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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Mystery Books Read in June 2015

February14

 

This month’s reading featured debuts to two excellent series, and a continuation of an old favourite.

 
 

1. BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE by Martin Walker (Fiction, Mystery, Series, France) 5 star rating

#1 Bruno series

This might be my favourite mystery series of all time. This, and subsequent books in the series, are set Dordogne, in southern France about 100 km (60 miles) from where my husband & I stayed on vacation in 2014. We did, indeed, take a couple of day trips into Bruno’s territory, before I ever met Bruno.

 photo bruno_zpsvdxwg5jz.jpgPart of what I love about this series is the atmosphere – the life and ways of modern French villages, being bought out by wealthy foreigners (chiefly British), but valuing their heritage, including their cooking.

But Walker does more than describe the mouth-watering foods. He builds a likeable but all-too-human character in Bruno, and lays out a mystery that is intelligent and insightful and demonstrates the direct effect of history on the present.

Thank you to Cathy at Kittling:Books for the recommendation. The Kindle version is less than $1 on both Amazon.com & Amazon.ca. Sorry – it doesn’t seem to be available on .uk or .au

If you have the least interest in France or in good mystery, you owe it to yourself to try at least this first book in the series.

5 stars

 
2. STILL LIFE by Louise Penny (Fiction, Mystery, Series, Canadian, Quebec) 4 star rating

#1 Three Pines series

 photo still life_zps1iewjelz.jpgThis is the debut novel of the ultra-popular series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, assigned to a murder in the rural village of Three Pines, south of Montreal. In it, we are introduced to those who, I’ve gathered, are continuing characters in the series.

Penny is skilful in bringing to life characters and defining their relationships. Consider what you learn about this couple, both individually and together, from this single paragraph.
“The outside world saw a tall, distinguished man with his disheveled wife, and wondered why. . . . Clara was his centre and all that was good and healthy and happy about him. When he looked at her he didn’t see the wild, untameable hair, the billowing frocks, the Dollar-rama store horn-rimmed spectacles. No. He saw his safe harbor.”

In addition, the mystery was clever. This is a well-done entry that spurred me on quickly to the second and third in the series.

4 stars

 

3. A DANGEROUS PLACE by Jacqueline Winspear (Fiction, Mystery, Series) 4 star rating

 photo dangerous place_zpsz0icyiey.jpg

This, number eleven in the Maisie Dobbs series, has Maisie working undercover for British Intelligence in Gibraltar, on the eve of the Second World War

It’s pretty obvious—since I’m on #11—that I really like this series, but it long ago became less about the mystery and more about Maisie and the people in her life. Sometimes she’s maddening, but I am still entranced.

4 stars

 
4. BAD KARMA by Dwight Holing (Fiction, Mystery, PI, Series) 3.5 star rating

 photo bad karma_zpsj6rp91k5.jpgI think I found this free on Kindle and downloaded it, thinking it was the first in the series. It’s actually second, and I think I would have gotten just that much more out of it if I’d read the first.

Amazon says: “San Francisco’s favorite con artist turned private investigator Jack McCoul is trying to go legit by launching a high tech startup business. But then his past comes roaring back.”

I don’t know why I was surprised that this was well-edited and had a decent mystery, without a too-hard edge. The humour, I think, helped to soften it.

3½ stars

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in June 2015

February12

books read

In June 2015, I hit the ground at home running after my luxurious vacation the month before. That left not too much reading time. Here’s what I managed.

A post detailing the four mystery books in my list will follow.

 

1. THE JAGUAR’S CHILDREN by John Vaillant (Fiction, Contemporary, Immigrants)5 star rating

Desperate to escape their dire circumstances in Mexico, Hector & Cesar pay for passage to America and allow themselves (with great trepidation) to be sealed inside an old water–tank truck.

 photo jaguar_zpsuu5tjymf.jpgAs drinking water runs out and people start to die, Hector finds a number on Cesar’s phone for Annie Mac and leaves messages for her on her voice mail, hoping that they will transmit when there “are bars”.

Before the truck can reach its destination, it breaks down and the driver and his assistant abandon the truck in a desert wilderness area.

The tension in this story is exquisite. Will the driver return? Will anyone survive? What will Annie Mac do when she receives these increasingly despairing messages?

This story is especially relevant today with the issue of non-legal immigration across the USA’s southern border being such a hot button topic. Warning: there are many words and phrases, even entire sentences in Spanish. If, like me, you know no Spanish, this can impinge a little on reading enjoyment, although even I got the gist of such remarks as “And a dead indio will be something to discuss at la comida.”

I highly recommend The Jaguar’s Children.

5 stars

 

2. COOL WATER (released in USA as JULIET IN AUGUST) by Dianne Warren (Fiction, Literary, Canadian) 4.5 star rating

 photo juliet_zps0sl9r5bp.jpgThis cool and still story of the fictional prairie hamlet of Juliet, Saskatchewan for a 24-hour period one August won the Canadian Governor-General’s Award for Fiction in 2010. The ‘Welcome’ sign to Juliet announces a population of 1,011 people but more than you can imagine happens here.
Warren draws a selection of the townspeople in a clear and sure voice.

Her prose has been described as “leisurely and unpretentious” and like a “drink . . . from a deep well after crossing the parched sand hills of the west”. This is one of the books that you will finish and then sit back and realize that much more happened than you thought was happening.

It’s a richly rewarding read.

4½ stars

 
3. ALL CLEAR by Connie Willis (Fiction, Historical, Time-travel) 4.5 star rating

 photo all clear_zpsfciaxs3l.jpg

 
This is the second half and wrap-up of Blackout, which I read in May.

Oxford historians from 2060 are stuck in WWII because of incorrect facts and unforeseen circumstances.

This is a favourite excerpt:

Pg431 (American tourists Connie & Bob at the Imperial War Museum, London)

“Is that the museum schedule?” Bob asked, pointing at the brochure [Colin] was holding.
“Yes.” He handed it to him, and he and Brenda pored over it. . . .
‘The Secret That Won the War,’” she read aloud. “What’s that one about?”
“I don’t know,” Bob said impatiently.
“I believe it’s about Ultra and Bletchley Park,” Calvin said.
“Ultra?”
“The secret project to decode the Nazis’ coded messages,” he said.
“Oh.” Brenda turned to her husband. “I thought you said the American forces were what won the war.”
Bob had the good grace to look embarrassed.
“There were all kinds of things that won the war,” Bob said. “Radar and the atom bomb and Hitler’s deciding to invade Russia—“
“And the evacuation from Dunkirk,” Colin said, “and the Battle of Britain, and the way Londoners stood up to the Blitz—“

This passage tickled me because when I visited the American Pavilion at Epcot in 1989, the film presentation there told me the same thing: “The American forces won WWII.” I remember nothing else from that film, but 30 years later, that glaring bit of self-aggrandizement remains clear in my mind.

I enjoyed this second half of the All Clear story even more than the first – perhaps because things were wrapped up and I understood more of what was happening.

4½ stars

 
4. THE PENDERWICKS A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (Fiction, Children’s Chapter) 4 star rating
 photo penderwicks_zpsboo5gvih.jpg
A widowed botany professor and his four daughters (Rosalind 12, Skye 11, Jane 10, and Batty 4) rent Arundel Cottage, part of the Arundel estate owned & occupied by the snobby Mrs. Tifton and her (very interesting) son Jeffrey, 11.

The Penderwicks won the annual U.S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2005.

I think I thought this was delightful when I read it but I’ve forgotten just about everything about it. Get it into the hands of your tweens and read it aloud to your younger children. I suspect that’s when the magic happens.

4 stars

 
5. WHEN ELEPHANTS FIGHT: The Lives of Children in Conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda by Eric Walters and Adrian Bradbury (Nonfiction) 3 star rating

 photo when elephants_zpsccekeknq.jpgIt seems that armed conflicts are happening in every corner of the globe and, sadly, they affect civilians by the millions. This book focuses on a specific segment of that civilian population: the children, who may have been injured or maimed, left without parents, whose homes have been destroyed, whose schooling has been interrupted, and who go to sleep scared and hungry.

It’s a tragic story and one we should all be aware of so that we can available to help – perhaps be the agents to bring that help about.

My sister recommended When Elephants Fight, but I must say that I found this volume very dry, and have learned more about the effect of war on children by reading novels (for example, Half of a Yellow Sun) or memoirs (one was A Long Way Gone).

3 stars

 

I didn’t read a lot this month, but I seem to have enjoyed most of it. What’s your take on the All Clear excerpt?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Mystery Books Read in May 2015

February9

 

I tried a couple of new series this month – with mixed results.

And since I was away from home, I read all three books on my Kindle app.

 

1. THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM by Chris Ewan (Fiction, Mystery, Series) 4 star rating

 photo good thief_zpswcokuinb.jpgThe Good Thief series features Charlie Howard, master criminal, who accepts ‘challenges’ around the globe. This first in the series, my introduction to him, was excellent: the mystery well-paced and evenly-developed.

I was exposed to enough tidbits about Amsterdam to get a flavour of that city and look forward to globe-trotting in the future with Charlie.

4 stars

 

2. THE KILLING FLOOR by Lee Child (Fiction, Crime, Series) 4 star rating

 photo killing floor_zpsqnbrgbrc.jpg
This, the first in the very popular Jack Reacher series, introduced Reacher, an ex-military police officer and now-drifter, who happens upon a town in Georgia where he’s arrested for a murder that he didn’t commit.

Reacher’s voice in this story was in the first person; it’s warm and intelligent. The story was very good as well.
I was sure I’d found a series that I’d really enjoy.

4 stars

 

3. DIE TRYING by Lee Child (Fiction, Crime, Series) 3.5 star rating

 photo die trying_zpsbf6vbjza.jpgThis second installment in the Jack Reacher series was a great disappointment.

Child changed the story to a third person point of view, and this seemed run-of-the-mill after the almost-endearing voice of the first book. Plus, the body count in this instalment just got away from us; it seemed to me to be a lot of gratuitous killing.

I don’t know if the third person voice continues in the rest of series since this outing was enough to make me move the next book so far down my TBR list that I haven’t yet returned to it.

3½ stars

 

I know that the Jack Reacher series is immensely popular, and my sister likes it very much. But I’m hesitant to go on to the third book.

Have you read this series? What do you recommend?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blo

Books Read in May 2015

February7

books read

In May 2015, I was on vacation in Ontario, visiting family. During the Monday to Friday work days, I stayed home and read. And read. And read. (It was wonderful, really.)

A short post detailing the mysteries in my list will follow.

 

1. A TIDEWATER MORNING by William Styron (Fiction, Literary, Classic) 4.5 star rating

 photo tidewater_zpsp2tytjyh.jpgWilliam Styron is one of those mid-twentieth century authors of literary fiction whom I’ve always meant to read. Tidewater Morning is a novella that I happened to have on Kindle which I had taken with on vacation.

Amazon says: “In this brilliant collection of ‘long short stories’, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sophie’s Choice returns to the coastal Virginia setting of his first novels. Through the eyes of a man recollecting three episodes from his youth, William Styron explores with new eloquence death, loss, war, and racism.”

Styron’s prose is magical: calming, glowing. I loved this book!

4½ stars

 

2. OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS by Claire Fuller (Fiction, Literary) 4.5 star rating
 
 photo endless numbered days_zps7ll6gmnd.jpg

In 1976, eight-year-old Peggy’s survivalist father takes her from London, on a summer hike in a remote European forest. There he tells her that they are the only survivors of a global disaster. They live in the woods for nine years – critical years in Peggy’s growing-up.

In time, Peggy meets Rudy who helps her escape. When she finds she is not alone in the world after all, everything she thought she knew is thrown into doubt.

