Sunday, December 01, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So another week begins. And another month. And (amazingly) it's December!!! Don't know how that happened, but my calendar tells me it's true. Not a lot of time left in the year to finish up those TBR books on my list for 2019.

I'm not sure what, or how much I'll be reading this week. I've got oral surgery scheduled for Monday morning, and that most likely will put me out of commission for a couple of days. But I'm a little more than halfway through this one...

and hope to finish it up pretty soon.

If that happens, I might get back to one of the ARCs I really should have read a couple months ago...
Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout

Or maybe something just for fun:

I've read the first three books in this series of very quirky mysteries, and this is next in line.

So, here comes a brand new month of bookish adventures.

Happy reading, everyone!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Reading Report: The Body in the Wake

The Body in the Wake (A Faith Fairchild Mystery)
Written by Katherine Hall Page
HarperCollins Publishers
May 2019; 240 pages

Publisher's Description:
For the first time in years, Faith Fairchild has time for herself. Her husband Tom is spending days on the other side of the island using a friend's enhanced WiFi for a project; their son, Ben, after his first year in college, is studying abroad for the summer; and their daughter Amy is working at the old Laughing Gulls Lodge, now a revamped conference center. Faith is looking forward to some projects of her own. Her friend Sophie Maxwell is also spending the summer on Sanpere Island, hoping for distractions from her worries that she isn't yet pregnant. And the daughter of Faith's good friend Pix Miller is getting married to a wonderful guy . . . with a less-than-wonderful mother. Between keeping Sophie's spirits up and Pix's blood pressure down, Faith has her hands full. And that's before a body with a mysterious tattoo and connections far away from small Sanpere Island appears in the Lily Pond.
[Note: I received my copy of this book free of charge from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program, in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.]

The Faith Fairchild mystery series is one of the longest-running series around (this book is number 25!), and (obviously) one of the most popular. I haven't read any of the earlier books in the series, so I knew I was taking quite a chance when I requested this from Library Thing's Early Reviewer line-up. And it really wasn't surprising that I felt a bit lost right from the start. So many characters and relationships and past histories to figure out and catch up with — it left me feeling like an unwelcome guest at the party.

The book was a quick and easy read, but confusing. There were several subplots going on and quite a few references to happenings in other books in the series. Or at least, I'm assuming that's what they were referring to. After a while, I found myself skipping around in large parts of the narrative, looking for the "main" sections dealing with the actual crime that had been committed. They were not easy to find — really, there wasn't much of a mystery at all. Well, not one that seemed to matter much to anyone. And even if I were more familiar with this series, I think I'd still find that a little disappointing. Not sure if I could recommend this one, but for anyone tempted to try it, I'd definitely recommend reading some of the earlier books first.

Rating: ★★½

Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

2019 GoodReads Challenge.
2019 Print Only Challenge.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

So, another Monday. And another reading update. I've been in a bit of a reading slump for the last couple of weeks — hoping that changes soon. But I did pretty well last month. In October, I finished three recent books:

And one not-so-recent one:

My favorite of all those was Becky Masterman's We Were Killers Once, the 4th book in her Brigid Quinn series, and definitely worth the read. I thought both The Body in the Wake and The Shape of Night were disappointing, or at least not as entertaining as I expected. Hoping to post reviews of all them, sometime this week. Hmmm. Yes. We'll see how that goes.

And here's what I've got on my list for this month, if all goes well:

Sorry for the Dead, latest entry in the series of Josephine Tey Mysteries by Nicola Upson. I'm about midway through this one now, and liking it pretty well. I have a few complaints, but I'll save those for my review (if I ever manage to finish it).

The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves. This is the first book in Cleeves's new Two River series of mysteries. I know her Shetland series is very popular, but this will be the first time I've read anything by her. This one has gotten some glowing early reviews, so I have high hopes for it.

Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout — a follow-up to Strout's hugely successful Olive Kitteridge. That earlier novel won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and is well on its way to becoming a modern classic. And it's another book I've never read, I'm afraid; but I probably should read it before I launch into the sequel. So, that's something to think about.

Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith. I really loved Smith's earlier memoir, Just Kids. And this new book comes highly recommended by several readers I trust, so I've put it on my TBR list and hope to get to it before the end of the year. (Which is coming up really fast, ya'll.)

Well, that's definitely enough to keep me busy. Now all I need to do is go curl up with some good books. Nice assignment, right?

Happy reading this week, everyone!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Book Beginnings: Sorry for the Dead

Sorry for the Dead, by Nicola Upson (Faber & Faber, November 2019). These are the book's first sentences:
She waited on the step until Josephine was out of sight, then closed the front door behind her. The house seemed unnaturally quiet, and it took her a few moments to accept that she was finally alone.

About the Book:
In the summer of 1915, the sudden death of a young girl brings grief and notoriety to Charleston Farmhouse on the Sussex Downs. 
Years later, Josephine Tey returns to the same house—now much changed—and remembers the two women with whom she once lodged as a young teacher during the Great War. As past and present collide, with murders decades apart, Josephine is forced to face the possibility that the scandal which threatened to destroy those women's lives hid a much darker secret.

Initial Thoughts:

There's a sense of foreboding about that beginning, isn't there? And I'm wondering who "she" is and what she has to do with Josephine. I like it. I also like that the book is set (at least partially) during that between-the-World-Wars period I find so fascinating.

This is the latest entry in Nicola Upson's series of mysteries featuring a fictionalized version of another famous mystery writer, Josephine Tey (a pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh). It's the 8th book in the series, and I was a little afraid the fact that I haven't read any of the earlier books might be a problem. But, happily, that hasn't been the case — I haven't really had any trouble getting into the story, although it's turning out to be not exactly what I was expecting. Don't want to say too much more, in case I might give away a little too much about the plot. I'll just say I'm enjoying it quite a lot — enough so that I'm thinking I might want to read some of the earlier books. All good, so far.

