02 January 2018

Book Report : Last Reads of 2017

First of all, Happy New Year!  I thought about writing a post yesterday, but obviously never actually got around to it.  Such is life.

I seriously finished my last book of 2017 on the morning on December 31, 2017.  And it was a perfect book to end the year.  Having said that, here's what I read in November and December, and what I thought about it.

The Blackhouse, by Peter May.  I liked this book.   It was extremely evocative, and not really exactly what I was expecting when I got started.

Detective Fin Macleod grew up on the Isle of Lewis, off the coast of Scotland, but left for university as soon as he got the chance.   After not completing his university studies, he joins the police force in Edinburgh.  When a really brutal killing on the Isle has all of the earmarks of a similar recent case in Edinburgh, Fin is sent back home to participate in the investigation.  

So - the book begins as a murder mystery.  And it does form the frame for the story, but in a lot of ways the book is more about Fin coming to terms with the people and places in his past.  The resolution of the murder plays into the whole thing, but what I found really interesting was learning more about Fin and his life as a child and young man.  The story is basically a quiet one, but full of unexpected turns and sadness, as we learn about the friends he knew who are still living on the island.

Not an amazing book, but a good one, and very readable.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, by Cherise Wolas.  I really wanted to like this book, having read interesting reviews of it.  But I just couldn't get into it, or care about Joan Ashby.  I have other books to read, so I'm moving on.

Come Hell or Highball, by Maia Chance.  This book was a fun read.  It's 1923, and Lola Woodby's rich husband, Archie, had died of a heart attack.  She soon learns that the fortune she was counting on inheriting no longer exists.  At the cemetery after his funeral, she is approached by "one of Archie's chorus girls" about retrieving a film reel that she worries will get her in trouble.  Though at first, Lola scoffs at the mere idea, eventually she realizes that she needs money, so along with her Swedish cook Berta, they decide to do some detective work.

This book is just what it should be - fun, readable, and a lovely way to spend some time.  I'll definitely try another in the series.

Buried, by C. J. Carmichael.  This book was good enough to be worth reading, just not great.  

Donal Lachlan is a successful true crime writer living in NYC.  He gets an e-mail out of the blue one day asking if he knows about a series of killings in and near his hometown in Oregon, where all of the victims were librarians.  A name is provided, and out of curiosity, he does some poking around and finds it's the name of a librarian found mysteriously murdered years ago.

Since his sister is getting married, he decides to head back home, both to try and talk her out of marrying the guy, a former childhood friend of Donal's that he has realized is a cruel jerk, and then also to do more research into the murder while the sources would be more local.

He receives additional e-mails from his mysterious correspondent regarding the other murders, and as a result of his research, becomes involved with the town librarian.  This is where the book became annoying.  The author spent an inordinate amount of text talking about how the prim, proper librarian was really a sexy gal.  Every stereotype was employed here.  It felt jarring to me, and also kept me from liking the book more.

The eventual reveal of the killer was not a complete surprise to me.  The story and the characters had potential that I thought was kind of wasted.  I don't know if I'll read the next in the series or not.

A Knitter's Home Companion : A Heartwarming Collection of Stories, Patterns, and Recipes, by Michelle Edwards.  I gave this book two stars because 1 star apparently means you didn't like something and 2 stars means it was OK.  And that's what this was.  Not wonderful, not terrible, just OK.

I guess my biggest question is, why is this even a book?  It is a series of brief recollections by the author of knitting and what it has meant during her life.  Which is fine, but it just doesn't seem like book material to me, having read it.  I think the stories are lovely, the patterns are fine, as are the recipes.  But I am just puzzled as to how she managed to have it published.

I've read other books where the author or authors talk about what knitting has meant to them, etc., and they have just resonated more with me than this one did.

A Stillness in Bethlehem, by Jane Haddam.  When Gregor Demarkian and his companions head to Bethlehem, Vermont to see the famous town's Nativity play, they are thinking it will be a lovely holiday break for all of them.  Particularly for their priest friend, Tibor, who is stressed out over helping resettle refugees in their Philadelphia neighborhood.