If you haven’t read any spoilers, you’ll no doubt be taken aback by the surprise twist ending.
 photo Our Endless Numbered Days box_zps24zdippp.jpg
Fuller’s debut novel was highly touted in 2015. I won it from Claire at Word by Word who sent it all the way from France in its own survival kit containing items mentioned in the story. It was a delight to receive this in the mail!

4½ stars

 

3. BLACK OUT by Connie Willis (Fiction, Science Fiction, Time-travel) 4 star rating

Ah, time-travel!

 photo blackout_zpsvwkzxipx.jpgA project in 2060 Oxford sends several students to various places in the Second World War. They do know a lot of history, but who can know every detail? In London during the Blitz, they face air raids, blackouts, and missed assignations with their controls.

Willis’ time travel is complex but, in the end, it all makes sense. But beware – this is a door stopper, but does not contain ‘the end’ in which sense is made. It’s only the first half of the story, which is completed in All Clear which I read the following month.

Embark on Blackout only if you’re ready for a 1,147 page odyssey to WWII. I loved it!

4 stars
 

4. SPARE CHANGE by Bette Lee Crosby (Fiction, Women’s, Southern)

Wyattsville Novel Book 1

 photo spare change_zps39oa1m9i.jpgFrom Amazon: “Small-town gossip never much bothered Olivia Westerly. As a single career woman, she’s weathered her share. It’s easy to ignore the raised eyebrows over her late-in-life marriage to Charlie Doyle. But after he drops dead on their honeymoon, the whispers are salt on her raw grief. Especially when an orphaned, eleven-year-old-boy shows up on her doorstep, looking for the grandfather he never met.”

This is a charming story with enough suspense to form a firm plot. Despite it not being a genre of my first preference, I thoroughly enjoyed this.

I received a complimentary ecopy from the author. This did not affect my review.

4 stars
 

5. LESTER B. PEARSON, 14th PRIME MINISTER by Gordon Gibb (Nonfiction, History, Politics) from the Prime Ministers of Canada series 4 star rating

 photo lester pearson_zpsynkrux70.jpgWhen I was first becoming aware of government in the 1960s, Lester Pearson (after whom Toronto’s international airport is named) was Prime Minister of Canada.

He was responsible for the debate that gave Canada a new flag to replace the Red Ensign that identified the country as part of the British Commonwealth. That ‘new’ flag with its distinctive maple leaf is one of the most recognizable in the world. I remember the flag as an early development in the making of the modern “Canadian identity”.
 photo Canadian-Flags_zps9nlo5anl.jpg
I was very interested to read this middle-grade level story of Pearson’s government. I found it well-written and clearly set out and I highly recommend this book as an introduction to this exciting time in Canadian history.

I received my ecopy of this book from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program. This did not affect my review.

4 stars
 

6. JUBILEE’S JOURNEY by Bette Lee Crosby (Fiction, Women’s, Southern) 3.5 star rating

Wyattsville Novel Book 2
 photo jubilee_zpsns1rh73q.jpg
This is a continuation of the story in Spare Change (above). It has the same characters and the same charming southern writing—but without the plot twist at the end that would have been cliché a second time around.

However, I didn’t find enough unresolved tension in this story to make it quite as interesting the debut.

I received a complimentary ecopy from the author. This did not affect my review.

3½ stars
 

7. THE THING ABOUT GREAT WHITE SHARKS & Other Stories by Rebecca Adams Wright (Fiction, Short Stories)3.5 star rating

 photo great white sharks_zpssjkupgfn.jpgMany of these are set in the near-future or in dystopian worlds. In the title story, after “the fever” has turned all flora & fauna into human-attackers, Jennifer is conscripted by the government for ‘fear’ testing. Put into a room or a pool with such animals as pythons and sharks, her reactions are monitored for use in the military.

In Sheila, the story I remember most clearly, an elderly man faces the destruction of his beloved robotic dog. It’s heart-breaking.
Other stories include aliens or Orwellian futures.

If you’re a reader of science-fiction, or a fan of dystopia, do pick this book. For me, it was a little too weird.

3½ stars
 

8. PASSION FOR PARIS: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light by David Downie (Nonfiction, History, Travel, Bibliophilic)3.5 star rating

 photo passion_zpsenjsdscx.jpg
What a lovely book to take if we ever moved to Paris and had time to explore in depth! The geography and history of ‘literary celebrities’, especially of the Grand Epoch, are covered in rich detail.

As a book for a casual reader, it was not so interesting.

I received my ecopy from NetGalley. This did not affect my review.

3½ stars

 

9. THE PAINTED KISS by Elizabeth Hickey (Fiction, Historical, Art)3.5 star rating

 photo painted kiss_zpsvwuouznw.jpg
From Amazon: “Gustav Klimt, one of the great painters of fin de siècle Austria—and the subject of Helen Mirren’s latest film, Woman in Gold—takes center stage in this passionate and atmospheric debut novel, which reimagines the tumultuous relationship between the Viennese painter and Emilie Flöge, the woman who posed for his masterpiece The Kiss, and whose name he uttered with his dying breath.”

This should have been a knock-out but I found it rather bland.

3½ stars
 

10. WONDERFUL TONIGHT by Pattie Boyd (Nonfiction, Memoir)3.5 star rating
 

 photo wonderful_zpskgsgxkm0.jpgWhat to make of the woman who inspired Something, Wonderful Tonight, and Layla by rock greats George Harrison and Eric Clapton?
Pattie Boyd was that woman and in this memoir she tells us about herself and what it was like living with these famous musicians in their heyday. Since that music formed the soundtrack of my youth, and that time is still vivid in my memory, I really enjoyed this memoir.

Until, that is, a few weeks after I finished the book I saw a news item that Boyd had married her ‘long-time boyfriend’, who, she many, many, many times told us in the book was nothing more than a friend. In my mind, this called into question the veracity of her entire account.

Make of this what you will; I still enjoyed reading it.

3½ stars
 

11. THE KEPT by James Scott (Fiction, Historical, Suspense)3 star rating

 photo kept_zpsaydcfhbr.jpg

Amazon says: “In the winter of 1897, a trio of killers descends upon an isolated farm in upstate New York. Midwife Elspeth Howell returns home to the carnage: her husband, and four of her children, murdered. Before she can discover her remaining son Caleb, alive and hiding in the kitchen pantry, another shot rings out over the snow-covered valley. Twelve-year-old Caleb must tend to his mother until she recovers enough for them to take to the frozen wilderness in search of the men responsible.”

I borrowed this from my daughter’s bookshelf during my visit, although I had previously never heard of it. It’s an odd premise, and a rather odd book although it did keep me interested enough to finish it.

3 stars
 

12. THE ROCHEFORTS by Christian Laborie (Fiction, Historical, Melodrama) 2 star rating

 photo rocheforts_zpss2l1x2fw.jpg
After visiting France in late 2014, I could not get enough of that country so I was happy to receive an ecopy of this book from NetGalley. I tried several times to ‘get into’ this, even skimming and re-entering, with no success.

Amazon calls this a “sweeping story of love, greed, and betrayal” but I found it trite, predictable, and overly-long.

2 stars

 

Because I was away from home (and wanting to travel light), nine of the twelve books I read this month were on my Kindle app. When you travel, do you read paper books or electronic copies?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Mystery Books Read in April 2015

February4

 

A monthly mailing that I receive from Oxford County Library in Ontario put me onto a new-to-me, and excellent, series. Cathy at Kittling: Books has also recommended it.

 

1. OPEN SEASON by C.J. Box (Fiction, Mystery, Series) 4.5 star rating

 photo open season box_zpsfpr86sin.jpg

#1 in the Game Warden Joe Pickett series, set in Wyoming.

This was a wonderful introduction to a great new-to-me series, now at #18. It featured a likeable and believable protagonist and a solid mystery. There is ‘good suspense’, but it is not overwhelming as it seems to be in so many ‘crime’ novels these days.

Clearly, I have some catch-up reading to do.

4½ stars

 
2. THE LADY OF SORROWS (A Seven Deadly Sins Mystery) by Anne Zouroudi (Fiction, Mystery, Series) 3.5 star rating

 photo lady of sorrows_zpsyalxgowo.jpgThis is the fourth in the Hermes Diaktoros series which opened with such a bang for me in January 2015.

Amazon says: “A painter is found dead at sea off the coast of a remote Greek island. The painter’s work, an icon of the Virgin long famed for its miraculous powers, has just been uncovered as a fake. But has the painter died of natural causes or by a wrathful hand?”

The mystery in this episode just didn’t come together for me, but I did still enjoy the outing with Hermes, and will continue with the series.

3½ stars

 

3. EXCEPT THE DYING by Maureen Jennings (Fiction, Mystery, Historical, Canadian, Series) 3.5 star rating

 photo excpet the dying_zpswd6juolc.jpgAlthough she is the author of two other mystery series, Jennings is probably best known as the author of this series featuring Detective Murdoch, set in nineteenth-century Toronto, Ontario. The books are the basis for the popular television series Murdoch Mysteries

Except the Dying is the first in that series and I read it to prepare for the summer’s Read By the Sea event.

Years ago, I read the fourth installment, Let Loose the Dogs, and always meant to get back to it.

This debut wasn’t as good as I remember #4 being, but it held its own. For certain, I’ll try another.

3½ stars

 

4. COGNAC CONSPIRACIES by Jean-Pierre Alaux with Noël Balen (Fiction, Mystery, French, Translated [by Sally Pane], Series) 3 star rating

 photo cognac_zpsybmrk4wu.jpg
This is the fifth installment in the Winemaker Detective series featuring (fictional) renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker, set in France. The heirs to one of the oldest Cognac estates in France call in Cooker when they face a hostile takeover by foreign investors.

There is a passable mystery, but the appeal of the series is the wine and the setting, and would be particularly interesting to oenophiles, or Francophiles with an interest in wine-making.

I suspect that each entry in this series stands well alone.

I received a complimentary ecopy of Cognac Conspiracies from the publisher. This did not affect my review.

3 stars

 

5. A FINE SUMMER’S DAY by Charles Todd (Fiction, Mystery, Historical, Series) 3 star rating

 photo fine summer day_zpshl7rz7ho.jpg

FantasticFiction.com lists this as #17 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series; I have notated it as #.5 – that is, a chronological prequel to the series stellar debut A Test of Wills.

This entry takes the reader to Rutledge’s last civilian case before WWI, and gives us a glimpse of the Inspector’s personal life as well.

But I continue to be disappointed with subsequent entries in this series.

3 stars

 

It was a so-so month for mysteries, but made worthwhile for me with the discovery of the Joe Pickett series. Does anything appeal to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in April 2015

February2

books read In April 2015, I continued with the trend I began the previous month, and Canadian literature formed just about half of my reading. I was reading, in part, in order to be familiar with the visiting authors at the annual Read by the Sea in River John Nova Scotia in July. In the end, I missed that event, but my reading was enriched anyway.

Mysteries are detailed in a separate post.

 

1. BELONGING: Home Away from Home by Isabel Huggan (Nonfiction, Travel, Canadian) 4 star rating

Canadian author Isabel Huggan & her husband fell in love with southern France on a holiday trip there and decided to relocate their home to where they had left their hearts. They intended it to be ‘home’, not a holiday house nor a second home but their permanent residence.

I choose to think that those of us who settle here permanently—définitivement—are more kindly looked upon than those who just drop in for a few weeks of sunny weather. But I may be fooling myself.

 photo belonging_zpslvufitpe.jpgHuggan explores the concept of ‘belonging” not only in relation to fitting in and becoming a part of the French community, but also in relation to no longer ‘belonging’ in Canada when they visit.

Although I had initially thought that the part about acclimatizing to France would be the bit that ‘spoke’ to me, her thoughts on no longer belonging to her native land resonated more with me. I was born and raised and lived the first 48 years of my life in Ontario, but now that we have been in Nova Scotia for nearly 15 years, we find Ontario to be a foreign country when we visit.

It’s well worth reading this lovely narrative.

