I hope you had a lovely weekend. Mine was nice, one of the kind where some things get accomplished, but there's plenty of time to just be.
Today is the last day of Christmas, and also the anniversary of when we adopted Dug the Doodle Dog. So it's bittersweet in a couple of ways, and I wish it was not on a Monday but since I do not control the calendar, I have to accept it all. Such is life, no?
Anyway, I wanted to finish up my "last year" posts with my final thoughts on the books I read in October, November, and December. Apparently I read 69 books last year, which for my slightly OCD self is frustrating because if I had been paying attention, I would have made sure I hit the number seventy! These are the kinds of things that annoy me in an unreasonable fashion. I mean, other than myself, who cares? It's not like I'm getting paid for each book I read or anything like that, I would just prefer an even number here.
In any event, here you go for the end of 2019.
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
, by Elena Ferrante. This book in the series finds the two friends as adult married women. Lila has left her husband Stefano and is living with her young son while working as a laborer. Elena has finished at the university, had her first book published to some acclaim, and is now married to a college professor and has two young daughters. Though they no longer live in the same place, they remain as connected to one another as ever, for better or for worse. I would say that I liked it well enough to finish the book.
Lila becomes inadvertently involved in the student labor movement of the 1960s at the beginning of the book, and by the end of the book is working as a computer expert in a company in their hometown, run by one of the Solara family, which shocks and angers Elena.
Elena by the end of the book has left her marriage and children to run away with Nino, her true love from childhood.
I will definitely read the fourth book to see how/if things are resolved, but I have to say that I found this book disappointing and annoying. I guess since I have never had a friendship remotely resembling the one of the two women here, I find it hard to understand why they remain friends. And to be honest, I found Elena's leaving of her marriage and family too expected to be interesting.
, by Patrick O'Brian. Full disclosure: I did not actually read this, it was read to me.
This is another entry in the series, and as in the two previous ones, a lot happens in a single book. In this one, Captain Jack Aubrey is trying to make sure that the French ships sent by Napoleon do not overtake the English ships involved in the East India trade. One enemy in particular is a threat and though they do everything to avoid a confrontation, one still happens. Aubrey's ship is bruised but not defeated, meaning there is treasure to be shared by all of them.
Jack and Stephen Maturin also face a lot of romantic obstacles in their respective lives during this book, with only one of them facing a happy ending.
Once More We Saw Stars
, by Jayson Greene. I read this book because a couple of onlined friends mentioned that they liked it, and I was intrigued.
The author and his wife suffered an incomprehensible loss - their two year old daughter Greta, was sitting on a bench with her grandmother in the Upper West Side of NYC, and a brick fell off the building, hitting Greta in the head and killing her. The book details what happened in the immediate aftermath, at the hospital waiting to see what might happen, deciding to donate her organs, and then going home childless. We see that friends and family held things together for Jayson and his wife Stacy, and then how they managed and worked to deal with it all once all of the activity of the tragedy was over. Finally, the book details their journey to live their lives afterwards, with Greta gone but still with them.
It's a very well-written account, and I think it's valuable in that it proves that life can and should go on, and that doing that never means forgetting, stopping the love you have, and that it's OK to feel good and happy again, even though the whole thing is always with you, sometimes hitting you when you might least expect it.
My mother used to always say that you never get over someone dying, you just get used to it. And everyone does it in their own way. Jayson and Stacy were lucky - they lived the kind of life that allowed them to make a lot of arrangements that others might not be able to do. They did not have any other children at the time Greta died, so they only had to deal with their own grief. They were financially able to afford to move, and to travel to other places for workshops and experiences that would help them cope and give them some peace. Most people don't have those luxuries and just have to move on the best they can manage in their own circumstances. In that way, Jayson and Stacy are not like the rest of us. But their grief, anger, and exhaustion trying to go on with life is expressed here in a way that every single human being can understand, and for that reason I think it's a book that could benefit some people. They come out of it different people, but still capable of love for each other, their family, and Greta.
