the previous 16 years she had been unable to find a publisher who would accept her work. The industry mantra was that ‘people don’t read stories like yours anymore.’

Quartet in Autumn photo quartetinautumn_zps65217e93.jpgThis book revolves around four aging people who work together in an office that seems to have been forgotten by the company they work for. All four, two men and two women, live alone in varying circumstances. Although they are not close friends, the four have only each other in their lonely lives. When the two women retire (and are not replaced) the dynamics between the four changes.

Pym maintains her gentle satire. Of one of the characters, Letty, she says: “She had always been an unashamed reader of novels, but if she hoped to find one which reflected her own sort of life she had come to realise that the position of an unmarried, unattached, aging woman is of no interest whatever to the writers of modern fiction.” But despite this, the feel of this book is different, not shying away from the issues of loneliness or death. Although more serious than her previously published books, Quartet in Autumn will not disappoint fans of Pym.

Read this if: you want a poignant tale of fragile social and personal relationships. 4½ stars


 
3. THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY ## by Sarah Selecky (Fiction, Short Stories, Contemporary, Canadian author) 4 star rating
This collection of short stories from Toronto author Selecky marks her publishing debut and introduces her as a young writer to watch.

This Cake is for the Party photo thiscakeisfortheparty_zps59e8087b.jpg Set in various locations across Canada, but especially in Ontario, the stories have varied themes and feature characters that include a young man struggling with whether or not to report a good friend of his wife as an unfit mother, a naïve young woman trying to launch a network marketing business, and a woman at her deceased neighbour’s yard sale. Her characters and themes are universal and guaranteed to make you squirm in recognition.

Selecky’s writing is clean and unpretentious, and I predict a bright future for her. Recommended.

Read this if:
you’re looking for a fresh, new voice in Canadian fiction; or if you enjoy short stories in modern settings. 4 stars

Note: Visit Sarah’s website and sign up for her free daily writing prompts. They’re brilliant.


 
4. THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT by John D’Agata & Jim Fingal (Non-fiction, essay, epistolary-emails) 4 star rating

“In 2003, an essay by John D’Agata was rejected by the magazine that commissioned it due to factual inaccuracies. That essay (. . .) was accepted by another magazine, but not before they handed it to their own fact-checker, Jim Fingal. (. . .) the Lifespan of a Fact photo lifespanofafact_zps760c834f.jpg What emerges [from the correspondence between the two men] is a brilliant and eye-opening meditation on the relationship between ‘truth’ and ‘accuracy’(.)” The book is presented in the form of emails between D’Agata and Fingal. Both men ‘push the envelope’ to make points that contribute to the overall premise of the book: just how negotiable is a fact in non-fiction?

When I read excerpts to my daughter, who has worked in non-fiction publishing, she was of the opinion that she would have ‘thrown the book across the room’, but I found it fascinating.

I won this from Katie at Doing Dewy in May’s Non-Fiction Blog Hop Giveaway.

Read this if: you enjoy reading essays; or you’ve wondered just how much fiction is in non-fiction. 4 stars


 
5. WINTER IN WARTIME ## by Jan Terlouw (Fiction, Historical, Young People, Translated, Award Winner) 4 star rating

Set in occupied Holland in the winter of 1944-45, Europe’s bleakest winter of WWII, this children’s chapter book, winner of the 1973 Best Dutch Juvenile Literature prize, tells the story of fifteen-year-old Michiel and his family. Through a series of circumstances, Michiel becomes responsible for an injured British pilot who has been hidden by resistance members.

Winter Wartime photo winterinwartime_zps78093e7d.jpg Although there are some heroic deeds performed, the author does not lose sight of the reality of war.
“(H)is father had once said: (. . .) Don’t think that it is only the Germans who are guilty. The Dutch, the British, the French, every nation has murdered without mercy and perpetrated unbelievable tortures in times of war. That is why, Michiel, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be misled by the romance of war, the romance of heroic deeds, sacrifice, tension and adventure. War means wounds, sadness, torture, prison, hunger, hardship and injustice. There is nothing romantic about it.”

While this is a children’s book, it is also suitable for adult readers. Even though it’s not overly graphic, the author still brings to life the desperation and pain of daily life: the cold, the hunger, the fear, the uncertainty of whom to trust, the death. As such, it is probably suitable for children 11 or older.

Read this if: you’re looking for a WWII story that doesn’t touch on the Holocaust; or you want to introduce your adolescent reader to what life is like for ordinary citizens in time of war. 4 stars

 

6. WAITING by Ha Jin (Fiction, Historical, Chinese)4 star rating

Waiting photo waiting_zps41eebba1.jpg Publishers’ Weekly says: Jin’s quiet but absorbing second novel (after In the Pond) captures the poignant dilemma of an ordinary man who misses the best opportunities in his life simply by trying to do his duty—as defined first by his traditional Chinese parents and later by the Communist Party.