4 stars

 

2. ROOST by Ali Bryan (Fiction, Contemporary, Atlantic Canadian) 4 star rating

 photo roost_zpsqqnj4mda.jpgRoost was chosen as the One Book Nova Scotia selection for 2015.

Set in Halifax, Nova Scotia, it relates a slice of life for Claudia, a recently-single mom of two pre-schoolers, whose mother dies suddenly at the age of 60. Claudia must cope not only with her own grief, but also that of her brother, and of her father – who starts to hoard. Plus, her ex is moving to another relationship.

I found this to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it does contain a lot of crude language.

4 stars

 

3. A HUNDRED FLOWERS by Gail Tsukiyama (Fiction, Historical) 4 star rating

 photo hundred flowers_zpssvefyyeh.jpgSet in Mao’s China in 1957, the title of this book refers to the program—“Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”—that saw intellectuals and artists feel free to express dissident ideas, only to find that it led to arrest and ‘re-education’ in labour camps, or even death.

Kai Ying’s husband, Sheng, is dragged away the morning of his son’s sixth birthday and sent to a labour camp.
Amazon describes it as “a powerfully moving story of ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances with grace and courage.”

It was an interesting lesson in China’s history but it wasn’t powerful enough to sweep me off my feet.

4 stars

 

4. A BRIEF MOMENT OF WEIGHTLESSNESS by Victoria Fish (Fiction, Short Stories) 4 star rating

 photo brief moment_zpsmml5cycx.jpgEach story in this collection is rich – in language, and in relationships. For the most part, these are everyday situations: a family returning to the family cottage for their annual vacation, an elderly woman faced with having to enter a nursing home, a young girl grieving her mother who has died of breast cancer, but in each Fish plumbs the depth of the complex human heart.

The nature of short stories is that they are often unresolved, but I found these even more so, else I might have rated this a half star higher.

4 stars

 

5. A BUNCH OF PRETTY THINGS I DID NOT BUY by Sarah Lazarovic (Nonfiction, Illustrated) 3.5 star rating
 photo bunch of pretty things_zpsrptkq3qb.jpg
Oh, the irony! One of the books I indulged in buying new this year, rather than obtaining it second hand, or from the library was this one – about material things. It received such glowing comments in the Globe & Mail!

The author illustrated this herself, and I expected (and wanted) a sort of journal of lovely items that she had considered, the circumstances under which she considered them, and the reason she decided not to buy. Since reading this, I have thought that I might just make my own journal of such items (only, with cut and pasted pictures.)

Because this book wasn’t that.

 photo bunch of pretty things_zps8s0cjdxm.jpg

A small (5”x7”, 13cmx19cm) hardback (looking as though it’s missing its [non-existent] dustjacket), A Bunch of Pretty Things is more a treatise on (over)consumerism, and the learning process to minimalism. As Amazon says: “A witty, gracious, and charmingly illustrated anti-consumer manifesto”. I see now that it’s interesting, but not what I wanted at the time.

This is an excellent book for twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings to read through. The teenage angst and lack of thoughtfulness about consumerism throughout the first part of the book may irritate anyone older. The last chapter – Conclusions – includes a guide to recognizing quality and “simple rules for better shopping”, the things the over 60 crowd was taught in school (at least, I was).

3½ stars

 

6. THE WIND SELLER by Rachael Preston (Fiction, Middle-grade, Atlantic Canadian) 3.5 star rating
The Wind Seller by Rachael Preston photo wind seller_zpsbwcyz6nw.jpg

Set in 1924 in a Bay of Fundy coastal village near Economy, Nova Scotia, this middle-grade fiction explores the after-effects of the Halifax Explosion seven years earlier.

Honestly, I remember very little else about this but I did rate it at the time of reading – and I noted that the author has never lived in Nova Scotia. Was that important, I wonder?


3½ stars

 

7. A TOUCH OF STARDUST by Kate Alcott (Fiction, Historical, Women’s, Hollywood) 3 star rating

I love old black and white movies of the 1930s and ‘40s and am interested in the film stars of old. I’ve always been intrigued that Carole Lombard was purported to be, before her tragic death at age 36 in an airplane crash, the love of Clark Gable’s life.
 photo touch of stardust_zpsqfzb3iiy.jpg

Unfortunately, in an attempt to bring Lombard to life, Alcott infused her vocabulary with profanities that were rare by most standards until only a couple of decades ago. It seemed affected to me, and limited my enjoyment of this fictionalized account of the making of Gone with the Wind. Even if Lombard really did talk like that, was it necessary to use to make the point of her “strength”?

3 stars

 

What do you think? Was I too hard on any of these?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in March 2015

January30

books read

March 2015 was a great reading month with lots of Can Lit, Atlantic Canadian and otherwise.

I read only one mystery book, that by Agatha Christie and have just included it in this list.


 

1. UNDER THE KEEL by Michael Crummey (Poetry, Atlantic Canadian) 5 star rating

I have read all of Michael Crummey’s prose, including River Thieves and Sweetland to which I gave 5 stars in September 2014.

Under the Keel by Michael Crummey photo a526c46c-ad3e-4cd7-a903-980a15353805_zpsu5bgs6qw.jpg

But I had never read of his poetry, which is his first vocation.

The title of this book refers to the poem Fathom, and the lines that describe the wound on his dog’s shaved shoulder:

like a line across a gunwale
as it rises on an easy swell,
new stitches like a row of knots tied
to sound fathoms under the keel.

I don’t know how to comment on poetry but I do know that I loved these poems. I borrowed this from the library – and then bought myself a copy for my own shelf.

5 stars

 

2. KICKING THE SKY by Anthony De Sa (Fiction, Literary, Canadian) 4 star rating

Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa photo 487c9ae6-84a8-4f11-afd0-951110243ff0_zpsxxd11lsu.jpg

In Toronto Ontario, in 1977, 11-year-old shoeshine boy Manuel Jacques was abducted, sexually abused and murdered.

Through the eyes of fictional 11-year-old Antonio Rebelo, in a time when children took their bikes and played for hours in the alleys behind their homes—a freedom we have difficulty imagining now—this novel examines that horrible real-life news event.

It’s heart-breaking and very human.

4 stars

 

3. GRIST by Linda Little (Fiction, Historical, Atlantic Canadian) 4 star rating

Grist by Linda Little photo ac6241ea-9b15-4565-8f67-43507311f3f8_zpswlgq6p0s.jpgI always enjoy reading Nova Scotia author Linda Little’s books, not least because the settings are very local to me and familiar.

This, her third novel, is Little’s first foray into historical fiction, but it is a setting with which she is very familiar, having served as a guide at the historical Balmoral Grist Mill on Nova Scotia’s beautiful north shore for several years.

From Amazon:
“Penelope MacLaughlin marries a miller and gradually discovers he is not as she imagined. Nonetheless she remains determined to make the best of life at the lonely mill up the Gunn Brook as she struggles to build a home around her husband’s eccentricities.”

There’s a strong female protagonist, and the setting and time details ring true.

4 stars

 

4. AT THE WATER’S EDGE by Sara Gruen (Fiction, Historical)4 star rating

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen photo f1c42db4-a14e-4077-b40d-fce4d809da61_zpsvkk4ngx5.jpgI haven’t seen much about this fifth (?) novel by Canadian author Gruen, perhaps because it’s so different from her big hit Water for Elephants.

Although there have rumours of a ‘monster’ in Scotland’s Loch Ness for centuries, in 1933-34 a couple of “out-of-the-pond” sightings and two photos purported to be of the monster stirred world-wide attention. At the Water’s Edge is set on locale just after this ‘discovery’.

Gruen evokes not only the Scotland of the time, but also high society in Manhattan. Very droll.

4 stars

 

5. CATARACT CITY by Craig Davidson (Fiction, Contemporary, Suspense, Canadian) 4 star rating

A short-list nominee for Canada’s 2013 Giller Prize, Cataract City is set in Niagara Falls Ontario, where the gorge into the Falls gives the city its nickname.

Cataract City by Craig Davidson photo 49764acc-dcaf-4c95-8e64-b6710fa374e1_zpsxgkuzj2d.jpg Owen and Duncan are childhood friends who’ve grown up in Niagara Falls. As adults, the two men end up at opposite ends of the law: Dunc gets in involved in cross-border cigarette smuggling and Owen is a police officer.

Although I’m not really a fan of suspense, this kept my interest throughout, perhaps because I’m personally familiar with the “Cataract City”.

Notable quote: It boiled down to this: it’s a lot harder to love than to hate. Harder to be there for those you love—to see them get older, get sick, be taken from you in sudden awful ways. Hate’s dead simple. You can hate an utter stranger from a thousand miles away. It asks nothing of you. It eats you from the inside but it takes no effort or thought at all. (page 327)

4 stars

 

6. THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage) 4 star rating

This is a classic whodunit of the ‘Golden Age’ of mysteries, and often held out as Christie’s best work. Originally published in 1926, it is Hercule Poirot’s fourth outing.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie photo 94fe5c28-9ba5-46d2-8b4e-d8f4f6bd5d3e_zpsgreyh5xa.jpgBlurb from Amazon: “Roger Ackroyd knew too much. He knew that the woman he loved had poisoned her brutal first husband. He suspected also that someone had been blackmailing her. Then, tragically, came the news that she had taken her own life with a drug overdose.
But the evening post brought Roger one last fatal scrap of information. Unfortunately, before he could finish reading the letter, he was stabbed to death.”

Even though I thought it worth the read, it wasn’t my favourite, nor was it particularly memorable.

4 stars

 

7. THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak (Fiction, Children’s ‘Picture’) 4 star rating

The Book  With No Pictures photo 1b04f384-01aa-4e59-8c94-1631f8943d36_zpsjxmyha6z.jpgI’m always overly dramatic in my readings of picture books to kids. So the idea of a ‘picture’ book with no pictures, that allowed kids to imagine, and adults to dramatize, appealed to me.

Maybe I was in the wrong mood when I read it, but the narrative seemed overly wordy and over the top.

Points for the concept and the basic plot.

4 stars

 
8. IMAGINARY LINE: Life on an Unfinished Border by Jacques Poitras (Nonfiction, Canadian) 3.5 star rating

The author recounts life in New Brunswick Canada living near the somewhat porous border with Maine USA.

Imaginary Line: Life on an unfinished border by Jaques Poitras photo b3c6fc99-be17-4c04-9a34-615fc4abf647_zps9exrknga.jpg

Estcourt is unique: part of the community is in Québec, but the other part is at the northernmost tip of Maine, though cut off from the rest of the state by vast forests. There are no public American roads leading to Estcourt, which means that U.S. residents rely on Québec for access to electricity, telephone service, and road links to the outside world.

I’ve always thought, looking at a map of North America, that Maine should be part of Canada, sticking up the way it does well past the 49th parallel that forms most of the border across the continent. In Imaginary Line, Poitras recounts the history of land division that gave Maine to the USA and New Brunswick to Canada, and reveals the error of my thinking.

Why is this border “unfinished”? Because of a small island in the mouth of the Penobscot River that both countries claim, but neither will relinquish.

Very interesting – to both Canadians and Americans, I would think.

3½ stars

 

9. THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Fiction, Women’s) 3.5 star rating

The Language of lowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh photo 17898574-fd99-4e40-ab48-0cf6d99b04c6_zpsqnlndnhk.jpgFrom Amazon:”The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions . . . But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody . . . Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.”

Bottom line: I shouldn’t read women’s fiction with happy endings, no matter how well-written.

3½ stars

 

10. THE MUSSEL FEAST by Birgit Vanderbeke and Jamie Bulloch (translator) (Fiction, Literary, Translated) 3.5 star rating

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke photo d29745f4-967a-4500-9883-647284cd82aa_zpsvdvq9vlq.jpg

A mother and her two teen-aged children have fixed a ‘mess of mussels’ for dinner because it is their husband/father’s favourite meal. They sit at the table, waiting. But he is late.