Happy Friday, everyone! And happy reading! And have a lovely weekend.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Reading Report: The Last Romantics

The Last Romantics: A Novel
Written by Tara Conklin
William Morrow, 2019
354 pages

Publisher's Description:
A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. 
When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time. 
It begins in a big yellow house, with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden-boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected. Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and to ask what, exactly, they are willing to do for love. 
[Note: I received my copy of this book free of charge from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program, in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.]

I don't want to say a great deal about the plot of The Last Romantics because it would be very easy to give too much away and spoil the reading experience for others. But I will just say a word about that "Pause" mentioned in the synopsis. The Skinner children have their world disrupted after their father dies young and leaves their mother to cope with taking care of the family on her own. It's a task she can't handle, and she simply withdraws from the real world for a while, pretty much leaving the children to fend for themselves. By using incredible amounts of resourcefulness and relying heavily on one another, they manage to take care of themselves and their mother during that frightening time.

For the most part, I enjoyed The Last Romantics. I liked the atmosphere and the author's attention to detail. And I particularly empathized with her description of the children's lives during the "Pause," as I experienced something of the sort myself after my father died when I was ten years old.

However, there were a few things that bothered me as I read the book. I never was able to completely warm to any of the characters. The time setting wandered all over the place. Also, the feminism theme came and went, as though the author couldn't really make up her mind about it.

And I had problems with the voice and perspective of the book. Most of the time we're seeing things through the eyes and memory of Fiona, the main narrator. But then without warning, we're getting thoughts or situations or conversations that she wouldn't have been part of. I think I would have been more comfortable if there'd just been the ordinary omniscient narrator all the way through. Picky, I know — but it kept taking me out of the story.

Still, it's definitely a book I'd recommend and I'm grateful to the publisher and Library Thing for giving me the opportunity to discover an intriguing, new-to-me author.

Rating: ★★★½


Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

2019 GoodReads Challenge.
2019 Print Only Challenge.

Reading Report: Educated

Educated: A Memoir
Written by Tara Westover
First published February 2018
336 pages, Kindle edition

This is another book I read back in January, and it was certainly a powerful reading experience to start the year with.

Tara Westover's Mormon fundamentalist father was opposed to public education, so she never attended school. She spent her childhood and early adolescence working (and very nearly getting killed) in the family's junkyard, or learning herbal lore and midwifery from her mother, a self-taught healer. She had no birth certificate because her family didn't believe in registering with the state, and no medical records because they didn't believe in doctors or hospitals. What little education she got came from so-called home schooling, and she first set foot in a real classroom when she was seventeen. But after that first taste, she pursued learning for the next decade — eventually attending both Harvard and Cambridge.

This amazing memoir about growing up in an Idaho family preparing for the "end of days" is so fascinating and well-written, it actually reads like a novel. Some parts are hard to get through — child abuse is always ugly, even when (or maybe especially when) it's cloaked in religious nonsense. That she survived to tell the tale — and tell it so eloquently — is gratifying. That she can be so forgiving to her abusers is truly astonishing.

Rating: ★★★★

Note: I received my copy of Educated free of charge from the publisher, through the NetGalley website, in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.


Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

2019 GoodReads Reading Challenge.

Reading Report: The Janus Stone

The Janus Stone
Written by Elly Griffiths
First published 2010
337 pages, Kindle edition

Lately I really haven't been very faithful about posting reviews or reading reports here on the blog. I've posted reviews in other places, but not here — for some reason. And I regret that. I like to use my book blog as a record of what I've read and what I thought about it. So I'm going to try to play a bit of catch-up over the next week or so, and write a few words about some of the books I've read during this past year. Probably won't try to keep to chronological order, but I'm starting with one I did read back in January — The Janus Stone, by Elly Griffiths.

In the book, archaeologist Ruth Galloway, a forensics expert in Norfolk (England), gets called in to investigate when builders uncover the bones of a child in an area they're excavating for a new development. The headless skeleton has been buried beneath a doorway, in a fashion that suggests it could have been a ritual sacrifice. DCI Harry Nelson — someone Ruth has worked with in the past — must find out if this was indeed some sort of religious ritual, or straightforward murder. And he asks Ruth to help with the case.

The Janus Stone is the second book in Elly Griffiths' series of Ruth Galloway mysteries, and I should say right away that (as usual) I haven't read the first book of the series. Still, overall I enjoyed The Janus Stone quite a lot, although I definitely would have benefited from having read book number one first. There was a lot of to-do in this book about the goings-on in that earlier book and occasionally I felt a little lost. Not the author's fault, of course — it's always best to start reading a series at the beginning. My bad.

As I said, it was reasonably enjoyable, with a decent amount of suspense and atmosphere. And I liked the fact that Ruth is an adult with some life experiences behind her, and isn't portrayed as a raving beauty. She's quirky and enjoys her relatively solitary existence in a remote cottage with only her cats for company.

The one thing that really turned me off (and kept this from being a 4-star read) was the way Ruth's pregnancy and who the father might be becomes the main emphasis of the book about midway through. (**Sorry, but that's really not a spoiler: her "condition" is announced very early in the narrative.**) Well, that's the trouble with most books about expectant mothers: How can the coming event NOT be the most important thing in their lives? Which would have been OK if this hadn't been a whodunnit. In a thriller you really want the focus on the crime and its investigation. Baby bumps just get in the way.

Rating: ★★★


Qualifies for the following reading challenges:

2019 Calendar of Crime Challenge.
2019 Cloak and Dagger Challenge.
2019 Good Reads Challenge.