02 January 2019

Final Book Report of 2018: October, November, December

According to Goodreads, I read 60 books last year.  I stopped setting a goal there, because I preferred to see what I read when their is no "requirement."  Of course, Goodreads keeps asking me to set another one, and always suggests 12 books, which amuses me, but I guess if you are not a reader, that would be a stretch.

Anyway, all of that aside, here are the things I read during the last three months of 2018.

The Doctor's Wife Is Dead : The True Story of a Peculiar Marriage, a Suspicious Death, and the Murder Trial That Shocked Ireland, by Andrew Tierney.  I had seen a synopsis of this book and wanted to read it, but I never thought it would turn out to be so timely.  As I was reading this, the hearings were happening to determine whether or not Brett Kavanaugh would be made the next Supreme Court Justice, in spite of the testimony against him by Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford, who was assaulted by him as a teenager.  Results seem to indicate that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But on to this particular book.  In the mid-1840s, a woman dies at home in Ireland.  When her body is moved from the house, there are women outside throwing rocks at the windows, yelling insults to the dead woman's husband.  Why?  Because it's well-known that he mistreated his wife, and many people in the village find her death suspicious.

Ellen Langley is the woman in question.  Her husband is a local doctor, and though they are not wealthy, they have a comfortable life - well, at least he does.  For reasons that are murky at best, the doctor not only seems to hate his wife, but actively makes her life miserable - neglecting her, starving her, not providing any real health care.  Eventually she dies, and her body is placed in the cheapest coffin possible, which is left in the garden for two days until it is moved to be placed in a pauper's grave.

Dr. Langley is tried for murder in the death of his wife.  Evidence is presented indicating that he more or less made her life miserable from the start, and actively tried to think of ways to get rid of her when he fell in love with a cousin of hers.  Letters written in his own hand are brought into evidence and read aloud at the hearing.  Other people in the small town in the Tipperary area testify to his terrible behavior and treatment of his wife, his desire to be rid of her, and certain questionable activities on his part.  All of this leads to his acquittal, in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary.  He goes on to live the rest of his life with another wife, children, and a respectable practice. 

The book is interesting because it shows the limited opportunties available to women who were not part of the wealthy class in Ireland during this time.  It is also a clear illustration of the difference between the wealthy English in Ireland and the local people struggling to make ends meet. 

A really good read, if frustrating and disheartening, especially at the time I was reading it.

Calypso, by David Sedaris.  I will admit to being predisposed to liking just about anything that David Sedaris writes.  He can capture the absurd and the poignant so easily - or at least it seems that way to the reader.

This was an audiobook, read by himself.  I have to say, I enjoyed it so much, hearing it actually in his voice!  The main reason it took me so long to complete it was because I tend to listen to audiobooks at work, when I am shelving books in the Stacks, and as a result, there can be days that go by when I have not had a chance to even listen for a minute.

In this set of stories, Sedaris once again involves the reader/listener in his life and his interactions with his partner, Hugh, and his incredibly funny family (OK, maybe they don't mean to be funny ...).  He has you laughing out loud one minute at the man who has an unfortunate accident on an airplane, and then ready to cry soon after, talking about his mother's descent into alcoholism.  You come to care about Carol the fox who he sees on walks in his English neighborhood, and then turn around and find it amusing when everyone tries to spy James Comey on vacation at the North Carolina beach house down the street from where the Sedaris family is staying. 

I think what I always like best - and what there is so much of in this particular book - is that David Sedaris loves his family deeply, but has no compunction about revealing their flaws, and his own in the mix.  I always feel like I have invited him over for the evening, and he is only telling these stories to me.  This is a lovely mix of stories and I strongly suggest you find a way to listen to them, not just read them.

Dear Mrs. Bird, by A.J. Pearce.  I added this book to my want-to-read shelf because it sounded entertaining, so when I saw it at the library, I grabbed it off the shelf!

The main characters are two young women, living in London during the thick of World War II.  Emmeline "Emmie" Lake has a brother serving in the army, while she does her part as a member of the volunteer fire brigade during overnight hours.  Marigold "Bunty" Tavistock is her best friend with a rather hush-hush job at the War Office.  Emmie's dream job is to become a war correspondent, so when she sees an ad for a part-time junior editor, she jumps at the opportunity.

As it turns out, the job is assisting Mrs Bird, an advice columnist for a woman's magazine.  She is a formidable presence, with a long list of Unpleasant topics she will not address - topics that Emmie soon realize many are dealing with during wartime.  Slowly she decides to begin sending responses to some of the inquiries privately, signing Mrs Bird's name.