If Walls Could Talk
, by Juliet Blackwell. This series was recommended to me by a co-worker who knows I enjoy cozy mysteries much like she does.
Mel Turner is the owner of Turner Construction, the business that her father ran until Mel's mother's death two years prior to the opening of the book. She stops in to check on a house that a friend of hers is planning to renovate and sell in a tony neighborhood in San Francisco. The night before, he had invited friends and some celebrities he knew to a DIY Demolition party (against Mel's advice). Everything is trashed, and when Mel and her friend are talking, the friend's business partner shows up bleeding with his right hand missing. Soon after arriving at the hospital, the business partner dies, and Mel's friend is arrested.
Weird things start to happen - for instance, the business partner, Kenneth, shows up as a ghost, freaking out Mel and making her question her sanity - and as she tries to figure out what happened, she finds evidence that there was forgery of her name and company's services on documents, people and places associated with her start to get hurt or property ruined, and the police just don't seem that interested.
Between dealing with this, keeping tabs on her father, helping her friend's son and her ex-stepson deal with things, and trying to actually get some work done, she's got a lot on her plate. She learns from her father that her mother used to "sense" things the way she does.
So much more goes on, but you get the gist. This book was enjoyable because the characters were interesting, the story was about historical properties, which I always enjoy, and Mel's ability to see and talk to ghosts is presented in a non-schlocky way. She isn't quite comfortable with it herself, and of course is hesitant to bring it up to anyone else.
I will definitely read more in this series.
, by Ali Smith. I had been looking forward to reading this book, since I had heard good things about it. But after finishing the first section, I just couldn't get into the rest. After a couple of different tries, I gave up.
Maybe I'll try again sometime, but it just didn't work for me right now.
, by G.M. Malliet. I don't know how/where I heard about this book and mystery series (maybe one of the "If you read X, you might like these?"), but I really enjoyed this first book.
Max Tudor left MI5 work after an experience that killed his partner, and during his search for meaning, felt called to be an Anglican priest. Once his studies were completed, he found a position in a small English town called Nether Monkslip. He is finally starting to feel like the villagers are accepting him, and has come to know the individuals and their stories.
During the annual Harvest Fayre, a prominent - and annoying - woman is found dead, and appears that she ingested peanuts, and everyone knows she was highly allergic. So what happened? When detectives arrive from London to investigate, one of them who knows Max asks for his assistance finding out what happened.
This was a good book for the first in any series - the main character is compelling, and the supporting characters all unique enough that you enjoy finding out about them. The story moves along well and there are details but not too many, so that the ending is pretty satisfactory. I will definitely read more in this series.
, by Allison Brook. This was a good introduction to this series.
Carrie Singleton is living with her aunt and uncle and working at the Clover Ridge Public Library in Connecticut when the book opens. She has been a bit of a nomad, job and otherwise, and is thinking it might be time to move on again, when the director offers her the position as Manager of Prorgramming and Events. The director wants an answer ASAP, so Carrie decides to give it a try. This angers another long-time staff member, who tells Carrie that not only is she not qualified, but that she only got the job because her uncle (who is on the board) insisted that the job be offered to her.
Carrie is doing pretty well, and is happily looking forward to her first program, where a retired detective who is writing a book will announce that after having messed up the case years before, he finally knows who killed a woman with a husband and family, who also happened to work at the library. Shortly after the program begins, the detective drops dead.
Carrie realizes that she needs to try and figure out just what happened. Along the way, she gets help from the aunt of the librarian who is mad at her, who just happens to be a former staff member ... and a ghost. The murdered woman also worked at the library. Carrie has to settle in to a new job and find a killer. In the course of things, she finds new friends, a romantic interest, and some new self-confidence.
I'm not saying more so as to avoid spoilers, but this is an enjoyable read, with a lot of interesting characters. The ghost librarian is done in a way to be a helper to Carrie, rather than a spooky presence. And at least for me, I didn't suspect the killer until nearly the end.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
, by Kate Summerscale. I've been wanting to read this book for a while, since the story detailed within it has been said to have created the detective mystery. And I do love detective stories!