Written in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the father is meant to be an analogy of communism, the ultimate ‘tyrannical father’. Although this has been highly touted, I found it rather ponderous.

3½ stars

 

11. SALTWATER COWBOYS by Dayle Furlong (Fiction, Atlantic Canadian)3 star rating

I so wanted to love this novel and it was so promising at its beginning:
Saltwater Cowboys by Dayle Furlong photo 514c84a1-f099-416f-ac42-f045d8a42f93_zpsjypmdocd.jpg

The inhabitants of a Newfoundland fishing village shut down by the collapse of the Atlantic fishing industry, move nearly en masse to Alberta to work in the oil field. Their families go with them, which is often not the case.

The part of the book set in Newfoundland rang true, as did the beginning of the time in Alberta but once the author had solidified the setting and, to some extent, the personalities, the plot sadly fell apart.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley. This did not affect my review.

3 stars

 

So there you have it: Can Lit in fiction both contemporary and historical, in nonfiction, and in poetry. Does anything appeal to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in February 2015

January27

books read

In February 2015, my reading slowed down a bit after that heavy January but I read a book that has earned a place in my top 100 lifetime books, perhaps even the top 25. Everything else I read was excellent, too.

P.S. I didn’t read any mystery books this month, so this is the only post for February 2015.

 

1. A BEAUTIFUL TRUTH by Colin McAdam (Fiction, Literary)5 star rating

 photo beautiful truth_zpssvu7o5le.jpgSet in Vermont and in a Florida primate research facility, this story is told alternately from the point of view of humans, and chimpanzees.

A wealthy young couple Walt and Judy, unable to conceive children, adopt a young chimpanzee who enjoys a pampered life with them. Meanwhile, in Florida, chimps have been studied (and more) for decades. These two stories tragically intersect.

This is an extremely powerful book that continues to haunt me, though I read it nearly three years ago.

I can’t recommend this highly enough.

5 stars

 

2. THE CHICKEN THIEF by Fiona Leonard (Fiction, African, Literary) 4 star rating

 photo chicken thief_zpsthddmrjd.jpg
 
Set in an unidentified West African country, this follows Alois, a consummate chicken thief who is recruited to protect a war hero.

It’s a gentle satire, amusing at times, but overall a bold statement on African politics.

4 stars


 

3. THE LOWLAND by Jhumpa Lahiri (Fiction, Indian, Literary)4 star rating

 photo lowland_zpsmuweqbbi.jpg

 

The Lowland is the story of two brothers who grow up in a village in India. Ones moves to America, the other stays in his home village.

I found that, although this told a story with a powerful ending and was well-written, it dragged for me in spots.

4 stars


 

4. PRAIRIE OSTRICH by Tamai Kobayashi (Fiction, Canadian, Literary)4 star rating

From an Amazon reviewer:

 photo prairie ostrich_zpsbsyxfwvo.jpg“Bookish, [Japanese-Canadian] eight-year-old Egg Murakami lives on her family’s ostrich farm in rural, southern Alberta. It is the end of the summer, 1974. Since her brother’s death, her Mama curls inside a whiskey bottle and her Papa shuts himself in the barn. Big sister Kathy — in love with her best friend, Stacey — reinvents the bedtime stories she reads to Egg so that they end in a happily ever after.

Confronted by bullies and the perplexing quirks of the adults around her, Egg watches, a quiet witness to her unraveling family as she tries to find her place in a bewildering world.”

Don’t read this if you require happy endings.

4 stars

 

5. THE COLOUR OF MILK by Nell Leyshon (Fiction, South African, Historical) 4 star rating

 photo colour of milk_zpsouuu4s6k.jpg
The Colour of Milk is told from the point of view of fifteen-year-old Mary who is asked to work in the home of the village minister. She’s a pretty girl with hair the colour of milk, and it is this that has attracted the man to her.

It’s a short book over which suspense steadily builds while the reader discerns what is coming.

4 stars

 
6. THE HOUR OF PERIL: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower (Narrative Nonfiction, Historical, American) 4 star rating

 photo hour of peril_zpsh9tqvlt6.jpg

When we think of Lincoln and an assassination attempt, we no doubt think of Ford’s Theatre on April 15, 1865.

This book tells of police work that purportedly uncovered a plot to kill Lincoln in Baltimore in February 1861. Based on evidence, the law agencies were able to convince the President to change his train route and, as we know, he was not murdered then.

I’m not American so it takes a really good book to draw me into an isolated incident in US history. This well-written account kept my interest throughout.

4 stars


 

7. MOVING TO THE COUNTRY ONCE AND FOR ALL by Lisa Rogak (Nonfiction, Narrative Essay)3.5 star rating

 photo moving to the country_zps5zt1sv9d.jpg

This was really an excellent guide for leaving an urban setting and settling into a rural life. There are chapters on how to choose a town, employment opportunities, and the nitty-gritty of country living, among others, and Lisa tells us about these in an engaging way.

The one problem with this book is that some of the material has seriously dated.

3½ stars

 
Have you read any of the excellent books in this month’s reading?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Mystery Books Read in January 2015

January19

 

This was the month I finally started several series that had been highly recommended and picked up some titles that fit various reading challenges I was unofficially participating in.

 

1. THE MESSENGER OF ATHENS by Anne Zouroudi (Fiction, Mystery, Series #1)4.5 star rating

2. THE TAINT OF MIDAS by Anne Zouroudi (Fiction, Mystery, Series #2 4.5 star rating

3. THE DOCTOR OF THESSALY by Anne Zouroudi (Fiction, Mystery, Series #3) 4.5 star rating
The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi photo 0f63a251-7941-4b28-b47a-cc548ba9a93f_zpsqof3dc2i.jpg
I wasn’t sure what to expect of my first meeting with Hermes Diaktoros, but I was eager to make his acquaintance so when Netgalley offered these first three in the series, I jumped.

The series is set in Greece at an undetermined time – but in very real settings that make little or no use of modern technology. That could be mid-20th century, or it could be present day in an isolated rural area that is not up to date. The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi photo 1f65bf8a-ff3a-4183-aaf7-3e453aec46ab_zpsabt26vbr.jpgTo further confuse things, Hermes’ methods are very old-fashioned and a little bit unorthodox, and there is the tiniest bit of magical realism.

This series has everything: a setting that the reader longs to be part of, a likeable inscrutable protagonist, and good mysteries. There are seven books in this series, each dealing with one of the traditional seven deadly sins.The Doctor Of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi photo 28891770-577d-463a-9891-9c9c6bbd5452_zpswfikmirc.jpg

All of these books were excellent, although it is the story in the third one that has stayed with me three years later. There’s always justice in Zouroudi’s books although not always in the form you might expect.

I’m glad to be reminded to return to this series.

4½ stars each and every one

 

4. GREEN FOR DANGER by Christianna Brand (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage, WWII) 4.5 star rating

This was my second outing with Brand (the first in October 2014) and I found that Green for Danger certainly justified Brand’s place in the pantheon of great Golden Age mystery authors.

Green for Danger by Chrsitianna Brand photo b19e48ab-304e-422f-80b8-564e4e412845_zpsl2s1f44a.jpgThis second outing of Inspector Cockrill is set in a rural English hospital during WWII. The mystery is extremely well and fairly clued and although I caught on before the reveal, it was just enough before that I wasn’t frustrated by obviousness.

Tipped off by Nan from Letters from a Hill Farm, I found the movie version of Green for Danger on YouTube, and greatly enjoyed it. It was true to the book although, perhaps due to film quality, I think you’d get more out of it if you’ve read the book first.

Excellent – if you haven’t read Brand, do start here.

4½ stars

 

5. TURNSTONE by Graham Hurley (Fiction, Police Procedural, Series) 4 star rating

This turned up in my library queue because it fulfilled a reading challenge that unfortunately, ran out the previous month. Still, it looked interesting enough to try.

“Turnstone is the 1st of Graham Hurley’s Portsmouth based Faraday and Winter novels. Portsmouth is a city on the ropes, a poor, dirty but spirited city, with a soaring crime rate. And it is home for DI Joe Faraday.” (Amazon)
Turnstone by Graham Hurley photo bf1cb8c3-f7e9-4ec9-9672-523177e118b6_zpsam9zomy3.jpg

Faraday is a crusty old coot but when eight-year-old Emma Maloney gathers the coins out of her bank, gets on a bus by herself, and walks into the Kingston Crescent Police Station hoping just maybe the police could find her dad, just like they’d found her bike that time, he sees a case worth taking.

Despite the ever-growing caseload of a city torn by violence, poverty, drug-dealing and petty crime, Faraday spares time and resources for an investigation unsupported by hard evidence and works loosely with Paul Winter, another member of the CID force, whose ambition and methods Faraday dislikes and distrusts, but who gets results.

The characters are well-drawn and not at all one-dimensional, and the plot stands up.

4 stars

 

6. THE TOMB OF ZEUS by Barbara Cleverly (Fiction, Mystery, Historical, Series) 4 star rating

The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly photo c9c4e074-c126-4b94-984f-05506b121371_zpszhtxipit.jpgIn February 2014, I greatly enjoyed one of Cleverly’s books from her Joe Sandilands series. Since then, I had heard positive things about her Laetitia “Letty” Talbot series, so I decided to give it a whirl, starting with the first in the series.

Set in 1928 Crete, it features aspiring archaeologist Letty, determined to succeed in a male-dominated field.

The mystery was solid, and kept me guessing, but I am so weary of Golden Age heroines with modern-day sensibilities. I may stick to Cleverley’s other series.

4 stars

 

7. WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD by Stuart Palmer (Fiction, Mystery, Short Story) 3.5 star rating

I could call this the ‘Case of the Disappearing Book”. When I went looking for a cover image for this, I was unable to locate one by Stuart Palmer, despite there being nearly a dozen others by this title on Amazon. But this wasn’t on Amazon, nor on my Kindle library, nor even in my iBooks app.
 photo old time detection_zpslt7xjevm.jpg

The mystery was solved when I looked at my original reading record and discovered that I had read this in a printed publication I receive. Give Me That Old-time Detection had reprinted it from a 1951 Ellery Queen Magazine. Old-Time Detection is a treasure trove of vintage stories and book reviews as well as current news from the field.

I’m assuming Where Angels Fear to Tread was classic and I liked it well enough, although I admit I don’t remember anything about it.

3½ stars

 

8. A KILLER PLOT by Ellery Adams (Fiction, Mystery, Cozy, Series) 3.5 star rating

A Killer Plot by Ellery Adams photo 730df75b-aa25-4544-aa19-68f294c8ee9f_zpsoeq4l3on.jpgIn the small coastal town of Oyster Bay, North Carolina, “Olivia Limoges is the subject of constant gossip. Ever since she came back to town-a return as mysterious as her departure-Olivia has kept to herself, her dog, and her unfinished novel.”

But when townspeople start turning up dead with haiku poems on their bodies she, as a writer, becomes suspect and is drawn into solving the crimes. This is the first of the Books by the Bay series and is a solid, although not overly exciting, debut.

3½ stars

 

9. COVER OF SNOW by Jennie Milchman (Fiction, Suspense) 3.5 star rating

Cover of Snow by Jennie Milchman photo 8ad53c97-bd0b-4f70-a513-637fc99126fb_zpsv75ix1t2.jpgNora Hamilton wakes one winter morning to find that her husband has hanged himself, leaving no note or explanation. When Nora starts asking questions, she is stonewalled at every turn.

I could recognize that this was a well-done suspense tale, although suspense isn’t my favourite genre. I did guess the “villain” of the conspiracy early on and was quite frustrated at how Nora kept missing it.