Mary Park for Amazon.com says: [The author] himself served in the People’s Liberation Army, and in fact left his native country for the U.S. only in 1985. That a non-native speaker can produce English of such translucence and power is truly remarkable.

There is not a lot of action in Waiting; the characters wait, the reader waits. But the wait is worth it.

Read this if: you enjoy stories that ‘sneak up on you’, and reveal their impact once you’ve finished; or you’re interested in an “inside” story of Communist China in the 1960s and 1970s. 4 stars


 

7. SAY NICE THINGS ABOUT DETROIT ## (Fiction, Coming Home) 3.5 star rating

I’ve seen this billed as a mystery, I suppose because there is a murder, although it is part of a secondary plot and it’s not really a mystery to the reader, only to the protagonist. Say Nice Things About Detroit photo saynicethings_zpsd415512d.jpg The book is much more a novel about “coming home”. But, as the book jacket says:: “Where do you go when home is Detroit?”

My dad grew up in Windsor Ontario, across the river south of Detroit. He was a life-long Tigers and Red Wings fan, but no fan really of the city of Detroit itself, into which he took regular business trips. Myself, I spent my teen years listening to the music of Motown on clear radio signals throughout southern Ontario.

Today, Detroit has a reputation of a city in decay—although, recently, one finding its feet again—and so that question of coming home to Detroit intrigued me greatly. And it is as that—a novel about ‘finding place’ in a struggling city—that this book works.

Read this if: you come ‘from’ somewhere that’s changed for the worse since you’ve left; or you’d like to understand a little better the fierce pride of city in Detroit. 3½ stars

 
8. LAMB (Fiction, Suspense, Psychological Thriller) 3.5 star rating

Lamb photo lamb_zps32b1cbfb.jpg

I had no idea what to expect from this book going in. It’s a thriller, but all emotional drama and definitely not action-based.

Middle-aged David Lamb ‘befriends’ an eleven-year-old girl and takes her on a camping trip without the consent or even knowledge of her parents.

The author builds suspense unrelentingly: is the inevitable truly inevitable? You be the judge of damage done.

Read this if: you enjoy a tightly drawn psychological drama that doesn’t involve espionage. 3½ stars

 

9. 97 ORCHARD STREET, NEW YORK by Jane Ziegelman & Arlene Alda (Non-Fiction, History, Immigration) 3 star rating

97 Orchard Street photo 97Orchardstreet_zps1c6b3604.jpg

Between 1863 and 1935, the tenement building at 97 Orchard Street in New York City was home to some 7000 families, mostly new Americans from many parts of the world. The building has been restored to late nineteenth century condition by the Tenement Museum, an initiative spearheaded in the 1980s by historian and social activist Ruth Abram and co-founder Anita Jacobson.

This book, in photographs and narrative, tells the story of several immigrant families in the squalid apartments here. The book is well laid-out and expands on the information on the virtual tour, but—honestly—the website is more interesting.

There is a 97 Orchard Street Cookbook for which I had rave recommendations from both Buried in Print and Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm.

If you’re in NYC, check the home page for information about live tours. The Tenement Museum has not been impacted by the government shutdown and is open for business as usual.

Read this if: the virtual tour intrigues you. 3 stars

 
10. MUMMA, CAN YOU HEAR ME? ## by Betty Williams (Non-Fiction, Memoir) 1.5 star rating

Mumma, Can You Hear Me? photo mummacanyouhearme_zpsedaade5a.jpg

Betty Williams, now in her eighties, has spent her life as a teacher: to her children, and to her students.

Written, at least at the beginning of the book, in the form of a letter to her mother (hence, the title) this memoir follows the author from her childhood to the present day, although not always in a straight line. The memories tend to meander and are maddeningly vague in many areas to which she makes allusions.

Ms Williams has had a rich and busy life. Unfortunately, the story is not well-told. Sorry, Betty.

Read this if: you are related to Betty or know her well; or if you are really keen on knowing about South American missionary work. 1½ stars


#
#
##
Half of a Yellow SUN is a qualifying word in the Keyword Reading Challenge at Bookmark to Blog.

## QUARTET IN AUTUMN is the sixth Barbara Pym that I’ve read, as I keep up with the LibrayThing Virago group read-along for Barbara Pym’s centenary.

## Although I purchased THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY from the Book Depository I received, from the author via Ti of Book Chatter, a free copy of the short story of the same name which, interestingly enough, did not make the final cut for inclusion in the book. One of the stories that made the collection, though, features the same characters, so you may be interested in reading it along with the book.

## WINTER IN WARTIME was the June pick for the War & Literature Readalong, hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

## I read SAY NICE THINGS ABOUT DETROIT as May’s random pick from my TBR wish list spreadsheet of 2,605 items for the Random Reads Challenge hosted by I’m Loving Books.