Demarkian is particularly recognizable, having just helped solve a murder case that happened near Thanksgiving, and getting coverage in the national news.  So when two of the townspeople are murdered using the same gun, on the same day, the local police ask him for help.   Though not officially on the case, he is intrigued with aspects of it, and ends up becoming familiar with many of the town's residents and their intrigues.

This was an enjoyable read, and a good mystery.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? : And Other Questions You Should Have Answers To When You Work in The White House, by Alyssa Mastromonaco.  I expected to like this book more than I did.  I think it needed additional editing, and a more cohesive structure.

Maybe I am super critical because I have worked on Capitol Hill and think that it could have been written in a more engaging manner.

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny.  Louise Penny does it again with this book.  Though the story is somewhat different than the usual ones, it's still really good reading.

It's Christmastime, and Armand Gamache is continually feeling the push that his superiors are giving for him to retire.  They are doing everything possible, from taking his good agents and reassigning them, to making everything he does look either bad or as if it's a mistake.  Fortunately, the Chief Superintendent Brunel and her husband are on his side, and are trying to see what is going on in cyberspace to discredit Gamache and who leaked a video of a raid he led that went wrong.

In the meantime, his friend Myrna in Three Pines asks him to look into the disappearance of one of her friends.  As Gamache and his right hand agent Isabelle LaCoste investigate, they find out the friend has been murdered, and they begin to investigate that.

A lot happens in this book, but as usual, it doesn't happen quickly or easily.  The Brunels find information that leads to Gamache and that couple leaving Montreal for Three Pines, so they can be off the grid while making a plan.  Myrna's murdered friend turns out to be someone of note and her story is involved and twisted as well.  

This entire book kept me reading - from the first page, when a seemingly unrelated incident is described, to the end, where to some extent, things are resolved.  And Gamache and his wife retire to Three Pines, where he says he just wants to lead a nice quiet life.  But Madame Gamache suspects he will still investigate things when needed ...

I love this series, and will definitely continue reading.  Fortunately, there are many after this one, so I won't run out of things to read for quite a while!

Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen, by Vicki Delany.  This is the first in a new series, and I will definitely read the next one!

Rudolph, a city in upstate New York, is starting another season as the premier destination for Christmas celebrations.  Formerly a town that wanted to be known for a resident who was a hero in the War of 1812, they have switched to being America's Christmas City after finding the tales of the "hero" were false.

The season is kicking off with the Great Parade, and a reception afterwards.  Everyone is excited because a well-known international travel writer is visiting to do an article on the town.  The problem is, that after the reception, he is found dead on the lakeshore by the main character, Merry Wilkinson, while she is walking her dog.  When an autopsy shows he was poisoned, things get tense and ugly really fast.  

Each time something seems to get things back on track, another incident occurs, and the town has to scramble again to keep tourists coming.  

This was an enjoyable holiday read, and in my opinion, a good mystery, in that I really had no idea who might be behind the crimes, and the reveal was a surprise (at least to me).  

Plus, what's not to love about a town that REALLY celebrates Christmas??

Jingle Bell Bark, by Laurien Berenson.  This was a fun read.  Melanie Travis is a breeder of Standard Poodles, as well as working as a special education tutor at a local school.  When the driver of the school bus her son rides every day is murdered, she and her Aunt Peg take it upon themselves to find homes for the deceased gentleman's two Golden Retrievers, but they are also curious as to who poisoned him with anti-freeze.  

All of this is happening in the weeks before Christmas, so as if she doesn't have enough to do, Melanie tells Aunt Peg she'll help her try to figure out what happened.

Fun, with lots of interesting information about dogs, breeders, and the dog show circuit.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol, by Samantha Silva.  I enjoyed this book, though it didn't quite give me the kind of story I'd hoped to read.

It takes place in the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.  Charles Dickens' wife has just given birth to another baby, and though he is one of England's most popular and recognizable people, things are tough.  His latest work, "Martin Chuzzlewit," is not doing well, and funds are low.  When his publishers, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Hall, tell him they need for him to write a Christmas book so that everyone's finances will improve, he is both insulted and resistant.

The rest of the book takes us on a trip of the weeks after that, when he finds someone wanting a handout at every turn, but also finds a muse who helps him decide what to write.