3½ stars

 

10. CROSSING THE LINE by Frédérique Molay (Fiction, Crime, Translated, Series) 3.5 star rating

Crossing the Line by Frederique Molay photo c41948dc-3303-434c-80ee-e1bc52df4b62_zpsubiiay8v.jpg In this, the second in the Paris Homicide series, Paris Chief of Police Nico Sirsky is on a bizarre case. Dental students have discovered a message in the tooth of a severed head, warning of murder.

The Paris setting was excellent, the suspenseful build-up was good, but the plot seemed to me to “cross the line” into the completely unbelievable. (Not the bit about the tooth; I bought that. The plot just went over the top at its climax.)

3½ stars

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in January 2015

January16

books read
Yup – you read that right: 2015. I’m three years behind in recording the books I’ve read. But one must start somewhere, so away we go.

January! A new year – and I celebrated by indulging in mysteries. They’re in a separate post, as usual. Herewith are the four non-mystery books that I read.

 

1. SILENCE OF THE SONGBIRDS: How We Are Losing the World’s Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them by Bridget Stutchbury (Non-fiction, Nature) 4 star rating

The Silence of the Songbirds by Bridget Stutchbury photo ffe34720-fb37-40c8-b040-dc64458be6cc_zpsbio4ibpq.jpg I’ve noticed in the last few years and especially in the spring and summer of last year that there are fewer songbirds trilling their calls around our country property.
Since reading Silence of the Songbirds, I have a good idea why this is – not that it makes me feel any better.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is still a classic on this subject, but Stutchbury’s book is an up-to-date consideration of the whole of North America.

These are disturbing facts; I often see in my mind’s eye, even now three years after first reading of them, all those dead hawks falling from the sky over southern fields.

4 stars

 

2. THE LAST DAYS OF PTOLEMY GREY by Walter Mosley (Fiction) 4 star rating

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley photo 41b7921e-1fc5-4f47-bec9-d1f5f8ae23a4_zps6o5yxxjn.jpg
91-year-old recluse Ptolemy Grey lives forgotten by the world and suffering from increasing dementia. He’s offered a chance to engage in an experimental drug test that will clear his mind, but cause his death within one year.

Publishers Weekly says: “Though the details of the experimental procedure are less than convincing, Mosley’s depiction of the indignities of old age is heartbreaking, and Ptolemy’s grace and decency make for a wonderful character and a moving novel.” I agree.

4 stars

 

3. ALAN TURING: ENIGMA MAN by Nigel Cawthorne (Nonfiction, Biography, History) 3.5 star rating
Alan Turing - The Enigma Man by Nigel Cawthorne photo 070f5b64-c308-48a6-93d4-4c9e7ea10607_zpss2djnqme.jpg

I was inspired to read Enigma Man after seeing the film The Imitation Game. This short biography of Alan Turing, genius of Bletchley Park and Britain’s chief codebreaker during WWII is the book on which the movie was based.

The book is a little dry, but short and worthwhile to have some background knowledge on this mastermind.

3½ stars

 

4. DILIGENT RIVER DAUGHTER by Bruce Graham 3 star rating

Diligent River Daughter by Bruce Graham photo be834223-b311-480a-a912-78b0dd1d6e2c_zpsdez3akg8.jpgI buy a lot of books but most are clearance items or used. But remembering how much I had enjoyed The Parrsboro Boxing Club by Bruce Graham, I impulsively picked this book up at a bookstore and paid full price, expecting another gem, set in my adopted home province.

I was disappointed, however, since the WWI setting took the protagonist away from her home in Diligent River, Nova Scotia. The plot wasn’t strong enough to overcome that. This is not Graham’s best.

3 stars

 
I find that Silence of the Songbirds has really stuck with me. Have you read any good nonfiction books in the last few years that have the same effect on you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in December 2014

March6

books read 
Since we don’t celebrate any of the holidays in December, the month usually means a bonanza of reading time for me when the stores are closed and my husband is off work. 2014 was no exception.

Mystery books are in a separate post.

 
The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier, illustrated by Shelden Cohen, translated by Sheila Fischman (Nonfiction, Picture book, Canadian) 5 star rating  

The Hockey Sweater (30th anniversary edition) by Roch Carrier, illustrated by Sheldon Cohen photo 9ed6663e-89c0-4930-9f51-dd6824526a42_zps53qq8lmc.jpgIt’s impossible to say anything about this book and keep it to a paragraph or two. So I am going to have to write a separate post so that, if you are Canadian, you will know that you must be familiar with this story and treasure this part of your heritage (despite our Prime Minister’s opinion that there is no Canadian identity) and if you are not Canadian, you will understand a little about what makes this country tick.

I LOVE this book. 5 plus, plus, plus stars

 

Adé: a Love Story by Rebecca Walker (Fiction, Contemporary, Literary) 4.5 star rating

Ade: a Love Story by Rebecca Walker photo 03448ab5-b9fb-4dd2-964e-27087fe51cac_zpsicwl0c4a.jpgThis is subtitled a “love story” but this is no romance novel. An American (or was she a Brit? It doesn’t matter really) falls in love with a native Swahili man while in Kenya. When an epidemic breaks out, they attempt to flee to the first world.

Adé is a love story in the tradition of Romeo and Juliet. Haunting and heart-breaking, it deserves to be a classic of 21st century literature. I have not been as touched by a book in a long time as I was by Adé.

I’m not saying more—you’ll just have to read the book. It’s short, it’s lovely, and it will stay with you a long time.

4½ stars


 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Fiction, WWII Pacific front) 4.5 star rating

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan photo 91d4f2bc-1886-4c85-906b-06e26f888104_zpssaylhk85.jpgThis 2014 winner of the Man Booker Prize is a look into the construction of the Thai-Burma Railway (“The Death Railway”) during World War II by Australians in Japanese POW camps. They worked in horrendous conditions in the Burmese jungle.

The modern-day part of this novel was annoying and superfluous but the WWII events will stay with you. Harrowing and powerful.

4½ stars


 

Sheep by Valerie Hobbs (Fiction, Children’s Chapter Book) 4 star rating

Sheep by Valerie Hobbs photo 6275f7fb-5958-42a5-8c1d-88145c0840f3_zpsz05ysqjy.jpgThis chapter book for older children and adults, that tells the tale of a homeless border collie (his sheep farm burned) looking for a home, and an orphan, will pull your heart-strings.

It’s told from the point of view (mostly, as I remember) of the dog.

A great story that I’d like to read to my grandchildren.

There is a sequel called Wolf, which I’ve added to my reading list.

4 stars


 

The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Fiction, Children’s Chapter) 3.5 star rating
The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder photo a2228701-ac17-4881-8501-83cc07318900_zpsvnxvvdcs.jpg

In the woods next to her family’s new home, young Robin finds an abandoned house. Inside she finds beautifully decorated rooms, including her favourite: a room done entirely in plush – the velvet room of the title.

If I had read this as a child, I would have loved it. And I think it would stand up to a rereading as an adult. But finding it for the first time in my seventh decade was not a perfectly satisfying experience.

3½ stars


 
Other People’s Lives by Johanna Kaplan (Fiction, 1970s) 3 star rating

Other People's Lives by Johanna Kaplan photo 0a9ef591-0a3c-4494-9f29-2b85b5bb3353_zps0apuj3ns.jpgThis is a book that I requested from NetGalley because I was intrigued by the cover and title. I had hoped, I think, to peek in many apartments and many lives.

Instead, the book focused on one woman and her rather odd story.

Of course, that’s only my opinion. Other People’s Lives was the winner of a Jewish Book Award and was a finalist for the 1976 National Book Award.

3 stars

 
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell (Fiction, Contemporary) 3 star rating

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell photo 8023e038-8dc4-453e-9804-c052452feadc_zps4j122zc9.jpg
This is another book that I chose to work through the trauma I had felt going through my deceased’s mother home and belongings.

This fiction offering deals with adult children disposing of their hoarder mother’s ‘stuff’. It should have had a big impact on me but I don’t remember the plot at all.

3½ stars


 
The Children Act by Ian McEwan (Fiction, Contemporary) 0 star rating

I loved McEwan’s Atonement and was prepared to enjoy this book very much.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan photo 727ed2c9-544b-4286-a3f2-cfa7d59b4699_zpsfxbx27l0.jpgJudge Fiona Maye is dealing with an impending split in her marriage while she is reviewing a difficult case in her court. The case involves a blood transfusion for a seventeen-year-old minor who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It perhaps goes without saying that I was disappointed in her court decision, but I knew it could go either way – that’s real life.

However, McEwan’s portrayal of Witnesses is so off that it was completely wrong. Their vocabulary, their explanation (or not) for their stand, and their reaction to the ruling were all very wide of the mark.

It appears to me that he studied only one court document of an actual case like this one, and it makes me question the authenticity of any characters he represents in his other novels. It completely put me off McEwan and I couldn’t assign this even one star.

 

Holy Bible by Vanessa Russell (Fiction) 0 star rating

Holy Bible by Vanessa Russell photo 8eb77b60-f81b-4952-aa11-3f87bbca9e90_zpsd1lrajle.jpgAnother portrayal by an outsider to a faith – in this case, I believe it was based on the author’s youth in the Christadelphian ecclesia.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a Christadelphian, but I did have a well-adjusted, kind, and intelligent aunt who was.

I categorically cannot believe what is portrayed in this book. Perhaps some of the practices Russell describes in Holy Bible are based on fact, but they surely have been satirized to an extreme for effect, without explicit indication of this to the non-Christadelphian reader.

I did not find it at all conducive to opening up understanding and tolerance of other faiths.

*   *   *   *   *

 

So a month of reading HIGHS and LOWS.

Have you a favourite book that defines your country’s identity as I feel The Hockey Sweater does Canada’s?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Mystery Books Read in December 2014

March6

 

I read a small but enjoyable selection of mystery books this month.

Any of these tickle your fancy?

 

The Impersonator by Mary Miley photo c7a9de6c-ff90-464e-925d-c84c46d1696e_zpslvczc3ds.jpg1. The Impersonator by Mary Miley (Fiction, Roaring Twenties Mystery #1) 4 star rating

Shades of Brat Farrar! In the 1920s Oliver Carr, an uncle to missing heiress Jessie, approaches vaudeville actress Leah Randall with a proposition: impersonate the missing woman, for whom she is a dead ringer, with the aid of his coaching, and split the fortune.

Well thought out and suspenseful.

4 stars

 
An Early Retirement by Sue Ann Jaffarian photo a43d2d0d-0caf-4b87-a045-e95dc54cf891_zpshzaf7d3b.jpg
2. An Early Retirement by Sue Ann Jaffarian (Fiction, Mystery, eShort story) 4 star rating

A standalone eshort story by the author of the plus-size Odelia Grey mysteries.

This would have been a ringer to be included in Alfred Hitchcock or Ellery Queen magazines.

4 stars

 
The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah photo a87e562c-487f-44e4-9505-64f5da35a954_zpsr2ujxvgo.jpg

3. The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah 3.5 star rating

Is there a mystery reader out there who didn’t know about the waves this book made: the first Hercule Poirot novel written by a ‘ghost-writer’ for the late Agatha Christie? Feelings ran high in anticipation, and reactions were mixed.

I thought Hannah’s Poirot was right on the money, but the mystery itself was a little convoluted.

3½ stars

 

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in November 2014

January9

books read
While I was coming to terms with the long-term tenancy of my step-daughter and two grandsons, I got back to some really good reading this month, discovering a book that has become one of my all-time favourites.


 
1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (Fiction, Modern classic, Pulitzer Prize winner) 5 star rating
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck photo f6d36950-3c1a-41fd-a42c-0455e93f70d5_zpswqlcl668.jpg

Although Pearl Buck was born in the United States in 1892, her parents moved to China as missionaries when she was just a few months old. She continued to live in China for most of her life before 1934. According to Wikipedia, her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

Amazon says: “This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.”

In 1938, Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “for the notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries and for the studies of human ideals which are a great and living art of portraiture”.