##
I received MUMMA, CAN YOU HEAR ME? through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.


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Mystery Books Read in June 2013

October18

 
When Say Nice Things About Detroit came up as my random reading pick this month, I thought I’d read a few additional Detroit-set mysteries. Unfortunately, the Loren D. Estlemans came too late in the month to fit in, but I did get to a couple of cozier-type tomes.

 
THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY by A.A. Milne (Mystery Fiction, Vintage, 1920s England)) 4.5 star rating

 photo redhousemystery_zps1342ae4d.jpgThe Red House Mystery is A.A. Milne’s only mystery novel; he is better known for his humorous writing, children’s stories (including the timeless Winnie the Pooh), and poems.

A ‘locked-room whodunit’ with an amateur detective, this book followed Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Affair at Styles by only two years (and predates her other work). It’s elegant and witty, and it’s a perfect time capsule of early 1920s English country manor life. AND it has a solid mystery that’s fairly clued.

I wish Milne had written 50 more like this. I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in a long time – and I read it on my Kindle! 4½ stars

Read this if: you’d like a stylish vintage English murder mystery. 4½ stars
 

THE DETROIT ELECTRIC SCHEME by D.E. Johnson (Mystery Fiction, Historical, 1910s Detroit, Amateur Sleuth) 3.5 star rating
The Detroit Electric Scheme photo detroitelectricscheme_zpse53d182f.jpg I began more impressed with this first in the series featuring Will Anderson, scion of one of Detroit’s leading electric car manufacturers, circa 1910, who by necessity turns detective.
The beginning of the book laid out lots of information about early electric cars and painted a vivid picture of the auto industry of the day.

But once the “mystery” was set up, I was disappointed at every turn. The solution seemed obvious to me and the author’s “sleight-of-hand” seemed heavy-handed. Other readers have raved about this series, though, so maybe I just made a lucky guess and the plot isn’t as transparent as I thought.

Read this if: you’re interested in today’s electric cars and would like some information on their evolution; or you’re looking for a new mystery series and the setting appeals to you. 3½ stars

 

HUNTING A DETROIT TIGER by Troy Soos (Mystery Fiction, Historical, Amateur Sleuth, Detroit, Baseball) 3.5 star rating

Hunting A Detroit Tiger photo huntingadetroittiger_zpseeedeaa7.jpgThis is the fourth installment in the Mickey Rawlings series of baseball novel. Rawlings, an up and coming baseball player living and playing in the early part of the 20th century, turns detective in the name of social justice.

There was lots of not-baseball “stuff” in this mystery: labour unions and politics play large roles. I was interested in the history and the mystery but found that the book went on overlong and the plot became convoluted. I read this when I was quite sick with the flu, though, so I could be biased. Don’t let me put you off trying this series if it’s something you think you’d like.

Read this if:
you enjoy old-time baseball; or you’re interested in social politics of the early 20th century. 3½ stars

 

WWW Wednesday 09Oct13

October9

Is anyone still out there? It’s been so long since I’ve blogged that I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve all taken your ball and gone home.

I’m working on the summaries of the books I’ve read over the past four months but, photo www_wednesdays4_zps5af47167.jpg in the meantime, and to break radio silence, here’s a fun meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. I came across WWW Wednesday via Words and Peace.

 
 photo deathofbees100_zps0ae743de.jpg
 
What I’m currently reading:

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

My heart is breaking for all of the main characters. It’s very hard to put down.

 

necessary lies 100 photo necessarylies100_zps18abea0e.jpg

I just finished reading:

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

This is women’s fiction set in 1960 North Carolina. I saw a decent review of this and needed an “N” title for my A-Z challenge, but I should have known better. Happy endings that involve unrealistic resolutions rub me the wrong way.
 

far cry from kensington 100 photo farcryfromkensington100_zps81f2e710.jpg

What I think I’ll read next:

A Far Cry from Kensington
Is something published in 1988 “vintage”? I guess it depends how old you are. Anyway, I expect this book will contain a lot of the protagonist’s memories of 1950s Kensington, which I’m sure is old enough to qualify. I’m hoping this is just my cup of tea.

 

How about you? What are you reading? Leave me a comment and let me know I’m not all alone in the blogosphere.

 

Mystery Books Read in May 2013

July18

 
In April, I had decided to get back to some of the mystery series that I’ve started over the past few years but never followed up on. A number of them arrived at my library in May, so I continued my “revisitations”.
 

SOME DANGER INVOLVED  by Will Thomas (Mystery Fiction, Victorian England) 4.5 star rating

some danger involved photo somedangerinvolved_zps7836cb5b.jpg

In 2010 I won, and read, The Limehouse Text, the third in this series by Will Thomas, featuring Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn. I knew then I’d found a series worth following up. Set in 1884 London, the characters are clearly modeled on Holmes and Watson, but are still original enough (and much more likeable!) to be entertaining.