This is the story of a murder of a child in the 1860s in suburban London. It was only recently that detective squads had been created, and the public was doubtful about their value. When Detective Whicher is sent to investigate the murder of Savile Kent, he uses his abilities to determine that the murder must have been committed by the older half-sister. The investigation is already questionable as far as the family and the townspeople are concerned, because they do not really trust Whicher, and the idea that someone is asking questions of members of the upper and upper middle class is both shocking and to some extent, unacceptable.
The book is not just about the murder and its aftermath, but also about the rise of the roles of detectives and detective fiction. I found it to be interesting, but not the best book I've ever read. Having said that, I am glad that I finally got the chance to read it.
Turkey Trot Murder
, by Leslie Meier. Lucy Stone is making every attempt to train for the Turkey Trot, a run that will happen in her small Maine town on Thanksgiving Day. During one of her training runs, she discovers a young woman's body in the icy lake. This sets into motion a series of disturbing events, as the young woman was the daughter of a controversial millionaire who lives in town with his second wife, a young and very pregnant woman.
The late girl's father is also a major "America Only" type, reminiscent of Donald Trump with his views towards Mexicans. When a new restaurant is being opened in an old space in town, trouble starts because the followers of the girl's father have rallies and protests that become violent while trying to prevent the restaurant's opening.
There was a lot more happening in this book than usually in this series. Perhaps because Lucy's character has developed, and the author feels more comfortable making her more of a person living in the world we all share.
, by Tim Pears. This was the next book in our reading aloud sessions between my husband and myself. It is a really interesting book, full of period detail, as well as giving you a true sense of life on a rural estate in England prior to World War I.
The primary family in the book is that of a farmer on an estate. You get to know not just the characters, but what their work entails, and how their lives rely as much on the animals around them, as the animals depend on them.
I really liked this book a lot, and was truly surprised by the way it ended. But I also can't wait for the next one in the series!
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death
, by Caitlin Doughty. A really interesting (and relatively short) book about how different cultures and locations not only view death, but what they do when a loved one dies. The American funeral industry has become big business, and the author's premise is that we are now more removed from death and dying than we have ever been.
There was so much interesting information here, and it makes you think about what you would really prefer for yourself when your death comes. I for one will give it serious thought and make sure that my loved ones know my preferences.
Death is hard enough to deal with, without having to go bankrupt and only hope you are doing the right thing for your loved ones.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd
, by Alan Bradley. Flavia de Luce is at it again. She has returned from her ill-fated trip to school in Canada, only to find that her father is in the hospital and she cannot visit him until he has a chance to try and rest. When she stops to visit the vicar's wife, and is asked to deliver a message to a wood carver who lives nearby, she finds him dead and hanging upside down.
Needless to say, Flavia is unwilling to simply let the police work the case. She begins her own investigation, which is not just full of twists and turns, but also leads to some really surprising relevations.
All of this is taking place at Christmastime, but unfortunately (for me only, I'm guessing) this is not really a "Christmas" book. But I'm always happy to spend time with Flavia, and see how she will figure things out. This was another excellent installment of this series, with a totally unexpected ending.
, by Susan Wittig Albert. This was an interesting read for a number of reasons. First of all, I thought it was a Christmas-themed book, but it takes place at Thanksgiving, which is fine with me because I seldom see books I want to read that include that holiday.
Anyway, one of the topics in this story is the imporation of deer from one state to another for "canned hunts," and how some of the deer are bred to have ridiculous antlers, aka "racks" which are of course the ultimate trophy.
China Bayles, the main character in this series, is preparing to visit her mother and stepfather for Thanksgiving. Shortly before she arrives, her mother calls to let her know that her stepfather is in the hospital with a serious heart problem. China worries, not just because she adores her stepfather, but because he and her mother are preparing to open a lodge on their property as a bird sanctuary. They have made arrangements for help, but the primary person they are relying on ends up murdered. China and her cohorts investigate to find out just what is happening, and if the woman's murder is related to the murder of a well-known and well-loved area veterinarian.