Indeed the themes of work, land and riches explored in The Good Earth are universal and timeless.
5 stars
 

2. The 100—Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Fiction, Contemporary, Satire) 4.5 star rating
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson photo 27e9e3bc-a29a-4abd-9a85-a779f791b740_zps3knt912i.jpg
As you might be able to tell from the title, this book, translated from Swedish, is told in a breezy, almost tongue-in-cheek style.

After ‘escaping’ from a nursing home, Allan Karlsson, much like Forrest Gump, encounters a series of adventures that become more outlandish as the book progresses.

Lots of fun.
4½ stars
 

3. Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman (Fiction, Contemporary, Afghanistan War) 4.5 star rating
Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman photo 2b509e95-2b41-46b2-a293-0eefca3978f6_zpsj0xzxb8m.jpg
Due to circumstances, young Afghani teen Aziz must join the Special Lashkar, a US-funded militia. As he rises through the ranks, Aziz becomes mired in the dark underpinnings of his country’s war, witnessing clashes between rival Afghan groups—what US soldiers call “green on green” attacks—and those on US forces by Afghan soldiers, violence known as “green on blue.”

Ackerman brilliantly sets up the hopelessness of living in war, and he has us cheering on the protagonist in his concluding decision.

Well-written, riveting, and hard-hitting.
4½ stars
 

4. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (Fiction, Contemporary, Suspense) 3.5 star rating
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty photo 7ecda2ab-08ef-4839-a772-d87b0d2f39b8_zpsoxt5rxjv.jpg
Amazon says: “Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over—she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade.”

So here’s the thing: I must have enjoyed this at the time since I rated it 4 stars then, but I’ve forgotten it so thoroughly that I didn’t even remember reading it at all.

Hmmm . . . Guess I forgot what Alice forgot. I wish it had been more memorable.
3½ stars
 

5. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (Non-fiction, Social Issues) 3.5 star rating
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich photo cbc6de61-5946-4adb-ac39-f24e34463e58_zps8pao4nbn.jpg

Ehrenreich posed as a waitress in order to discover how the working poor in America cope financially. I expected to find an examination of the cost of living, but instead found the flip-side: the difficulty of making a living, earning an income.

As with any such journalism of this type, it’s hard to truly capture the desperation of not having the luxury of back-up, knowing that, at any time, you can return to another life, job, and bank account. Ehrenreich does acknowledge these limitations.

A fine effort.
3½ stars
 

6. The Brandons by Angela Thirkell (Fiction, Vintage, Comedy) 3.5 star rating
The Brandons by Angela Thirkell photo be394189-823d-4857-9609-abfaa868a4b3_zpsxkbewont.jpg
Originally published in 1939, The Brandons gives us a glimpse into the life of “Lavinia Brandon, quite the loveliest widow in Barsetshire, blessed with beauty and grace, as well as two handsome grown-up children, Delia and Francis.”

Somewhat typical Thirkell although perhaps even slower moving than most. About two-thirds of the way through my copy, I found a duplicate of the previous 40 pages (and 40 pages missing). I picked up the story easily even without knowing what happened in the missing section.
3½ stars
 
 

*   *   *   *   *

 
Once again, I’m including the two mysteries I read this month in this post.
 

1. Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon Ballard (Fiction, Mystery, Cozy) 3.5 star rating
Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon Ballard photo bf87226d-14e8-46ea-90d5-4e728e4dd088_zpsnku6cvml.jpg

Set in small-town Georgia USA in 1942, this first in the Miss Dimple Kirkpatrick series sees the steady-as-a-rock first grade teacher kidnapped.

I remember being a little disappointed in this, but I can’t recall anything else about it. Many readers, though, highly praise the details of the setting.
3½ stars
 

2. Everybody Goes to Jimmy’s by Michael Mayo (Fiction) 3.5 star rating
Everybody Goes to Jimmy's by Michael Mayo photo f3e670c6-395a-4511-b8d8-9c95b0bd391a_zpsfk4ecfc7.jpg

This second in the Jimmy Quinn series (I mistakenly thought it was the first) is billed as a suspense novel but, with its circa 1930 Manhattan speakeasy setting, it seemed more a mild sort of hard-boiled mystery to me.

I did enjoy it though and do plan to read more of the series at some time.
3½ stars

 

This was the start of a run of several months of good reading. Do any of these appeal to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in October 2014

January6

books read
My husband & I spent the first two weeks of October 2014 in southern France (ending with 4 days in Paris), celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. It was a very special trip because we hadn’t traveled often or far before that, and it was perfect. Oddly enough, even though we had ‘rest’ days, I didn’t get much reading in.

 

1. The Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci (Nonfiction, Cookbook) 4 star rating

Tucci's Table by Stanley Tucci photo c57a1638-7a05-4d71-a001-dacb08ad6389_zpsrhqraen0.jpg I love Stanley Tucci! Whether he’s a hypersensitive tango dancer in Shall We Dance?, the husband of a beloved cooking icon in Julie and Julia, the mischievous Puck in A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, or any one of the scores of other roles he’s had, I think he’s brilliant.

So I was bound to love his new cookbook, written with his wife Felicity Blunt (sister of actress Emily Blunt). And I did!

Tucci combines his love of classic French food (which I was enjoying for the first time that month) with the bounty of food available in North America (especially in larger cities) to present a fresh take on the food that has enchanted generations of eaters.
4 stars

 

2. Dr.Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Green (Fiction, Vintage, Satire) 4 star rating
Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene photo 12e40f5b-ab90-44fd-a837-c8c3f96ea945_zpswml0af5g.jpg

A darkly comic novel about a misanthropic millionaire who decides to hold the last of his famous parties, first published in 1980.

At first, nothing seems to happen. Our narrator arrives as an invited guest to find other diners already at the table. There is a strange current in the air, eventually traced to the strange gifts Dr. Fischer has distributed to his guests.

Clever, as you might expect of Greene.
4 stars
 

3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Fiction, Literary) 3.5 star rating
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson photo 89892962-0cd8-43e9-8d67-2e419e32f10c_zpsgutpoihm.jpg

“In Gilead, Iowa, our narrator, John Ames, age 76, a retiring preacher, is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. The reason for the letter is Ames’s failing health. He wants to leave an account of himself for this son who will never really know him. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.”

Although this is wildly popular, I found it so-so. Perhaps my age—or study of the Bible—has me in a place in life where Ames’ wonderings seemed self-conscious and/or prosaic.
3½ stars
 

4. 10:04 by Ben Lerner (Fiction, Contemporary) 3.5 star rating

10:04 by Ben Lerner photo 32cff908-ec3b-4ccd-bb51-f7d3add63e15_zpswjb9lfp6.jpgTo give this books its due, I will note that it was named “One of the Best Books of the Year” by:
The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, NPR, Vanity Fair, The Guardian (London), The L Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement (London), The Globe and Mail (Toronto), The Huffington Post, Gawker, Flavorwire, San Francisco Chronicle, The Kansas City Star, and The Jewish Daily Forward.

It was also the winner of The Paris Review‘s 2012 Terry Southern Prize and a finalist for the 2014 Folio Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award.

It’s another that I found only ‘meh”. Again, I think perhaps I’m too old.
3½ stars
 

5. Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Fiction, children‘s picture book) 3 star rating

Maclear imagines Julia Child and her co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as children. They observe that adults have forgotten joy and are a grey and dreary bunch. Julia & Simone concoct delightful food that teaches the adults to be better people.

My goodness, I’m getting crotchety in my old age. I don’t think that children should be celebrated, to themselves at any rate, for teaching adults. This book seems to be saying “kids know better.”

Sorry, I don’t think they do.
3 stars

 

*   *   *   *   *

 
I’m including the only mystery I read this month in this post.
 

6. Death in High Heels by Christianna Brand (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage) 3.5 star rating
Death in High Heels by Christianna Brand photo c4ff71f6-c6c0-4d81-a2a3-a87169134cc7_zpsuoewlu2n.jpg

Christianna Brand, who died in 1988, wrote mysteries that were published between 1940 and the early 1980s. Her work thus overlapped with Christie and Marsh and she is considered by some to be their peer.

Death in High Heels (1941) was her first Inspector Charlesworth mystery and one of her earliest works, and it was my introduction to her writing. I had the feeling that Brand hadn’t quite crystallized her characters yet and, as a result, the book felt a little unanchored to me.

I was glad, however, to finally ‘meet’ Brand.
3½ stars

 


All in all, France was wonderful; the reading, a little less so. Have you read any of these?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books I’ve Read in the Past (Feb – June 1998)

December16

 photo Books Ive Read text 400c_zpsrnpovccu.jpg

I first started keeping track of the books that I read in 1997 when I was already in my ’40s. These early records are incomplete, and some of the brief comments are laughable. But, inspired by JoAnn of Lakeside Musing who has shared her older journals in a series that she has named Pages from the Past, I’d like to share my journals with you. Herewith, a small sample from February through June, 1998. My record-keeping was thin on the ground!
 

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (Non-fiction, Autobiography)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller photo helen keller_zpsuftcm1nz.jpgWritten when she was 22; includes various letters she sent as a girl and young woman. I was prompted to read by seeing a performance of Miracle Workerat Theatre Aquarius.

It’s really remarkable what this girl learned. In future I’d like to read the books she wrote later in life.

[2016 notes: I’ve known about Helen Keller all my life – well, at least since I saw the Patty Duke version of The Miracle Worker when I was eight years old. Keller was an incredible woman.

I never have gotten around to reading more of Keller’s books, so I guess that’s an oversight to correct.]
 

The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love by Elizabeth Cox (Fiction, Southern USA)

The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love by Elizabeth Cox photo ragged_zpsaaksgbzp.jpgRealistic, but not earth-shattering. I read the last half of the book while I was coming off Effexor [an anti-depressant] and perhaps I was not in a condition to grasp the story. Everything seemed strange.

[2016 notes: I cannot express how glad I am to be free of that incapacitating condition (clinical depression), and I’m sorry that I can’t comment further on this book.]
 

How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto (Fiction, Women’s)
How to Make an Ame4rican Quilt by Whitney Otto photo quilt_zpslzihb8g4.jpgA good, quick read. I thought sometimes that the sections of “instructions” were overdone and too ethereal. But the stories of the people pieced together in this small town were fascinating.

[2016 notes: I remember little of this book, but it was made into a 1995 movie with Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, Claire Danes, Ellen Burstyn and Maya Angelou. I don’t think I saw the movie.]

 

Dogs Never Lie About Love) by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Non-fiction, Animals)

Dogs Never Lie About Love photo dogs_zpsyncct9f5.jpgThis was really interesting for the first half-dozen chapters, then it seemed to become a lot of padding and unsupported theories. In the end, no one really knows what dogs think or feel – we are limited by being able to think only in human terms. This I knew before I read the book!

[2016 notes: I had a spurt of rating my books around this time, and I see that I gave this only 2 stars out of 5.]
 

That’s all for the first half of 1998. Does anything interest you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog

Books Read in September 2014

December7

books read
September 2014 was a busy month. On the 5th, Bill’s daughter arrived with her sons: six years old, and two months. Having a new baby in the house was a different experience for us and while we were getting used to that, we were at the same time making final arrangements for our 25th anniversary trip to southern France. My reading totals for this month and next are fairly low.

 
Sweetland by Michael Crummey (Fiction, Literary, Atlantic Canadian) 5 star rating

Sweetland by Michael Crummey photo 372ca78b-8aea-4fda-b2c9-fcb71ec295cc_zpsf3ywx9xs.jpgMoses Sweetland, “one crazy coot”, lives on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland in a community that has been served for decades by a Government-funded supply boat. Now the government wants to cut the boat run so they’ve offered generous packages for the islanders to resettle on the mainland. The catch is, all the residents must agree to the scheme, and Moses doesn’t want to go.