In this first of the series, Thomas laments:
If I could change any aspect of work as an enquiry agent, it would be the danger, but then, Barker warned me on that very first day, right there in the advertisement.

 ASSISTANT to prominent enquiry agent.
Typing and shorthand required. Some dan-
ger involved in performance of duties. Sal-
ary commensurate with ability. 7 Craig’s
Court.

Some Danger Involved contains a solid mystery, an adventure in the Jewish section of Victorian London, and some danger for the reader: that of becoming hooked on this series.
Read this if: you enjoy Sherlock Holmes pastiches – this is a particularly good one. 4½ stars
 

THE RELUCTANT DETECTIVE by Finley Martin (Detective Fiction, Atlantic Canadian author) 4 star rating
the reluctant detective photo reluctantdetective_zps747f6e19.jpgFrom the beach near our home on Nova Scotia’s North Shore, on a clear night we can see the lights of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I wouldn’t want to live on PEI but it’s a great place to visit and, after all, part of this “Atlantic Canada” that is now my home.

When she loses her job in Ontario, Anne Brown, a single mother moves back “home” to PEI at her uncle’s invitation, along with her 14-year-old daughter. His hook? “Pay’s not great, but nobody starves on PEI. And there’s no rat race like in Ontario.” Amen to that.
Anne’s uncle runs a Private Investigation service and takes her on as his office manager, but after six years of working together he dies of a heart attack, leaving the business to Anne. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief a little, but isn’t that what detective fiction is about – suspending disbelief?

There’s a solid, if not greatly innovative, mystery and some slightly bizarre loose ends. But I’d read more if this becomes a series, simply for the Island references.
Read this if: you enjoy private investigator novels; or you are interested in seeing P.E.I. beyond Green Gables. 3½ stars plus ½ for the Atlantic Canada connection = 4 stars
 

THE STRANGE FATE OF KITTY EASTON (Mystery Fiction, 1920s England) 3.5 star rating
strange fate of kitty easton photo strangefateofkittyeaston_zps1f5cb0ed.jpgThis is the highly anticipated sequel to The Return of Captain John Emmett which was a great success in 2011. WWI veteran Lawrence Bertram returns in his role of a gentleman in reduced circumstances and accepts an invitation of an old friend to spend some time at his country estate. Once there, he learns that several years before, six-year-old Kitty Easton, heiress of the house, had disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

I greatly enjoyed the setting, and very much like Lawrence, but I found the mystery meandered just a little much. I’m undecided as to whether I’d read a sequel.
Read this if: you enjoy the 1920s English country house setting. 3½ stars
 

A MAN LAY DEAD by Ngaio Marsh (Vintage Mystery Fiction, 1930s England) 3.5 star rating
a man lay dead photo manlaydead_zpsb4f1dc62.jpgSomehow, as I was growing up and cutting teeth on Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, I missed knowing about New Zealand writer Ngaio Marsh. I love how the Web has made the world so small! I started to read Marsh with Death of a Fool in January of this year. I was intrigued enough to start at the beginning and find this first in the series (1934) featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn.

I must confess that, although I remember enjoying reading this, I cannot remember a single thing about it except that there were a number of upper class, foolish people (I think it was this book) and that Inspector Alleyn is a fascinating man.

Alleyn produced from his pocket his inevitable and rather insignificant Woolworth note-book.
“Meet my brain,” he said, “without it I’m done.”

No doubt, today it would be an iGadget but since I still use a paper notebook, I’m glad he “lived” when he did. I’m going to continue reading this series.
Read this if: you want to start reading at the beginning of Marsh’s writing career, and make an introduction to Roderick Alleyn. 3½ stars
 

HORNSWOGGLED by Donis Casey (Mystery Fiction, cozy) 2.5 star rating

hornswoggled photo hornswoggled_zpsb21b17a4.jpgI so enjoyed the first in this series, The Old Buzzard Had it Coming, when I read it in 2010. There was a clever mystery, and Alifair Tucker seemed a down-to-earth and intelligent protagonist.

It’s awful how long it takes me to get back to a series that I want to continue. But in this case, I should have postponed it indefinitely. The mystery wasn’t at all fairly clued and the body was moved surreptitiously so many times by so many different people that the book reminded me of the period English farces I watched at the Shaw Festival decades ago. Only the book wasn’t funny.

Points for the period setting (1912 Oklahoma) and dealing with thorny family issues.
Read this if: you’re determined to read everything in this series; or you’d enjoy the Oklahoma setting enough to overcome the plot flaws. 2½ stars
 

WINGS OF FIRE** by Charles Todd (Mystery Fiction, 1920s England) 1 star rating

wings of fire photo wingsoffire_zpsa429c448.jpgIn 2010, I also greatly enjoyed Charles Todd’s first Ian Rutledge mystery, A Test of Wills. I was excited to find a new series set in a period that fascinates me (WWI and shortly after) and to root for the protagonist, who suffers from shell-shock.

