02 April 2016

Book Report for January, February, and March

I have been in a reading groove since the beginning of the year.  Even the times when I haven't felt like knitting (shock!), I've been more than happy to read.

Here are my thoughts on the things I've been reading.

Twisted Threads, by Lea Wait.  This was an enjoyable, quick read.  I saw that a friend of mine had read and enjoyed it, and decided to read it myself.

Angie Curtis has returned home to coastal Maine when her grandmother calls to tell her that the body of her mother - who disappeared ten years earlier, when Angie was a child - has been found.  When she gets home, she also learns that some thing have changed in the small town where she grew up.  For one, her grandmother has started her own business, Mainely Needlepoint, which was very successful until the agent hired stopped communicating and stopped paying them for their work.  No one has heard from him for months.

Angie decides to stick around and see if she can find out what happened to her mother - it turns out she was shot in the back of the head and put into a freezer in a personal storage facility.  She also promises her grandmother that she will put her private investigator skills to work trying to track down the absent agent for the needlework company.

While readjusting to life in Maine, helping her grandmother, and trying to figure out who killed her mother, Angie finds things comfortingly familiar and at the same time, completely changed.

This is the first in a new series, I'll be sure to try the next one.

A Pattern of Lies, by Charles Todd.  When Bess Crawford runs into one of her former battlefield patients when accompanying some of her current patients home to England during WWI, she learns that his family has become the victim of townspeople who blame his father for an explosion at a gunpowder factory two years before.  When she visits the family home, she is witness to something threatening and decides to try and figure out what is going on.

As usual, she enlists the aid of her father, his former assistant, and a Sergeant back in France to find out what has been going on, and who is responsible.  As she gets more involved, her life is threatened as well.

This is another good read in this series.

The Last  Days of Magic, by Mark Tompkins.  I had an Advanced Reader's Edition of this book, which has since been published in February 2016.

There is just way too much covered in this book to give a detailed review, so I'll just try to give you the basic idea.  As the book starts, a young woman gets a frantic phone call from her grandmother, asking her to find some particular book that she had given to her, and to bring it to the grandmother, very carefully.  The young woman, Sara Hill, is a scholar, and she knows that her grandmother was involved with one of the scholars who was translating the Dead Sea Scrolls before he died.  Her grandmother tells her to be very careful, so that the book does not fall into the wrong hands during her journey.

Sara gets ready to go, and then starts to look at the book.

It's at this point that we are transported back to Ireland in the 1300s, when the Irish Christian Church was new, and various inhabitants now said to be mythical inhabited and ruled the island.  The bulk of the book is the particular story of Aisling, who with her twin Anya, is the Morrigna - goddesses of Ireland.  Anya is killed as a young girl, and it is up to Aisling to carry on.

Meanwhile, both England and the Vatican are trying to gain a foothold in Ireland.  Richard II of England wants it for the empire.  The Vatican wants it to become part of the Roman Christian Church.  These powers plot separately to take over the country.

The book covers the struggles of those already in Ireland to save their country and their way of life from outsiders.  At the same time, you get a history lesson - not just Irish history, but English, religious, Viking - a little bit of everything!

Then at the very end, we are back with Sara Hill, in November 2016 (!) on her ship voyage to her grandmother.  I'm not giving away any spoilers, though, so if this sounds interesting to you, you'll need to read it on your own.  :-)

I really liked this book though it was long, and often I lost track of just who was who - especially with the English characters.  (I think this may be genetic, lol.)  It was a fascinating look at the time, and the beliefs of those who were in charge, and what they actually worried about - spells, witches, potions - and I really found a lot of it fascinating.  It was a wonderful story about Ireland, and the different lives of those who lived there, and it was interesting to compare it to the Ireland of today.

If you like sagas, history, Ireland, and mythology, you will enjoy this book.

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff.  Yeah, I know - 2 stars on Goodreads.  And that is only because I found the writing to be pretty amazing.  But unlike everyone else I've heard of who has read this book, I just did not like it.

The book is divided into two parts - Fates is the story according to Lotto, the husband, who is from a rich family and eventually becomes a beloved, much-admired playwright.  Interesting, but I found him to be annoying and completely self-absorbed.  Furies is told from Mathilde's point of view, the wife.  Among Lotto's friends, she is a polarizing figure - some think she is amazing, others find her to be like an ice princess.  I found her to be at best boring, and totally unlikeable.

The book itself is well-written which is the only reason I gave it two stars.  I guess I'm glad I read it, since it is such a current cultural touchstone.  But it was hard to care at all about either character.  I feel they deserved each other.