Faced with mounting pressure from the government and the community, he signs the deal and then fakes his own death so that he can be left behind on the island.

Crummey is a poet first and that is evident in his prose. But his story is every bit as good as his form. I highly recommend Sweetland. 5 stars
 

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (Fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 4 star rating

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner photo ed29c98e-2e12-45ec-a144-e9f6574f1437_zpsm2itrhcz.jpg From Amazon: “The Kings family has lived on Loosewood Island, Nova Scotia for three hundred years, blessed with the bounty of the sea. But for the Kings, this blessing comes with a curse: the loss of every first-born son. Now, Woody Kings, the leader of the island’s lobster fishing community and the family patriarch, teeters on the throne, and Cordelia, the oldest of Woody’s three daughters, stands to inherit the crown. To do so, however, she must defend her island against meth dealers from the mainland, while navigating sibling rivalry and the vulnerable nature of her own heart when she falls in love with her sternman. Inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Lobster Kings is the story of Cordelia’s struggle to maintain her island’s way of life in the face of danger from offshore, and the rich, looming, mythical legacy of her family’s namesake.”

This was excellent Atlantic Canadian literary fiction until it gave way into thriller mode at its climax. 4 stars
 

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman (Fiction, Rom-Com)
The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman photo e908de97-d7a6-45f8-a7e3-081e821f77c2_zpsrjqkkysu.jpg

Amazon: “It’s 1962 and all across America barriers are collapsing. But when Natalie Marx’s mother inquires about summer accommodations in Vermont, she gets the following reply: ‘The Inn at Lake Devine is a family-owned resort, which has been in continuous operation since 1922. Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles’

For twelve-year-old Natalie, who has a stubborn sense of justice, the words are not a rebuff but an infuriating, irresistible challenge.”

My first Lipman. It’s very ‘pretty’ but a little too predictable. 3½ stars

 

*   *   *   *   *

 
Since there are so few books in total this month, I’m including the mysteries I read in this post.
 
Paw and Order by Spencer Quinn (Fiction, Mystery, Animal-Narrated) 4 star rating
 photo paw and order_zpsud0zb7vm.jpg
#7 in the Chet Bernie detective series

Bernie goes to Washington D.C. to visit his love, Susie Sanchez who has snagged a reporter’s position at the Washington Post. The boys get involved in political intrigue due to their association with Susie who is following a controversial story.

Most of you probably know that I love the voice of Chet, the canine half of this detective duo, and I appreciate the solid mysteries that our boys investigate. 4 stars
 

A Dog at Sea by J.F. Englert (Fiction, Mystery, Animal-narrated)4 star rating
 photo dog at sea_zpsdcof21vq.jpg
#3 in Bull Moose Dog Run series featuring chocolate Lab Randolph and his master Harry

Randolph and Harry book on a pet lovers’ cruise following clues that they hope will lead to the whereabouts of the long-lost Imogen, Randolph’s mistress and Harry’s beloved girlfriend.

Although Randolph is far from pessimistic, the ache for Imogen dampens his natural doggy enthusiasm, as exemplified by Chet in Paw and Order. He’s very likable though (“overweight, overly-intelligent”) and this also has a first-rate mystery. 4 stars
 

The Dog Did It by Jim Toombs (Fiction, Mystery) 3.5 star rating
 photo dog did it_zpszue2ep8y.jpg

Gabe Chance has just inherited his mother’s estate – but with one catch: he must keep her Jack Russell Terrier and live in her house in Brandt in the Texas Hill Country, even though he wants nothing more than to return to California.

I didn’t care for Gabe at first and was prepared to not like this first in the series. But both Gabe and Tigger the dog grew on me, and I enjoyed the sinister murder mystery. I have the next installment loaded on my Kindle. 3½ stars
 


There’s not much there, but Sweetland made the month worthwhile. Anything else catch your eye?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Mystery Books Read in August 2014

November30

 

In August 2014, a number of the mystery books that I had reserved to read in June, in my “get to know France” foray, finally came into the library for me.

 

 

A Tail of Vengeance by Spencer Quinn (Fiction, Mystery, eShort) 4 star rating
A Tail of Vengeance by Spencer Quinn photo 189e6316-94a4-497c-8509-6e6d3cc288fe_zpsmhrhuzj7.jpg
I can’t remember a lot about this entry in the Chet & Bernie series, and that’s a little unusual for me with these books.

So even though I seemed to have enjoyed it (I rated it 4 stars when I read it), it’s perhaps not quite up to the usual sparkling standards for this series.

4 stars anyway

 

The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle (Fiction, Mystery) 4 star rating
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle photo 5228e934-3595-4e4d-ac1b-c78e4dfd8063_zpsqfx3pxom.jpg
Peter Mayle, author of the perennially popular A Year in Provence also penned a less well-known four book mystery series featuring former lawyer and wine connoisseur Sam Levitt.

In Los Angeles, wine collector Danny Roth engages Sam after he is the victim of a wine heist. Sam follows leads to Bordeaux and Provence.

The France and wine details themselves made this worth the read, but there is also a decent mystery. 4 stars
 

Death in Truffle Woods by Pierre Magnan (Fiction, Mystery, Translated)3.5 star rating

Death in the Truffle Woods by Pierre Magnon photo 70f523cd-9805-4320-ae39-1d3dfaa2e5c6_zps1lsyxy78.jpgThis is the first book in the Commissaire Laviolette series, first published in French in 1973 but only recently translated into English.

This first adventure brings the Commissaire to 1960s rural Provence to investigate the disappearance of five people, within a climate of centuries-old superstition and secret and animosity, and gets him involved in the local politics and disputes. 3½ stars

 

The Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan (Fiction, Mystery, Translated) 4 star rating
Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnon photo 9b9b459d-98b6-49c4-b646-14da298a00fa_zpsxtsaufjv.jpg
Commissaire Laviolette is lured out of retirement to help investigate the bayonet murder of an avaricious spinster. As Amazon says “the theme of this is as old as Cain and Abel”.

The characters in this seemed alive and the mystery is decent. This second entry in the series surpasses the series debut A Death in the Truffle Wood.

4 stars
 

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (Fiction, Mystery, Translated) 3.5 star rating
Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner photo 9da24021-cb69-4d66-afbe-b09c6cb61f56_zpspunhxxgh.jpg

This first in a series had the promising premise of an amateur sleuth in the person of 1889 Parisian bookseller Victor Legris. Legris investigates the deaths of several people, all apparently of bee stings, in connection with the newly opened Eiffel Tower.

The historical facts are carefully researched and there are wonderful details of the literary world of the time, but the whole thing was just a little flat.

Izner is the pseudonym of two sisters who are second hand booksellers in Paris. 3½ stars

 

I was especially pleased to read the translated books. Do you know any other translated mysteries set in France?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in August 2014

November25

books read
In August 2014, we were busy getting ready for the arrival of my husband’s daughter Laura and her two young sons who were coming to stay for two weeks, and ended up under our roof for two years.

Nonetheless, books I had reserved at the library over the past couple of months were piling up, so I had my reading cut out for me!


 

Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky (Fiction, Short Stories, Atlantic Canadian) 4.5 star rating
Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky photo 3fb20fb4-d498-462e-a470-5e27a81bf682_zpszdlpfj8j.jpg

From Amazon: “From the caretaker of a prairie amusement park to the lone occupant of a collapsing Newfoundland town, from a travelling sports drink marketer with a pressing need to get off the road to an elevator inspector who finds himself losing his marriage while sensuously burying himself in the tastes and smells of the kitchen, these are people who spin wildly out of control, finding themselves in a new and different world.”

Whirl Away was the winner of the 2013 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, was shortlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was a finalist for the 2012 BMO Winterset Award.

I highly recommend this collection. 4½ stars
 

I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant (Nonfiction, Bibliophilic, Kindle Single) 4 star rating
I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant photo f2a446d7-531a-4b79-8736-928841674047_zpsppnmso8t.jpg
When Grant downsized her living space in 2013, she had to purge thousands of her books from her personal library, started when she was a child.

Amazon says: ”Both a memoir of a lifetime of reading and an insight into how interior décor has banished the bookcase, her account of the emotional struggle of her relationship with books asks questions about the way we live today.“

The author is an award winning novelist and nonfiction writer, so this is a well-written and fascinating treatise. 4 stars

 
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Fiction, Children’s Chapter book)4 star rating
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White photo c8e3d8c2-4ac2-43d4-a048-f799581922c4_zpsyfdgx6cx.jpg
I must have read this as a child but I’m certain that I didn’t remember how it ended.

It begins as a charming enough tale, with the saving of Wilbur the pig and the talking animals that welcome Fern, the young girl that saved him, to the barn. But it becomes something else that more mimics life.

This is deservedly a much-loved children’s classic. 4 stars
 

When Things Get Back to Normal by M.T. Dohaney (Nonfiction, Memoir, Canadian)4 star rating
When Things Get Back to Normal by M.T. Dohaney photo db35ef02-5e27-4499-82d4-c28e45f4e68a_zpspg12qxfj.jpg
I mentioned this book in my comments about The Hatbox Letters in June 2014.

Blurb: “One Friday evening, M.T. Dohaney’s husband went out to play hockey with his friends. She never saw him alive again. To help herself through this catastrophe, Dohaney recorded a year’s worth of pain and anger as well as her gradual and unexpected healing in the journal that became When Things Get Back to Normal.”

This was a reread because I wanted to be certain that it was indeed more useful then The Hatbox Letters. It was, very much so. 4 stars
 
The Care and Management of Lies: a Novel of the Great War by Jacqueline Winspear (Fiction, Historical, WWI) 3.5 star rating

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear photo 8b6aa75f-06ce-4a5c-a543-9673b6710671_zpsqyjp4ktu.jpg Two women have been friends since childhood. Now adults, one marries the brother of the other and moves to the family farm. War erupts and Tom enlists, and it falls to Kezia to run the farm, without much help because all the other young men are also enlisting.

Interesting in that regard, but otherwise unmemorable and too easily tied up at the end. 3½ stars
 

Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time by Lisa Tracy (Nonfiction, Memoir) 3 star rating
Objects of Our Affection by Lisa Tracy photo 0fdec56f-21b3-43da-96dc-d21587a8669f_zpsh7oqgfk5.jpg
Blurb: “About the history of certain carefully collected heirlooms and why we hold on to the things we keep and how we let go of the ones we lose.”

Lisa Tracy found herself, along with her sister Jeanne, responsible for cleaning out her deceased parents’ home, jammed full of the belongings they had gathered over a lifetime. I also had to clear out my mother’s house, full of her possessions. But there the similarities end.

Tracy’s parents collected museum quality antiques with high dollar value, and lovely family stories attached. I, sadly, couldn’t relate.

Recommended for someone whose parents are well-to-do and will be leaving a house that someone (maybe them!) will need to clear out.
3 stars

 
I’m going to post separately for the five mysteries I read.

I was heavy on nonfiction this month. Any thoughts?

 

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in July 2014

November18

books read

Back at home in Nova Scotia, I eagerly anticipated the annual Read by the Sea Literary Festival in nearby River John in mid-July. I enjoyed readings by, and panel discussions with, Russell Wangersky, Steven Galloway, Frank MacDonald, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Sharon Butala and Sylvia McDonald. You’ll find books by some of them in my reading over the next couple of months.
 

The Glass Harmonica by Russell Wangersky (Literary fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 4.5 star rating
 photo glass harmonica_zps8oavdopq.jpgSet in St. John’s Newfoundland where the author lives and works as editor and columnist for The Telegram, The Glass Harmonica is the story of a neighbourhood. In the present, a man witnesses his neighbour shot and killed by a pizza delivery person, but the back story is woven in pieces by various neighbours, back and forth over the course of 40 years. Wangersky has been called a craftsman storyteller. I concur.

This book won 2010 BMO Winterset Award for the outstanding literary work in any genre by a Newfoundlander or Labradorian.