This entry, Wings of Fire, was agonizing to read and I would have dumped it early on but that the title satisfied a reading challenge category. There was a not-quite mystery of a murder-suicide, but it wasn’t enough to fill a book. The same material was presented over and over, in different ways, and then in the same ways, until I was ready to scream on several occasions. The only content remark I made for myself was to note the meaning of ordure. Go ahead: look it up.

I know this series is highly acclaimed, and I know that first sequels are often weak, so I may try another. I’d really love a series with the promise that first book had.
Read this if: honestly – don’t bother. 1 star
 
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* Wings of Fire fulfilled the “word Fire or equivalent” category Beth Fish Reads’ What’s In a Name 2013 Reading Challenge.

Books Read in May 2013

July17

Yes, I know I’m more than a month behind but, please, forgive me. books read I was halfway across the continent visiting my new granddaughter at the end of May and into June, and then a health problem prevented us from returning home until mid-month. I feel as if I hit the ground running and am just now catching up.
Ridiculous, really, but that’s how I feel.

I’ll post the mysteries I read in the month, separately, as usual.
 

1. ALL THAT I AM **by Anna Funder (Literary Fiction, WWII) 4.5 star rating

All That I Am photo AllthatIam_zps7625a352.jpgThe winner of Australia’s Miles Franklin Award and several other prizes, Funder’s WWII drama, All That I Am, is said to be based on real characters. A group of left-wing German activists find themselves self-exiled to England when Hitler comes to power in the 1930s. From their London base, they try to alert the world to the human-rights atrocities being perpetrated by Hitler’s government. With hindsight, we think all should have listened. But no one did.
I found this to be very powerful in an elegant, understated fashion, and think it well-deserving of the prizes and honourable mentions that it garnered.
Read this if: you’re interested in a slightly different perspective on Hitler’s rise to power. 4½ stars
 

 

2. A GLASS OF BLESSINGS** by Barbara Pym (Fiction, Vintage, Satire, Humour) 4 star rating

Pym just gets better and better. A Glass of Blessings is a sly look at upper middle class marriage in 1950s England, through the eyes of Wilmet Forsythe, a posh “dig-me chick’ of her time. Wilmot is in her mid-thirties and clearly has been cosseted all her life. Married, she lives in her mother-in-law’s home, and has no responsibility for any part of the running of the household. She has plenty of money to buy what she wants and her time is her own, so idle hands. . .

Pym skewers her in her usual gentle manner.
Read this if: you’d enjoy a Pym with very little mention of church. 4 stars
 

3. QUEEN LUCIA** by E.H. Benson (Vintage Fiction, Satire) 3.5 star rating
Queen Lucia photo queenlucia_zpsb217ff84.jpg
I’ve heard so many people lately expressing fond memories and revisits to Riseholme, home of Lucia Lucas and her husband, and Lucia’s friend Georgie. This also is social satire—this of small English towns– although more acerbic and over-the-top than Pym’s. Benson’s stories are set in the 1920s but seem timeless, while Pym’s more definitely define the period setting.

I don’t have the emotional attachment to these stories that some others do so, while I enjoyed Queen Lucia, I don’t think I’ll be spending time on any of the sequels.
Read this if: you read them when you were young – evidently they hold up well with time; or you’d enjoy an “outrageously camp” satire of English village life. 3½ stars
 

4. LOST & FOUND **by Carolyn Parkhurst (Fiction, Contemporary) 3.5 star rating

Lost and Found Parkhurst photo lostandfound1_zps9cdfe365.jpg What could be more contemporary than a reality television show? In this show, teams of two decipher clues to discover where in the world they will go next and what they must find there. The contestants race across the globe—from Egypt to Japan, from Sweden to England—to battle for a million-dollar prize.

There are the requisite characters: the single mother with her nearly-estranged teenage daughter, the religious zealots, the fading celebrities, and the budding lesbian love affair.
And, of course, each character has a secret that the producers know and want to expose in the most sensational way possible.
Read this if: you enjoy reality TV shows. 3½ stars
 

5. LOST & FOUND by Oliver Jeffers (Children’s picture book, Board book) 4 star rating
Lost and Found Jeffers photo lostandfound2_zpsfd02c09a.jpgThis version of this title is a charming picture book about a boy who one day finds a penguin at his door. The boy decides the penguin must be lost and tries to return him. Since no one claims the penguin, the boy decides to take it home himself, and they set out in his row boat on a journey to the South Pole.

Colourful drawings, although I found the ending not-quite satisfying. It’s available in several formats; of course, the board book edition is suitable for the very young.
Read this if: you’re looking for a gentle story of belonging and home. 4 stars
 

6. TODAY I FEEL SILLY and Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis (Children’s Picture book)4 star rating
 photo todayIfeelsilly_zps7ee46cd8.jpg
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis has been quite public about her mental health battles with a mood disorder. In this book she helps kids explore, identify, and, even have fun with their ever-changing moods.