Out of Circulation, by Miranda James.  I needed a happy, friendly, book to read, and this fit the bill perfectly.  Charlie Harris and his cat are again involved in trying to solve a murder in their small town.  At a fundraising gala for the Friends of the Library, one of the most well-known (and most disliked) women in the community has a fatal fall.  But Charlie and others think it may have been murder, and when Charlie's housekeeper becomes a prime suspect, he is determined to find the real killer.

I enjoyed the various characters as usual, but in this installment of the series, Charlie gets to dig through some archival materials, and I liked that the author worked in some of the things/policies that apply to archives in real life.

I will admit that I was not able to figure out who the killer was, until the very end when it was (I think) supposed to become obvious.

Another fun read in this series.

A Window Opens, by Elisabeth Egan.  I received this book through the Goodreads Giveaway Program.

At the beginning of this book, Alice Pearse has a pretty nice life.  She works part-time at a women's fitness magazine, and helps out at her friend's local bookstore.  Her husband is with a large law firm in Manhattan, and she has three lovely kids.  Her father seems to have kicked throat cancer.  Life is pretty good.

But when her husband doesn't make partner at his law firm, and quits to start his own practice, Alice knows that she needs to contribute more to the household income, and looks for a full-time job.  She finds one at Scroll, a new company whose plan is to revolutionize the e-book industry, and reading in general.  It seems like an exciting opportunity, and like a great place to work, and Alice is thrilled.

The description of Scroll, the work place and Alice's co-workers just really entertained me.  Scroll is a business who is trying to be *exactly right* both environmentally, electronically, and for the community.  Each new employee receives a first edition of their favorite printed book (know at Scroll as "carbon-based products" and deeply frowned upon.  The book is wrapped in plastic, cannot be opened, and must be returned to the company when the person leaves.  The entire Scroll part of the story was just ridiculously amazing.

However, as time goes on, things start going downhill.  The Scroll job changes focus, and Alice no longer feels comfortable with her role.  Her husband is having a hard time getting things started in private practice.  Her kids begin to act up when they are with her, rather than with the babysitter.  And possibly worst of all, her father's throat cancer returns.

This book is a good read, and a quick read.  There are parts that seem predictable, but the resulting actions are sometimes very surprising.  At the moment, I could identify with Alice's work issues, since I am currently in a job that has changed focus, and I am feeling trapped.  Fortunately, for Alice, she finds a way to resolve things, and by the end of the book, things are better if not perfect.

Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith, by Judith Valente.  This is a lovely book.  The author shares with us her visits to a Benedictine monastery - Mount St. Scholastica - in Atchison, Kansas, where she finds she is able to learn so much.  She initially visits to see if she can take a break from her hectic, noisy life.  But she returns again and again because she finds the place and the sisters there to be transforming in her life.

The book is a memoir of her visits, varying in length and in time of year, but each one giving her something about herself to think about, learn to accept, or discover.  It is in no way a religious book as far as saying "Here is what you should do/believe/think."  Rather, Valente shares with the reader her experiences as a way to remind us that change is possible and that it can never hurt to know yourself better - even if sometimes you wish what you learned was a lot nicer!

I liked this book because it was honest, interesting, and because I think only in books about others' experiences can we get an idea of the life of religious orders these days.  The nuns here are regular people, with regular jobs, family members, illnesses, and many of the same things as the rest of us.  They have a different way of life, and a calling, but they are no less human.  They are however, able to live their lives in a way that is both rewarding and very different from most of us.

There is a lot to take in and a lot to learn here.  I also have to say that there was a section about the death of one of the sisters, and it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.  I'm glad I read this book, and hope that in some way, I can take some of the ideas and lessons offered by the author and place them into my own life.

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World, by Clara Parkes.  First of all, I have to say I was inclined to really like this book before I even had it in my hands.  I met Clara Parkes a couple of years ago at Maryland Sheep and Wool (well, OK, I went up and gushed and introduce myself ... but I like to think we "know" each other), and she was so nice, so normal, and seemed like such a fun person, I loved her immediately.  Then I started following her on Instagram and Facebook, and so I just thought if this book was one she wrote, it would have to be good.

A couple of weeks ago when a yarn shop near my house had her there to sign, I could not wait.  Neither she nor the book disappoint.

I can also say that because I had high expectations, I was hesitant to start the book in case it didn't live up to what I hoped.  I have to say it went beyond that.

The book is as much a travelogue as it is about knitting-related things.  But as one who enjoys both, it was just so incredibly enjoyable  Each chapter is about a different place she visits regularly/has visited, and she is able to write about it in a way that makes you feel how it might be the share the experience.  My absolute favorite parts were about Iceland, Paris, and Edinburgh, for different reasons.  But let me tell you, there are NO parts of this book that are not enjoyable to read.  Parkes has a lovely way with words and her descriptions of time and place are truly wonderful.

