Mount Mansfield, Vermont, from My Hotel Bedroom (Dec. 2017)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Current Books, Including a Thrilling Gothic by John Boyne

Winter continues unabated. Tonight the temperature will drop to 1 degree F. Unheard of for mid-March. But I'm loving it! There's nothing  like heaping loads of blankets on the bed at night.

Oh, am I ever thrilling to This House is Haunted by John Boyne, author of the well-known young adult novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The gothic is set in 1867, principally on an estate in Norfolk. The narrator  is a 21-year-old, well-educated young woman who impulsively abandons her home in  London the week after her father's untimely death to take the position of governess at a stately mansion. Problems arise when she arrives and discovers that there are no adults present in the household. There are only her charges Isabella, aged twelve, and her brother Eustace, aged eight. No parents, no servants, no one, except for an older man who sees to the stables and barnyard animals.

This novel also has ghostly appearances, but they are subtly treated and the book does not overlap into the paranormal genre.  I simply have been unable to put the book down. Boyne's style, his tone, his originality most of all, have made this a delightful read for this Gothic-loving reader. I will hate to see it end, and I am three-quarters through. Sigh.

I am now listening to Tina Fey's Bossypants. Parts  of it are so funny, I have been unable to wash dishes safely, or  exercise. I really need to listen to it sitting in the middle of a very large bed, so I don't fall over the side, laughing. Of course, some chapters are better than others, but still. Very funny.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Setting Straight a Less Than Stellar Reading Year

The snow has been falling all this month of March. It has snowed all day and last night. It's snowing now, and it will snow tonight, tomorrow, and the next day.

I don't mind this one bit. I feel as though I'm in a snow-globe cocoon. Getting a huge bulk of snow underfoot now means that Sasha and I will be able to keep our woods-loving selves free of mud for weeks to come. We will be free to traipse all over everywhere, with me in snowshoes of course and Sasha walking in my tracks. April is welcome to be as muddy as it likes, because by then the sun is high enough to dry out our dirt roads so that we have excellent road walking. I wish I had a good photo to post, but it needs to stop snowing first.

Okay--My conundrum:
I browsed through my list of books read in 2017, especially those I read in the first 3-4 months of the year and realized, with a start, that my 2018 reading has been nowhere near as satisfying as it was last year. In 2017, I enjoyed almost all of the books I read and I loved so many of them. I must blog a few posts about the stellar books of 2017, because I didn't do it at New Year's.

Things have improved with my last two books read in 2018, however.
First off has been an audiobook that has riveted me beyond realization. I wrote a bit of the premise of Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover in my last entry, when I had just started listening. When I penned that entry, I had no idea how tough a read (or listening experience) it would be.

 I must tell readers that at times Tara's story seemed unremittingly grim to me, especially when she was living in the grips of her parents' rigid fundamentalist beliefs without a way out. There are many, many incredibly frightening events that occur, BUT I did not even consider setting the book aside. It was too compelling, too well-written, and Tara's character was too strong to give up on her story.
I do heartily recommend this book because it has something to say to everyone who ever grew up in a close family. It has something to say to everyone who ever tried to live their dreams, and to live a life free from the shackles that hamstrung their parents.  But still, it is a challenging read.

I thoroughly enjoyed (and reveled in) Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Oh, Pym certainly was a proto-feminist, but her revelations about that, as portrayed through the first-person narrator Mildred, are subtle, yet at the same time, unmistakable, and revealed with Pym's recognizably droll humor.

Mildred, a woman in her thirties in the very early 1950s, lives solely on the small income left to her by her deceased parents. She seems to have never longed for a paying job or suffer the lack of one.
She has a second-floor apartment and a small attic space in a not prosperous London neighborhood, and must share a bathroom with the occupants of the first-floor apartment, who change from time to time.  Mildred is a hard-working member of her "High Anglican" church community, and she also volunteers for a charity that helps "elderly gentlewomen," who have fallen on hard times.

In this novel, Mildred keeps being swept up in her neighbors' and fellow churchgoers' difficult affairs of the heart. She, too, has a number of not entirely satisfactory relationships with single men but never seems to stop hoping. Until things change. And that's what makes this book worth the reading.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Books I'm Thirsting to Read

Heavy,  wet snow tomorrow after a spring-like week or more--perhaps my wishes have been answered.

I've been longing to read a book by Barbara Pym for weeks now. Finally the Penguin paperback of  Excellent Women (1952) has arrived, and I'm a quarter of the way through.   The only other book I've read of Pym's is Quartet in Autumn, which delighted me last year. And I can't wait to share my thoughts about this book very soon--most particularly the characters.