Today I feel silly. Mom says it’s the heat.
I put rouge on the cat and gloves on my feet.
I ate noodles for breakfast and pancakes at night.
I dressed like a star and was quite a sight.

Laura Cornell’s bright, detailed, and whimsical drawings complete this charming book.
Read this if: you’re dealing with a toddler (or even an older child) who is learning to deal with moods. 4 stars

 

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* ALL THAT I AM was the May pick for the War & Literature Readalong, hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.
* A GLASS OF BLESSINGS is the fifth Barbara Pym that I’ve read, as I keep up with the LibrayThing Virago group read-along for Barbara Pym’s centenary.
* I read QUEEN LUCIA as May’s random pick from my TBR wish list spreadsheet of 2,605 items for the Random Reads Challenge hosted by I’m Loving Books.I had collected recommendations for it from Jenny at Shelf Love, Ali at Heavenali, and Simon at Stuck in a Book.
* LOST & FOUND are qualifying words in the Keyword Reading Challenge at Bookmark to Blog, and also fulfill the “Word Lost or Found in the title” category in Beth Fish Reads’ What’s In a Name 2013 Reading Challenge.


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Literary Blog Hop Giveaway WINNER

June26

 photo winneris_zpsf53a251e.jpg
I turned to trusty random.org and drew the winner of my contribution to the eighth Liteary Blog Hop Giveaway hosted by Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog

Congratulations to

Anne Berger

who has elected to receive Anna Funder’s All That I Am

A big THANK YOU to all 90 visitors who entered this giveaway.

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Literary Blog Hop Giveaway June 2013

June22

 photo  literarybloghopjune_zps38e3d269.jpgTHIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

I’m participating in the eighth Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog, which is taking place from Saturday June 22nd until Wednesday June 26th.

I’m offering any book by the following authors, all of whom I’ve read & enjoyed this year. (Maximum value $15.00)

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
Dunmore, Helen
Findley, Timothy
Funder, Anna
Hornung, Eva
Ishiguro, Kazuo
Jessup, Heather
Jin, Ha
Kingsolver, Barbara buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery
Milne, A.A.
Pym, Barbara
Selecky, Sarah
Taylor, Elizabeth
Trollope, Anthony
von Arnim, Elizabeth

This giveaway is open to anyone living any place to which Book Depository delivers. To enter, leave a comment on this post with the name of an author of literary fiction whom you enjoy reading.

Be sure I have an email address to contact you. Then be sure to hop on over to Judith’s blog and see what the other participating bloggers are offering!

I will select the winner using random.org at 5pm Atlantic time June 26th.

Wondrous Words from Architecture

May22

I discovered both of these words (which I have may have encountered before but have forgotten through disuse) in The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller.

The protagonist, Laurence Bertram, is a scholar of church history, including their architecture.

ammonite photo ammonite_zps2090d1d5.jpgAmmonite: (from the horn of Ammon – Jupiter – whose statues were represented with ram’s horns): Any of the flat, usually coiled fossil shells of an extinct order of mollusks.

pg 22 She indicated an ornate bench. Two stone ammonites supported the stone seat (. . .)



pantiles photo pantiles_zps13af1a73.jpgPantile:
A roofing tile having an S curve, laid with the large curve of one tile overlapping the small curve of the next

Pg135 A handful of nearer [houses], more finished than the rest, had leaded windows and hanging pantiles
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Wondrous Words Wednesday photo wondrouswordsWednesday_zps7ac69065.png
Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where you can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. It’s hosted by Kathy at Bermuda Onion.


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Saturday Snapshot: Baby Quilt

May18

My new grandbaby is due to arrive this weekend and I’m having a hard time being patient.

This is the quilt I made for them: machine-quilted, but it’s the first pieced quilt I’ve ever made – and some of the first sewing in 25 years.

baby quilt photo babyquilt002450_zpsed8c8df2.jpg

I really had no idea how to properly piece a quilt, but last year I saw a quilting frame in my neighbour’s front room when I stopped to buy some fresh eggs. So I did what I never would have had the nerve to do in the city: I phoned her and asked for help.

She and her daughter invited me to their home and spent a morning teaching and helping me with this project. I will be forever grateful for country neighbours!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books.


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Mystery Books Read in April 2013

May7

In April, I decided to get back to some of the mystery series that I’ve started over the past few years but never followed up on. A number of titles made it in from the library, but my reading time ran out! This month, there’s only two of my “revisitations”; next month, there will be more.


TEARS OF THE GIRAFFE
by Alexander McCall Smith (Mystery, Botswana) 4.5 star rating
Book 2 of the Ladies’ Number 1 Detective Agency series.