But this book is so much more than that part of the story.  It turned out to be one of the most well-written books about life in this place and time that I have read.  Emmie, Bunty, and the characters in their world lived through so much more than just a story about friendship, romances, and war.  They seemed very real to me, and there is a critical event that occurs that had me literally holding my breathe from the description of the horror.

I finished this book two days ago, and am still thinking about it.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, by Alan Bradley.  Flavia de Luce has been banished (her word) from her family home in England, and finds herself at Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Toronto, Canada.  This is all part of the plan that her Aunt Felicity has for Flavia's mysterious future.

Of course, the minute she arrives, things start to happen, in the form of a body wrapped in a Union Jack falling from a chimney into her room!  Things only become more involved and more mysterious as time goes on, and Flavia faces challenges like never before, while also realizing that she actually misses her sisters, who only annoyed her before this.

Chemistry of course saves the day in the end - but not before what seems like a million twists and turns!

Survival of the Fritters, by Ginger Bolton.  Well, this was a fun book.  It was also well-done with a more complicated plot than I was expecting.

Emily Westhill is a widow and former 911 operator who know owns a popular donut shop with her father-in-law, the retired chief of police.  When one of her regulars misses a meeting with her knitting group at Emily's shop, everyone starts to worry.  When the woman is later found murdered in her home, it leads to suspicions and discoveries that go back years. 

An entertaining story of life in a small town, and how people you may have known your whole life can be different than they seem.

A Howl of Wolves, by Judith Flanders.  When Sam Clair and her boyfriend go to the theater, it's not necessarily because they are excited about the play being performed - a somewhat bloody story - but because Sam's upstairs neighbor and her son are both in the cast.  When the last scene happens, something seems off.  That's because what is supposed to be a dummy of someone murdered is instead the actual director of the play.

Things only get weirder and scarier in the time following.  As Sam tries to help her neighbors deal with the tragedy and figure out what happened, she is also trying very hard to give deserved recognition to one of her authors at the publisher where she works, but is challenged because the head of sales doesn't think a woman's book written by an older woman has enough to draw in booksellers.

I enjoyed this book.  I realized after I finished it that there was a previous title in the series I have not yet read, so I'll have to remedy that soon.

A Catered Murder, by Isis Crawford.  This is the first in a series of mysteries where I've read some of the later books, but it was fine on its own..

Bernie Simmons returns to Longely, NY from her glamorous life in Los Angeles after she comes home to find her boyfriend in bed with her best friend.  She finds her sister Libby busy preparing a big catering job for her high school class reunion.  Though it's summertime, the theme is Halloween, since they are honoring a classmate who has hit the big time with his novels about a vampire.  When that classmate dies after drinking water from a bottle provided by the caterers, things get serious fast.

While Libby and Bernie try to clear their names, and that of one of Libby's friends, they get some help from their father, the former police chief in the town who can still use some of his connections.  But mostly they have to sweeten the suspects with treats from their family bakery to get any useful information.

This was well-done, and I found the reveal of the murderer especially surprising.

A Double Life, by Flynn Berry.  When Claire, a doctor in London, receives a call that her father may have been spotted, her life takes a  course she has always somehow expected.  As a young child, her father brutally murdered their nanny, mistaking her for their mother, who was attacked but survived.  He then disappeared.  Claire has always been convinced that he was able to do so because of his class (he had a title) and his friends in that class who were willing to help him.  Claire, her mom, and her brother changed their names, and moved to a small town in Scotland to start over.

The man sighted at the beginning of the book turns out to be someone else, but we learn the story behind her parents' relationship, and her childhood.  She has on occasion actively searched for information/clues about her father, but this time she hopes to complete her search.

This was a good read, and well-written.  It was made all the more interesting to me because the core of the story is apparently based on the case of Lord Lucan in Britain, who disappeared after the murder of the nanny of his children in 1974.  Now I have to find out more about that, since I don't remember ever reading anything about it.

Miss Bunting, by Angela Thirkell.  I have to say up front that I a) have no idea why I had this book on my Nook, and b) didn't know who the author was.  But I saw that I had it, read about the author (who is often compared to Anthony Trollope), and figured what the heck?

Miss Bunting is an elderly, respected governess who is employed for a summer to work with Anne Fielding, a young woman of some means whose parents want her to get some extra help.  They spend the summer in a small village in England and the book is more about the village and the various events of the summer than it really is about Anne. 