I think that even if you have never picked up a ball of yarn or knit a stitch, you could enjoy reading this book.

The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford.  Oh wow did I enjoy this book!  I had read a comment about it on a blog somewhere and thought I would try it.  It was one of the most entertaining reads I've had in a long time.

The story is narrated by Fanny, telling of her experiences when staying with her cousins in the countryside of England.  Fanny and her cousin Linda are inseparable, and along with Linda's siblings and her parents we learn about the eccentricities of their class, and of these individuals in particular.  The story begins when they are young girls and goes through their adult years, ending towards the end of World War II.

The writing is wonderful, and the characters well-drawn and really funny.  I was enjoying this book so much, I finished it in two days, even not having a lot of time to read because of being at work.

Tail Gait, by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown.  This is another installment in the Mrs. Murphy series, which take place in Crozet, Virginia, and reacquaints us with a lot of the regulars, while introducing us to some new characters, both current and historical.  When one of the most popular history professors at the University of Virginia who has retired to Crozet is murdered, everyone wants to know not just who was the murderer, but why anyone would have killed the man.

Harry Haristeen, her cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, as well as Tucker the corgi, start trying to figure out what happened.  When the pets dig up the body of a former UVA football star who has since become a homeless beggar, Harry is convinced the two murders are connected.

This book contains a parallel story taking place during the Revolutionary War that plays into the current story, and ends up helping Harry to solve the murder.

As usual, a fun read, and this time with some really interesting history included.

Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton.  This book was a quick, enjoyable read, but don't let that fool you - it really makes you think.

As the book starts, Florence Gordon has decided to write her memoir.  At 75 years old, the well-known feminist scholar has a lot she still wants to say.  Florence is a straightforward, blunt woman who does not suffer fools gladly.  Things get complicated when her son Daniel, his wife Janine, and their daughter Emily turn up in NYC for the summer.  Suddenly, Florence has to deal with them and their problems/issues/lives.  And she is really not interested.

She hires Emily to be her research assistant.  At first, Emily is not thrilled about things, but as the book continues, she comes to learn how amazing Florence is, how much she has experienced in her life, and how dedicated she both was and is to making the world a better place.  Florence realizes that she actually likes Emily, though of course she would never say so.

When Florence's latest book gets a really positive review in the New York Times by a well-known female philosopher, she is suddenly on everyone's radar again.  Even her ex-husband Saul, still trying to live his life based on glories from forty years ago, tries to get her to use her new influence to get him a job he covets.

But while all of this is happening, Florence is also having trouble with her left foot.  Her doctor gives her a diagnosis that she is determined to keep secret as long as she is able.  She wants to remain independent, she wants to still do things on her terms.

The thing about this book is that we all know someone like Florence.  And we all know someone like Emily, who ends up being one of her biggest supporters, admirers, and who is helped by Florence more than Florence can ever know.  Emily sees Florence in a completely different way at the end of the book than she did in the beginning.

I really liked this book.  It was an enjoyable read, but it also made me think - about family, relationships, and self-worth.  And it made me think about how some people can make such a difference in your life, even if a lot of times the relationship seems one-sided.  The ending was sad, but not for reasons you might expect.  I think this book was very well done.

Second Street Station, by Lawrence H. Levy.  A really interesting work of historical fiction.  As a young girl, Mary Handley is a witness to something that the doesn't fully understand.

A young woman later having just been fired from her job at a hat factory, Mary wonders what will become of her.  Her mother of course wants her to stop being so headstrong and independent, so she can marry, have children, and settle down into a good life.  Mary is not really interested in that.  When she has the chance to assist the NYPD to solve the murder of a former assistant to Thomas Edison, she finds herself involved in a series of disturbing incidents as well as some life-threatening situations.

Some of the characters in this book include J.P. Morgan, Edison, Nicolas Tesla, the Goodrich Family, John and Charles Pemberton (with their invention, Coca Cola), George Westinghouse, and Edweard Muybridge.  Mary finds that their stories are intertwined for better and for worse, and she does her best to stay true to herself while tiptoeing around a lot of big egos.

And oh - there is also the man who she thinks she recognizes, but cannot remember exactly why.

I enjoyed this book, and plan to read the next in the series.

A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley.  This was another enjoyable read about Flavia de Luce, her family, and her investigations.  Not the best one I've read, but still good and full of both weird and interesting characters.

The book begins with Flavia visiting a fortune teller at a local festival, and accidentally setting her tent on fire.  Later, when she notices the gypsy's caravan, she enters to find the gypsy having been beaten and near death.  Thus begins Flavia's investigation into the who, why, when, etc., using both her detective methods and her scientific know-how.