Several years ago, our local book group read the Kalahari Typing School for Men and I discovered Mma Precious Ramotswe of Gabarone, Botswana. I was charmed and went on to read the titular first book in the series quite some time ago.

Tears of the Giraffe Alexander McCall Smith photo tearsofthegiraffe_zps6b8a0809.jpg In Tears of the Giraffe Mma Ramotswe searches for the fate of a young American man who worked on a co-operative farm in the area a decade earlier. She is also surprised by her fiancé with the addition to their ‘family’ of two orphans.

If you’ve not read McCall Smith before, you’ll probably be surprised at the cadence of these “mystery” novels. They are very gently paced and phrased, and nostalgic for the older, simpler ways of African life.
The series is delightful, and this book was moving as well. 4½ stars
Read this if: you looking for a series that evokes the character of Africa & its people, and don’t mind the absence of high action.


ON THE WRONG TRACK
by Steve Hockensmith (Mystery, Western) 4 star rating
Book 2 of the Holmes on the Range series

I read the first in this series featuring cowboy brothers Gustav “Old Red” and Otto “Big Red” Arlingmeyer in 2011. On the Wrong Track Steve Hockensmith photo onthewrongtrack_zps86716043.jpg Since then, I’ve wanted to read more about this duo whose older half idolizes Sherlock Holmes and wants to model himself after him. It’s left to Otto to chronicle their adventures. In this instalment, they are hired by the Southern Pacific Railroad as detectives on a Utah to California trip, and run up against notorious train robbers.

The voice in this series is as breezy and refreshing as I remember it, albeit containing profanity of the day, but the villain in this particular piece was a little too obvious, for not being obvious, if you know what I mean. It was still fun to follow Old Red as he trailed the clues and filled in the details. 4 stars
Read this if: you’re looking for a good non-thriller mystery, especially a 19th century western; or you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes (you’ll be tickled how much Old Red tries to imitate him.)



SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES
by Alan Bradley (Mystery, Cozy) Book 5 in the Flavia deLuce series4 star rating

Speaking from among the Bones Alan Bradley photo speakingfromamongthebones_zps7be66777.jpg I’m a big fan of Flavia, a spunky 11-year-old with a passion for chemistry, who travels her world of Bishop’s Lacey on her trusty bike Gladys.

In this latest adventure, the body of the village church organist is found in the crypt that contains the bones of the church’s patron, Saint Tancred, and Flavia is in it up to her neck. Along the way to cracking the case, she finds more clues that help her piece together the mystery that is her mother, Harriet.

As usual, it’s almost more about Flavia and her family than about unravelling the mystery which is a little convoluted and not really solvable by the reader. Still, Flavia is so much fun! 4 stars
Read this if: you’d enjoy a series, best read in order, that features a determined and intelligent adolescent protagonist; or you’d enjoy a slightly different take on the mid-twentieth century English village cozy.


DEATH COMES AS EPIPHANY
by Sharan Newman (Mystery, Historical, Cozy) Book 1 in the Catherine LeVendeur series3 star rating

Death Comes as Epiphany Sharan Newman photo deathcomesasepiphany_zps49099e25.jpg Set in 12th century France, this features Catherine, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, who is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess’s onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard.
I was uncomfortable with the amount of religious rigmarole, the “right’ of the church, and the solution: madness – or something darker? 3 stars
Read this if: you would enjoy a mystery more because of the religious element, rather than despite it.



KINDLE EDITIONS:
Tears of the Giraffe
Speaking from Among the Bones:
Death Comes As Epiphany



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Books Read in April 2013

May6

books read

The very first month after I declared to the blogosphere my intention to read at least one non-fiction book each month, I didn’t. Read non-fiction, that is.

Otherwise, I had a great reading month, very much liking just about everything I read and rating all but one of the titles at least four stars. Today, I’ll recap my fiction; tomorrow, the mysteries.

ELLA MINNOW PEA:
A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable (Fiction, Epistolary) by Mark Dunn 5 star rating
Ella Minnow Pea Mark Dunn photo ellaminnowpea_zpsc556ed77.jpg This is the book I spent the month telling everybody they should read. It’s a seemingly light-weight epistolary novel set on the fictitious independent island-nation of Nollop, off the coast off South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal phrase containing all the letters of the alphabet, ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.’ In fact, a statue with Nollop’s name and said pangram stands in the town square, and when letters start falling off, the Town Fathers see it as “Nollop’s Will” and ban the use of those letters, both in oral & written communication. As each letter is dropped from used by the islanders, so it is by the author of the book.

But this is more than just a clever lipogram (a written work composed of words selected as to avoid the use of one or more letters of the alphabet.) The effect of losing the use of the letters is startling, and the fabric of island life begins to unravel quickly. There is implied comment on religious extremism and on police states. It’s really very well-done.

What’s not to like? (Written) letters. Clever use (or non-use) of (alphabet) letters. Pick up this delightful little book and be prepared to ponder bigger issues than you think you will.
Thank you to Simon at Stuck in a Book who first brought this gem to my attention. 5 stars
Read this if: you love words.