Those who live in the Old Town are members of families who have impressive pedigrees.  They bemoan the fact that the New Town residents are tradesmen, and industrialists, without the proper manners and nuances of class.  The book basically takes the framework of Miss Bunting and Anne, and brings in others of the Old Town and New Town who enter and leave their universe during the summer of the book. 

This was an enjoyable read, to some extent a comedy of manners.  It was also interesting to read about the effects of World War II and increasing industrialization in the town.  The story is very indicative of how the society is starting to change, and the reactions of various characters, based largely on their position in society.

Angela Thirkell has apparently written a lot of books about life in the Barsetshire region.  Including one that takes place at Christmastime, so I see at least one more of her books in my future!

A Cast of Vultures, by Judith Flanders.  Someone is setting fires in Sam Clair's neighborhood, and the most recent one is just up the street from her flat.  The people who lived there were squatters, but had been there for so long, they were part of the fabric of the place.  There was a body found in the ashes, and at first it is assumed it is the body of the arsonist.

Meanwhile, Sam's friend Viv asks her to look into the disappearance of Viv's neighbor, a kind man who is a civil servant.

When the body in the ashes is discovered to be Viv's missing neighbor, and reports of him being a drug dealer surface, Sam decides that the stories are too different to make sense, and tries to figure out the truth.  Meanwhile, a pub down the street burns, and with all of the things going on, Sam starts to even worry about the people she knows being out to get her.

All of this, as well as her assistant at work finding that a book soon to be published cannot possibly contain true information, leaves Sam with more than enough to deal with. 

This is a well-done book, with the mystery being multi-layered, and even includes Sam being pursued by mysterious villains after hours in Kew Gardens! 

I'm caught up on this series now, and hope another book joins it soon.

The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante.  This is the second book in this series, and picks up right after Lila's wedding, and while Elena is still in high school.  It ends just as Elena's first novel is being published when she has completed university studies at the age of 23.

I liked this book, though not as much as the first one.  I think mainly because the character of Lila is for me, very predictable based on how the whole story began.  She marries, decides she is not in love with her husband, who beats her, and things seem to go somewhat as I expected from there.  Meanwhile, Elena spends the bulk of the book being pulled back into Lila's orbit, while trying to establish her own identity.  It is frustrating to me, since Elena seems to believe that so much of what she is, has, and does, is immediately related to Lila.  And though a lot of that is true, it just got repetitive. 

It was also painful and frustrating to read about women whose entire raison d'etre was to become wives and mothers, completely at the mercy of the men in the society.  Not surprising, given the time and the place, but upsetting nonetheless.

I will definitely read the next in the series, as I find the books overall to be really interesting and for the most part, well-written.  I am also a sucker for stories that are sagas.

Live and Let Chai, by Bree Baker.  This was much better than I was expecting it to be.  It was a 99-center for my Nook a few months ago, and admittedly I bought it because it was only 99 cents ...

Everly Swan has returned to the southern beach town where she grew up after a bad breakup to pursue her dream of opening a tea shop.  Things are OK until one of the town councilmen dies, and it looks as if it was poisoned tea from Everly's shop. 

As she starts to investigate what really happened, we learn more about the small town and some of the characters.  There is of course the new detective in town who is handsome, blah blah blah, but at least in this book, there's not an overflow of romance.  The story moves along, and not until the end did I decide who I thought the killer was, so it stayed a mystery for me. 

Having said all of this, I'm not sure why "chai" is in the title, since I think it is only mentioned twice in the book as an offering at Everly's shop.

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, by P.D. James.  To start, I am a BIG fan of P.D. James, and even got to meet her once at a booksigning where we discussed books and cats for a couple of minutes.  So needless to say, I was already inclined to like these stories.

I was not disappointed.  Each story is long enough to develop the plot and the characters, so you don't feel cheated.  They are enjoyable reads, and two of them even feature a young Adam Dalgliesh!  I took my tim reading these, because I knew that after I was finished, there were no new P.D. James books coming along.

As usual, she writes with great detail so that you can easily picture each place, each character, in your mind.  And some of the things that happen stay with you past the end of the story.  I can see re-reading this every few years and enjoying it just as much.

Winter Solstice, by Rosamund Pilcher.  This book is lovely.  Christmas-y and very lovely.  It's 400+ pages, but they go quickly, because you just want to keep reading!  As is the case with a lot of Rosamunde Pilcher's books, this is more about the characters than any elaborate plot.