The book was interesting to me not so much for the fictionalized account of how the story was written, etc., but for descriptions of London at the time, and for the way it wove Dickens' struggle into what eventually became one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time.

The Heart of Henry Quantum, by Pepper Harding.  Henry Quantum leaves his office two days before Christmas to purchase a gift for his wife - a bottle of Chanel No. 5 to be exact.  The book is the story of Henry, his marriage, and his life and how in one single day, he sees clearly what it has all been about.

It was OK, but not that engaging. I didn't really like any of the characters that much.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney.  My final read for 2017, and really appropriate.

The book opens on New Year's Eve, 1984.  Lillian Boxfish hangs up from a phone call with her son, and decides that it's time for a walk.  The walk turns out to be bittersweet, as she passes places that have many memories from her long life, while also visiting some new places with new people.

Liliian is a woman who decided as a young girl that she wanted to spread her wings.  She moves to New York City, inspired by her Aunt Sadie, a woman who remained single, had a career, and always seeemed exciting to Lillian.  Eventually she becomes the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the country, working for R. H. Macy's.  She becomes a success and a fixture in the social scene, managing to do well even during the Depression.

Somewhat unexpectedly, she does what she never thought she would do - get married and have a child.  Since women did not continue working after having children during  her time (pre-Mad Men days), she continues freelancing, but is just never quite the same.  Eventually she gets divorced, but remains in the apartment where she lived when married.

It is from there that she goes on her epic walk around Manhattan.  By the time she arrives home, it is 1985, and she has visited most of the meaningful places from her life, met some new people, talked to some old friends, and even been mugged!   Being who she is though, she decides to see what happens next in the life she has left.

An afterword in the book said that Lillian was loosely based  on Margaret Fishback, who at one time was in fact the highest paid female ad copywriter in the nation.  I am intrigued to learn more about her.

This is an enjoyable book to read, especially at New Year's time, when I for one can not help but be nostalgic.  I just hope I can look forward to the rest of my life like Lillian does.

Goodreads tells me that I read 67 books during 2017.  Being me, I wish it had been an even number, but it's more important to just read and see what happens rather than worry about a number.  (I've finally learned that over the years!)  So we'll see what 2018 holds, who knows?

I hope you enjoyed most of what you read last year.  At the moment, I'm deciding what my next book or books will be ... what are you reading?


sprite said...

I hear you about the even numbers thing... I ended with 79 and was really irked I couldn't finish one more.

With regards to the Berenson and Haddam mysteries, I see they're parts of series. Are they the type of series where I need to have read the earlier books or can I dive right in in the middle? (I feel like in Hamish Macbeth mysteries it doesn't especially matter in what order I read them, but that would be more disruptive in, say, a Mary Russell novel.)

Mereknits said...

I just finished Glass Houses the last book published in the series by Louise Penny. Each time I read her I think it was her best book yet, I am saying it again with Glass Houses. Just wait!

elns said...

Damn Bridget that's a nice reading haul. I want to read these holiday themed books next year. I'm over it right now. However, I'm feeling your Blackhouse and Come Hell or Highball reviews. Definitely up my alley. All the best and happy new year!!

Vera said...

I love Three Pines. I want to live there! Always enjoy your reviews Bridget - thanks. Am reading "The Other Einstein" and really like it (thanks to having physicists in the family).

Bonny said...

Wow, you read a lot in November and December! I'm listening to The Woman Who Smashed Codes and slowly reading The Queen of Hearts as a "real book". The Blackhouse may be one of my next reads as it sounds like just what I'm in the mood for. Thanks for the recommendation!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on so many finishes! I have to admit, last year I read very few books. I read ............just not many books.

I just bought Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Hoping to start it tomorrow after we get back from the gym.

My goal for 2018 is 10 books. Not very lofty, but hopefully doable.

AsKatKnits said...

Great reading in November and December! I am happy to say that I managed to finish a book already this year, and hopefully will have a couple more done this week!

Araignee said...

I love your book posts. I never know what to read and end up wandering in the library like a homeless person trying to get warm. I am pretty sure that's what they think of me in my library because I go in all the time but never come out with anything. Too many choices.