Read this if: you’ve ever walked down your street and wondered what goes on behind closed doors
4½ stars
 

A Possible Madness by Frank MacDonald (Literary Fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 4 star rating
 photo possible madness_zpszzkimdnf.jpg
Frank MacDonald is one of Cape Breton’s most celebrated writers.

A Possible Madness is set in the fictional mining town of Shean in Cape Breton which has seen its fortunes fall as the coal has been used up. Now a global corporation plans to build a seawall offshore and exploit the remaining coal. It’ll mean jobs but will the town agree to let it happen?

Read this if: you’d like to gain insight into the economics and everyday life of residents of a closed mining town, or you like literary fiction with a surprise twist. 4 stars
 

The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe (Literary Fiction, Canadian) 4 star rating
 photo englishmans boy_zpslzhyopwi.jpgAmazon: “It’s a story within a story–a shimmering romance about the myth of movie-making in Hollywood in the 1920s and an account of a real-life massacre of First Nations people in Montana in the 1870s. Linking these two very different stories is Shorty McAdoo, an aging cowboy, who as a young man acted as a guide for the American and Canadian trappers who perpetrated the massacre, and who is now going to be the subject of a no-holds-barred blockbuster set to rival D.W. Griffith’s epic Birth of a Nation.” (My note: The massacre actually took place in Saskatchewan but was spearheaded by American wolf-hunters from Montana.)

Winner of the 1996 Governor General’s Award for Fiction (beating out Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace), this is the first in a loose trilogy, although each book stands alone. Brilliant writing.

4 stars
 

The Bear by Claire Cameron (Literary Fiction, Canadian) 4 star rating

(True story:) In October of 1991, a pair of campers was attacked & killed by a black bear in Algonquin National Park, in northern Ontario, Canada. Author Claire Cameron was a counsellor at a summer camp at Algonquin that year. “The Bear [the novel] is based on my memories of and research into this bear attack. I added the kids.”

 photo bear_zpsnkkk1gp8.jpgThe Bear (the novel) is told through the eyes and voice of five year old Anna, one of those kids. She and her two year old brother Stick are the survivors of an attack that kills their parents.

With her dying words, her mother tells Anna to leave the island in a canoe, and thus begins the children’s sojourn alone through the vast wilderness that is Algonquin. The tension as the children suffer through each tribulation (hunger, thirst, mosquitos, shelter, and so on) rises steadily. I couldn’t put this down.

Read this if: you want to know if the children survived; or you think you ever want to go wilderness camping.
4 stars
 

A Traveller’s History of France by Robert Cole (Nonfiction, History) 3 star rating

 photo travellers history_zpsp0m95dtw.jpgI struggled through this for the sake of our planned trip to France, starting in June and not finishing it until nearly the end of July.

It’s dense and reads like a textbook: empires and republics ad nauseam. A great Paris-centric overview if you’re studying the history of France but for someone interested in traveling to France for a three week visit and who wants to understand the regions of France and their attitudes, it was not so useful.
3 stars
 

The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White (Fiction) 3 star rating

I read this on my Kindle over a period of three months; it just took that long to get through.

There is some beautiful writing but, even though there’s a hint of a murder mystery, the story doesn’t go anywhere. I kept reading because I thought something must be going to happen, but I was disappointed. Nothing did. 3 stars

 

*   *   *   *   *

 
My lone mystery this month was

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage) 3.5 star rating
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart photo circular staircase dover edition_zpsgvjr9cxh.jpgMary Roberts Rinehart was considered the American Agatha Christie and for many years reigned as queen of the American mystery genre. The Circular Staircase was her second published book (1908) and featured the second, and last, outing of the tart-tongued middle-aged Miss Cornelia Van Gorder. Miss Van Gorder has invited her niece and nephew to accompany her to a country house for a relaxing summer. But instead of rural quiet they found murder and hijinks.

Roberts Rinehart wrote with humour and a great sense of place and time, but I found it just a little too madcap.
3½ stars

 

I read great Canadian fiction this month! Does anything look interesting to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Books Read in June 2014

November10

books read
In June 2014, I was on the homestretch of what I could do with my mom’s things in Ontario, and I was starting to think ahead to our planned trip to France in late September-early October.

I thought I would read to learn a few things about it, and to set the mood.
 

Paris to the Moon   by Adam Gopnik (Non-fiction, Travel)
5 star rating

In 1995, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, along with his wife and infant son moved from NYC to Paris.

From Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik photo 211686ce-fb8b-46ef-9e73-04f0426431e1_zpscunxnxnm.jpgThis book is a collection of his award-winning “Paris Journals” that he filed for the magazine. But unlike other books that are an assemblage of essays, this book is not choppy or undisciplined. It’s an intelligent, heartfelt look at the most beautiful city in the world at the turn of the twenty-first century. (Gopnik was there for Y2K but returned to America shortly thereafter.)

Some critics have complained that Gopnik’s essays are outdated, but I think they transcend time. He has captured the very heart of Paris culture and attitude. It’s well worth reading whether you’re planning to visit Paris or not.

I loved this book. 5 stars
 

The President’s Hat   by Antoine Laurain (Fiction, Translated) 4.5 star rating

The President's Hat by Antoine Lauraine photo 2b7e2c32-ecb4-4dd1-ad51-cd6c24a85c90_zpsdxq5qcw0.jpg What could be more French than a book that was popular with the reading public there and concerns the hat of the President of France?

Amazon describes this as a “charming fable”. It’s set in the 1980s when Francois Mitterrand was President. After dining in a restaurant one night, Mitterrand forgets his hat. The hat then starts on a journey that changes the lives of everyone who wears it.

This is a light book, easily read in an afternoon and is, indeed, charming. 4½ stars
 

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France   by John Baxter (Non-fiction, Food) 4 star rating

John Baxter is an Australian who has lived in Paris for more than twenty years and gives literary walking tours through the city. The result of those tours is contained in The Most Beautiful Walk in the World.

In The Perfect Meal which Amazon calls “part grand tour of France, part history of French cuisine” he takes “readers on a journey to discover and savor some of the world’s great cultural achievements before they disappear completely.”

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France by John Baxter photo daa6d910-dd3e-4c57-9c10-1e145bea02e9_zpsqltdspxr.jpg Thus he tracks down and eats bouillabaisse, foie gras and truffles and many other delights. I learned the right way to eat a croissant (it’s “not eaten dry—it is dipped in coffee”), what fleur de sel is (“dust-fine ‘flower of the salt’ skimmed from the topmost layer of the pans where seawater is evaporated”) and when to drink café crème (“one never drinks café crème after midday any more than we eat cornflakes”) among a host of fascinating tidbits. (He also mentions how “sweet, cold white wine such as Monbazillac . . . marr[ies] so perfectly with goose liver”.)

This is a wonderful treat for foodies, Francophiles, and readers of mysteries set in various parts of the French countryside. 4 stars
 

A Year in Provence   by Peter Mayle (Non-fiction, Memoir) 4 star rating

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle photo 68f7e0f6-aa37-480a-b4aa-b25c34844f32_zpsbuhjh4kt.jpg First published in 1989, this account of Englishman Mayle’s life in the countryside of Provence is a modern classic.

Mayle’s writing is warm and witty, and I’m sure has made thousands fall in love with the idea of buying an old stone farmhouse in France.

4 stars
 

The Hatbox Letters   by Beth Powning (Fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 3.5 star rating

The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning photo d1539246-67fd-454f-90bc-9b5de4d22bf2_zpsf0vupwog.jpg Because Powning is “almost local” I read this when it was first published in 2004. I was disappointed on that first reading, expecting the letters of the title (letters her grandparents wrote to each other in the nineteenth century) to play a bigger part.

But the book is really about grieving. Kate Harding, 52, is facing her second winter since the untimely death of her husband.

A personal friend of mine, not much older than Kate, facing the same situation mentioned that this book really hit home with her so this reread was to pick up what I had missed the first time around. This was the only “non-France” book I read this month, but it was important to me to try to understand.

But even knowing the real theme of the book, I was not particularly touched by Kate’s emotions. Of course, each situation is unique, and I have not gone through losing a spouse but even so, I found Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking or M.T. Dohaney’s When Things Get Back to Normal both more adept at capturing and relaying a widow’s sorrow to me. 3½ stars
 

Ooh La La: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day   by Jamie Cat Callan (Non-fiction, Beauty) 3.5 star rating

ooh la la by Jamie Cat Callan photo ooh la la_zpstvpxrqdq.jpg Callan spent time in France interviewing and visiting French women in their milieu to try to crack the code to their famous French sensuality.

She presents a list of findings, each with its own chapter. From the mundane (always carry your handbag on your wrist) to the obvious (wear pretty underthings) to the very French (discover your perfume and wear a signature scent), it was all interesting.

Although it wasn’t a life-changer, I really enjoyed this little book which was a quick and easy read. 3½ stars
 

Paris I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down   by Rosecrans Baldwin (Non-fiction, Travel) 3.5 star rating

Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down photo e1e0033d-9046-4960-9590-6a506db7fd50_zpsusnvpnam.jpg In the mid-aughts of this century, Rosecrans Baldwin and his wife moved to Paris when he as offered a job at a Parisian ad agency―even though he had no experience in advertising, and even though he hardly spoke French. In this book, he draws a picture of their 18 months living in the French capital.

The Baldwins ran into some of the same problems that the Gopniks did (bureaucracy, endless paperwork) but met them with much less grace. In fact, the entire book, articulate as it is, seemed to me to be one big complaint that things in Paris aren’t done the same way they are in the good ol’ USA. (But isn’t that why he was there?)

I learned a few things I didn’t know before, but spent most of the time reading this exasperated at Baldwin’s attitude. 3½ stars
 

* * * * *

 
 Unfortunately, stuck between libraries as I was out-of-province, I had a hard time sourcing mysteries set in France. (Four that I placed holds on show up in my August reading.) Thus, there were only two and I’m including them in this post.

 

A Man in Uniform   by Kate Taylor (Creative Non-fiction, Historical, Mystery, Canadian author) 4 star rating

A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor photo f6039e96-5e01-42b4-afef-e6b2811e0f46_zpsdbxttwxb.jpgSome of you may be familiar with the infamous Dreyfus affair but before this month in 2014, I would have sworn I had never heard of it. Of course, since then, I’ve seen countless casual references to it so it was probably around me all the time.

Wikipedia says: “The Dreyfus affair (French: l’affaire Dreyfus) was a political scandal that divided France from 1894 until its resolution in 1906. The affair is often seen as a modern and universal symbol of injustice, and remains one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice, where a major role was played by the press and public opinion.” I might add that it seems a prime case of anti-Semitism as well.

The mystery in the event is: if Dreyfus didn’t do it, who did? Kate Taylor has written a fictional account of the affair, although from what I’ve learned since, it seems to paint a very accurate picture of the situation. It was a very enjoyable way to take in history!   4 stars
 

The Alchemy of Murder   by Carol McCleary (Fiction, Mystery, Historical) 3 star rating

The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary photo c6eb944a-8cf9-484e-9b9c-f4bfe8b80fa1_zpsdqkc1gye.jpgThis is the first in McCleary’s series featuring the real-life reporter Nellie Bly, who was famous in the early part of 20th century for her expose of conditions in Bellevue Asylum for the Insane in NYC, and for her round-the-world trip, a la Jules Verne, made in 72 days.

I wanted very much to like this series since seeing the one woman play by a local author Gary Blackwood “Two Hours in a Madhouse”. But there is just too much fiction, too much suspension of belief asked (that Nellie would be involved in a murder investigation in Paris, okay; but that she would meet and have a relationship with Jules Verne was the breaking point for me).

You might enjoy the mystery in this but don’t count on it to learn anything about the real Nellie Bly.

3 stars

 

I think I did manage to get a bit of flavour of France from this reading. Does anything interest you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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