The story starts out with Elfrida Phipps, a retired actress, adopting a dog that she names Horace, and moving to a small village to a lovely cottage to live the rest of her life.  There she meets Gloria and Oscar Blundell, and their young daughter Francesca.  The entire books moves on from there, and each chapter is told by/about a different character that is introduced in a way that seems random and throwaway until you get into the book more.  The bulk of the story takes place during the time leading up to Christmastime, in a small town in Scotland where Elfrida and Oscar (and Horace of course) find themselves after a drastic event in the town where they met.  As the story moves along, other characters join them until an eclectic group of unlikely mates seem to be the logical crux of the story. 

Pilcher writes the characters so well, you can picture each one, as well as the places they live, visit, and work.  Even the secondary characters stand out in this book.

Christmas Carol Murder, by Leslie Meier.  In this particular book in the series, Lucy Stone's kids are all more grown up (the youngest is in high school), so she has some teenage girl angst to deal with, but the primary story is about the fire that completely destroys a home of a local real estate agent, who was also known as a hoarder and an overall awful person.  He was also killed in the fire.  At first everyone just assumes that something happened to get all of the paper burning, and that it was just a terrible accident.

However, it turns out that things may not be as tragically innocent as they seem.

Lucy Stone, in the meantime, has been cast as Mrs. Cratchit in the local version of "A Christmas Carol," and some of her fellow cast members seem to be acting suspiciously.  So of course her radar is activated, and she starts asking around.

This was a good enough Christmastime book, though not one of the best.  Also, though he is improving, Lucy's husband Bill is still kind of a pain.  I could not put up with a lot of his issues, but a) he is a fictional character, and b) I'm not married to him anyway.

A Christmas Journey, by Anne Perry.  I have never read anything by Anne Perry, though I know of her through the movie "Heavenly Creatures" which is really good by the way.  However, I saw that she had written a series of Christmas books, so ... I had to look into it.

This is the first one, and at the beginning of the book, a group of society types have gathered for a house party at a place called Applecross, the setting during Victorian times.  The main character, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould is there as the person throwing the party is a good friend, and her husband is currently away.  When Isobel, a friend of Lady Vespasia, makes a snide comment in the group about a widow named Gwendolen, who is being courted by a young man Isobel also likes, Gwendolen leaves the room in tears.  But everyone is surprised when Gwendolen's body is pulled from the lake the next morning, apparently a suicide.

Through a series of events, Lady Vespasia and Isobel set out for Inverness, Scotland to deliver Gwendolen's last letter to her mother.  The journey is difficult enough, but then it turns out that the woman they need to see is not there, but has gone to an even more remote part of Scotland.  Since it is their duty to deliver the letter, they forge on, and once they find her, there are some surprising discoveries made there, and as they accompany her back to Applecross, arriving just a few days before Christmas.

This was a short novella - just shy of 70 pages - but a lot happens in the story, and though it is concise, it is packed with information and description.  I will likely read more of Perry's Christmas stories, since I enjoyed this one.

Holly and Homicide, by Leslie Caine.  I haven't read any of the previous books in this series, but I feel like that was not an issue.

Erin Gilbert and Steve Sullivan are business partners in a decorating company.  They are in Colorado, helping to restore a house that will become a B&B in a ski town whose residents are less than supportive. The B&B is schedule to open on Christmas Eve, and Erin and Steve are hoping to not just put the finishing touches on things, but make it all extremely festive as well.

The problems begin when the body of the real estate inspector is found on the property, and the local police chief feels that Erin is somehow involved, and does not seem overly invested in a professional investigation.  Add to that infighting among the owners, suspicious happenings around the house, and Erin's former boyfriend arriving and then being murdered, and a lot is happening.
this was interesting, and I was surprised to learn who the killer was.  I'm not exactly sure why this series is called "Domestic Bliss" though I guess maybe because they are interior decorators? 

Anyway, it was a good enough holiday read.


And there you go.  What have you read that you liked or didn't like, lately?  I've already finished my first book of 2019 (started in 2018), so I feel like I'm on my way for this year!


Kym said...

As always, you've compiled a wonderful set of book reviews! I have read all four of the Elena Ferrante books -- and I think the 2nd one (that you reviewed) was the weakest of the bunch. Still very good -- but my least favorite. And you're so right . . . about the overall dark/depressing nature of the books. Have you had any chance to see the HBO series based on the books? It's very good -- and very true to the books. XO

AsKatKnits said...

I just love your reviews, Bridget! Thank you! I have added a few books to my list because of your reviews!

And, I agree with you completely on Calypso - it was my favorite thus far of all the Sedaris I have read!

Araignee said...

I love your book reviews!
I've been struggling to find something to listen to lately. Thanks for sending me in the right direction.

kathy b said...

It is day 3 and younhave a book read already? Wow