* THE WARS
by Timothy Findley (Fiction, WWI, Canadian author) 5 star rating
When I saw The Wars was the April choice for the War & Literature Readalong, I wondered how I had never heard of this early novel by one of Canada’s literary leaders. Since I’ve read it, I wonder all the more.

The Wars by Timothy Findley photo wars_zps473cbfe0.jpg Set in WWI, the story tells of young officer Robert Ross who enlists after a family tragedy leaves him bereft. Written and published in the mid-1970s when it was still possible to talk to people who remembered that war, and the elderly veterans who marched in the Remembrance Day parade had fought in the French mud, it has an immediacy and power that many other First World War novels that I have read lack.

Findley’s prose is spare. There are no wasted words. It’s very powerful, and with no profanity. 5 stars
Read this if: you care about the animals—chiefly horses and mules—that were caught ’in service’ in the Great War.


THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
by John Green (Fiction, YA) 4 star rating

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green photo faultinourstars_zps97caf46b.jpg I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what this one is about. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ve read about it scores of times. I came to this book with a slightly cynical attitude but, although I didn’t cry, I did get teary-eyed a couple of times. It’s intelligently told and humanely felt. 4 stars

Read this if: you’d like some insight into how to relate to a young person with a serious illness; or you’re an adolescent thinking about life and death and their meaning.


* THE LAST RAIN
by Edeet Ravel (Fiction, Historical, Canadian author) 4 star rating
This novel is set on a kibbutz in Israel, mostly in the years 1949 and 1961.

The Last Rain by Edeet Ravel photo lastrain_zps693008b3.jpg The story jumps to various points of view and time periods, as well as formats (bits of a play, excerpts of committee meeting minutes, diary entries, and so on) at what is, at first, a dizzying—and sometimes annoying—rate. But piecing it together is all part of the plot, illustrating the complexities of any experiment to create a utopia.
Perhaps the photos of the (fictional) characters were the author’s own, since she grew up on a kibbutz? They were an additional element to keep the reader off-balance throughout.

When I finished the book, I wanted to start at the beginning and read it again now that I had the whole picture. 4 stars
Read this if: you’d like some insight into how the modern country of Israel was settled after its formation in 1949; or you’ve ever wondered about life in a commune-type setting.


* ELIZABETH AND HER GERMAN GARDEN
(Fiction, Classic) by Elizabeth von Armin 4 star rating

I’ve been wanting to read von Arnim for some time and decided to start with this title, her 1898 debut, because it is the one that Crawley House’s Mr. Molesley gave to Anna Smith when he tried to court her during Mr. Bates’ first absence in early season 2 of Downton Abbey.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden Elizabeth von Arnim photo elizabethandhergermangarden_zps237b65d3.jpg
Von Arnim was a young English woman who married an older German Count, and Elizabeth and her German Garden is considered semi-autobiographical. In it, a young wife and mother flees her hated social life in the city to live at one of her husband’s country estates and tend the garden.

It’s sensual, witty, and sweet all at once. 4 stars
Read this if: you love gardens; or, like me, you just want the thrill of that Downton connection!


* LESS THAN ANGELS
(Fiction, Vintage, Humour) by Barbara Pym 4 star rating

This 1955 novel is an incisive social satire that opens a window onto the insular world of London’s anthropologic community & its students.

Tongue firmly in check, Pym writes:
Less Than Angels Barbara Pym photo lessthanangels_zps526939d5.jpgFelix had explained so clearly what it was that anthropologists did (. . .) They went out to remote places and studied the customs and languages of the peoples living there. Then they came back and wrote books and articles about what they had observed (. . .) It was as simple as that. And it was a very good thing that these languages and customs should be known, firstly because they were interesting in themselves and in danger of being forgotten, and secondly because it was helpful to missionaries and government officials to know as much as possible about the people they sought to evangelize or govern.

In addition to the observations of those returned from Africa, Pym observes the townies observing their suburbanite brothers, women observing men, students observing graduates . . . all the world’s a foreign culture to someone. 4 stars
Read this if: you want to try one of Pym’s gentle satires that doesn’t concern the Anglican (or any other) church.

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As mentioned, The Wars was the April pick for the War & Literature Readalong, hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.
* I read The Last Rain as this month’s random pick from my TBR wish list spreadsheet of 2,456 items for the Random Reads Challenge hosted by I’m Loving Books. I first noticed a recommendation for it in MORE magazine. (Find it at MagazineDiscountCenter)
* Garden (Elizabeth’s German) is a qualifying word in the Keyword Reading Challenge at Bookmark to Blog.
* Less Than Angels is the fourth Barbara Pym that I’ve read, as I keep up with the LibrayThing Virago group read-along for Barbara Pym’s centenary.


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