Part of the story, but also somewhat related to the main story, is her realization that her father is having financial troubles of a larger nature than she ever realized before.  When she discovers some of the family silver being packed up to go for auction at Sotheby's in London, it forces her to accept the reality, and to consider her father in a different light.

Very entertaining, very quick read.

Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen.  This is the first book in a new-to-me series that was recommended by a co-worker.

The book is narrated by Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (aka "Georgie"), who is 34th in line for the throne of England in 1932.  Georgie lives in Scotland at the family manor with her half-brother Binky, his wife Fig, and their young son.  She is of marriageable age, but has not found anyone who even interests her, much less being someone she wants to marry!  When she overhears a phone call making it clear that a boring prince is being invited to meet her (and a match made), she decides to take herself to London, under the guise of helping an old friend prepare for her wedding.

Of course, Georgie is ill-prepared for life on her own, and without servants, but she makes do.  Then it turns out that her brother comes to town on what is found out to be business threatening the family.  When the person threatening them is found drowned in the tub of their London home, Georgie has to try and clear Binky's name after he is arrested.  In the meantime, the Queen (her cousin) has requested that Georgie spy on the Prince of Wales, who will be at a house party with "that horrible woman."  (Turns out to be of course, Wallis Simpson.)  With everything happening in her life, Georgie thinks this assignment will be a nice break, but she is in more danger than ever!

I enjoyed this book.  Georgie's narration is in the vein of a Bertie Wooster-type story, which made it amusing.  The mystery was pretty good, and the time period made it all very entertaining.  I can see reading another in this series.

The Silence of the Library, by Miranda James.  This was another enjoyable, quick  read in this series.

Charlie Harris is working with colleagues on a special exhibit at the college library about childrens' series authors - read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, etc.  When they learn that one of the authors of a favorite series who is local is still alive, excitement builds and they are able to meet with her and plan to have her appear at the exhibit opening.

Then things get sticky.  The local woman who created and published a newsletter about the author is murdered, and files are taken from her house.  Charlie meets with the grandson of the author at the grandson's request, but finds that all the young man is thinking about is how he can get some money out of the whole situation, and Charlie declines to get involved.

Other characters who are interested in the book and the author start to act in a way that seems both suspicious and unethical.  Charlie and his Maine Coon Cat Diesel, do some amateur sleuthing on their own, and as usual end up helping to solve the case.

Very entertaining.

The New Me, by Mary Marcus.  Here are the good things about this book:  1) it was short, 2) it was not the worst thing I ever read, 3) I did finish it, to see if anything would actually happen.

The story was basically one woman's written account of her 20/20 hindsight of the dissolution of her marriage, and her part in it. No one seemed likable, and the narrator was only marginally interesting.  I kept thinking something would make the story better.  Nothing did, except being finished with it.

Sadly, it's probably somewhat true to life, in that many people seem to have a hard time recognizing when things are actually over.


What about you?  Have you read anything especially good - or even especially bad - lately?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Have a lovely weekend!


Araignee said...

Good golly, where DO you find the time? My library actually sent me an automatic renewal notice for my one and only because they must know me all too well. If I get in a few pages a day it's a miracle.
I am so happy to read your review of Clara Parkes new book. I need to go get it. I met her at Rhinebeck one year at a book signing and she is lovely.

Kim in Oregon said...

So many recommendations for me to read! I agree completely on Fates and Furies.

kathy b said...

Wow you have been reading and reading! Good for you. I liked your Knitlandia review . I will get that book.
twisted threads sounds very interesting...dark but interesting.

I just ordered a non fiction book a Smoky Mountain Ranger wrote. We are headed to the Smokies so It should be a fun read for me.

Vera said...

Wow! That's a lot of books. I was going to get the Knitlandia book...now I definitely will - thanks for that review. Just read "A Man Called Ove" and highly recommend it. Laugh out loud funny in places yet at the same time thought provoking. Am reading "The Light Between Oceans" which I wasn't sure about -- too much hype and now a movie -- but so far it's ok. Not the fastest read for me, but I am enjoying the language and there is a lot more info on lighthouses than I thought there would be. Also just took out at the library yesterday "Frog Music" and "Mink River." Like I need more books....Happy April!

AsKatKnits said...

Fantastic reading list! Wow - so much I have not even heard of! Thank you for such great recommendations!!

Alyssa said...

Wow, you've been prolific! I'm going to have to pick up Knitlandia... that sounds like such a cool book.

Kym said...

So many good books there! The only one I've read (so far) is Fates and Furies. I liked it quite a bit. But I'm rather a sucker for books that upend what you THOUGHT was happening. (Love those changing perspective kinds of novels.) Thanks for the excellent reviews!