This is an excellent addition to the series. What I like about this series is that the books are very readable, whether or not you read the series, or even read it in order (which I do not, for the record).
A Christmas Visitor
, by Anne Perry. This is a short novella that is a good read.
Henry Rathbone is heading to the country at Christmastime to help a friend. His lifelong friend Judah Dreghorn has died after slipping on ice near a pond on his property and hitting his head. Judah's wife, Antonia, is Henry's goddaughter, and he will spend Christmas with her, the couple's young son, and Judah's siblings, all of whom are on their way but have not yet learned of his death.
One of the townspeople is badmouthing the late Judah, saying that the estate where he lives was stolen from him and that Judah is a cheater. As each character learns of Judah's death, and is puzzled by the circumstances, and then learn about the rumors being spread, they determine that Judah was murdered, mostly likely by the person spreading the rumors, a man who was sent to prison for 11 years by Judah and who was recently released.
The main characters begin to investigate to not only find out what happened, but to clear their brothers' name.
This was a short but intense story, with interesting characters and a plot that is effective and moves quickly.
We Wish You a Murderous Christmas
, by Vicki Delany. This was the second book I read in this series, and it was actually better than I was expecting.
Merry Wilkinson owns a shop in Rudolph, New York, a town where Christmas is celebrated all year round - but Christmastime is even more special. As the town gets ready to pull out all of the stops for their upcoming Christmastime celebrations, a friend of Merry's parents who owns the Yuletide Inn suffers a heart attack. When the man's son - who Merry remembers as a particuarly unpopular high school classmate - returns to help out, they learn that he is the sole heir to the will, and that he has plans to develop the land where the Inn is located, and turn it into a budget place. People are up in arms, and soon the son is found stabbed to death on the grounds of the Inn.
For a good part of the book, Merry's father, who is a former mayor and longtime town Santa Claus, is the chief suspect. Between worrying about that, upset with the weather forecast that predicts warm temperatures and no snow, and the fact that people have begun cancelling their visits, things are getting tense in the town.
Even if the weather doesn't cooperate, no one wants to visit a town where the Santa is accused of murder.
Merry tries to find out what is going on, and only when things are looking their most grim, does a clue show up that eventually shows that her father is innocent.
There was more plot and character development in this book than in the first one. It was an enjoyable read.
Christmas at High Rising
, by Angela Thirkell. This was a really enjoyable collection of stories, only a couple of the directly related to Christmas, many with recurring characters.
It is leading up to and during World War II in England, and in these stories, various denizens of High Rising, a small village with many prominent citizens (a well-known biographer, a novelist, art afficionados) are all busy with various activities.
My favorite stories deal with a group of children who are friends, and whose parents all know and tolerate each other. The one child in particular - Tony - is someone that we have all known in childhood and later, and the reaction of the adults is particularly entertaining.
Deck the Hounds
, by David Rosenfelt. This book was really an enjoyable read. Though it is the 18th in this series, I didn't feel puzzled about anything because I had not read the previous books.
Andy Carpenter is a criminal defense lawyer who is able to retire because of an inheritance, but who keeps getting sucked into cases, usually via his wife. In this book, it's Christmastime, and a homeless man has been attacked, and his dog bit the attacker. As Andy gets to know the man, he realizes that his background as a soldier in Iraq has left him with PTSD. As the Carpenters move to help him and get his dog back to him, they learn the man has been accused of murder. But the circumstances don't add up.
Andy begins to investigate, and things get complicated but also very interesting. The story soon becomes one of greed, mob involvement, and things weave in several different directions.
I thought this was wellk-written and really interesting, and can see myself reading more in the series.
That's that - now on to 2020, and a hopefully "acceptable" number of books by the end of the year. ;-)
What have you read that you did or didn't like recently? Let me know!