Late this afternoon, I pulled out my knitting and started listening to the recently published Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. It's the story of a girl and later, a young woman, who was raised in a survivalist culture in southern Idaho, and who managed to break free of her family, who had forbidden her and her siblings any education.

For those new to the topic of "American survivalists," many members of this small minority practice extreme religious fundamentalism and shun all the trappings of modern society. Many hide from public institutions, particularly those governed by the "Feds," but also from state and local governments. Like Tara Westover's father, many believe that the U.S. government is out to destroy them. They harbor extensive arsenals of weaponry, as Tara's father did, expecting slaughter from the federal government.
But Tara Westover makes it clear from the beginning that this book not about extremists--it's really about her journey and her education and her  "becoming" in the wider world.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

We're Melting: My Current Book Pile

Wednesday was a dreadful day for winter lovers. The thermometer rose to 64 degrees in my high-elevation northern wilderness region. Although I enjoyed sunning myself and reading on our balcony, all outdoor exercise--traipses into the woods or hikes on the road--were impossible. The road was squelching, deep-boot-covering mud. The trails were deeply water-logged.
It's cooled down a bit now, but nowhere near enough to be normal for February. Must we now face the end of winter sports for the season? I hope not! I'm praying for March cold and oodles of snowstorms. It's okay--I know I'm in total denial of climate change.

Books are a primary means of comfort at such times. I had to ditch Fire and Fury, my audio--knitting combo, by Michael Wolff. Halfway through was more than enough. I may pick it up later, but for now the daily New York Times is offering more scandalous fodder than Wolff's book.

I'm finishing Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, for the Now Read This Book Club, which will be featured on the PBS NewsHour on Wed. evening, Feb. 28th. I will be ready. A very worthwhile read. Please see previous posts for more about this book and a link to the Book Club.

Once more, just this week, I returned to Conn Iggulden's Stormbird, which I was reading in December in Vermont while it snowed endlessly. It's the first novel in his War of the Roses Series (four books). The emphasis is on wartime action and adventure, but I found enough to like in it to continue reading this 430-page book. I learned a lot about how battles were fought in the fifteenth century, and I will say that the details were interesting, though I would not want to read book after book about the details of additional battles in the prolonged struggle for dominance in England. Still, it was interesting to learn how desperately the French feared the English archers who faced them in the front lines. Good writing.

I am loving a wonderful book  about a spunky Bassett Hound, who came to stay at the home of the writer Hal Borland and his wife Barbara in northwestern Connecticut. Penny: The Story of a Free-Soul Basset Hound was published in 1972, but to me this book reflects the much simpler times of rural America in the 1950s.

Hal Borland was a naturalist, outdoorsman, and writer for the New York Times and an author of books on these topics. He was born in 1900 and died in 1978. His most popular book by far was The Dog Who Came to Stay, a story about a dog previous to Penny, who adopted the Borlands and became their beloved companion.  Penny the Bassett is quite another number--much more high-spirited, recalcitrant, and fiendishly devilish. But, all the same, I find it very relaxing and amusing to read about their struggles with this staunchly independent dog. Strangely, no human in this book, and there are many, has any clue or inkling how to train a dog, not even a little bit, which is what makes it so hilarious.  Oh, the poor, poor humans to be so tyrannized by a Bassett.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New English Crime Novel by Barbara Cleverly

My latest mystery is Diana's Altar, by Barbara Cleverly, a veteran English crime novelist. This novel is #13 in her Joe Sandilands crime series. A number of the early titles in the series take place in colonial India. Then Joe, a WWI veteran, swings back to England to work as a top investigator at Scotland Yard.  This one is Cleverly's latest in the series and was published in 2015.  It's set in Cambridge, England, during the early 1930s, just as many university students and a number dons are beginning to embrace communist ideals, causing MI5's and Scotland Yard's backs to raise hackles. 

Aside from that developing phenomenon, Dr. Adelaide Hartest, a low-status (though a daughter from a prestigious family), token woman in an all-male, prestigious medical practice, begins the novel by attending to two deaths on the same night, on All Hallows' Eve. One appears to be a suspicious suicide, a death by dagger, in a church known for its very odd Anglican vicar. The other is a death that Hartest clearly detects was a poisoning by arsenic in a country house owned by a money-purchased titled sir of ostentatious wealth.

Joe is very smart, funny, well-educated, and upper-class despite his choice of profession with MI5. He has tried and tried to betroth himself to Adelaide, who is resisting, according to her determination to retain her professional life. He supposes that she believes that marriage and professional commitment don't coexist for women at this time.

I was tipped off to this book by the Washington Post and NPR book critic, Maureen Corrigan, who gave this title a stellar review. I am enjoying it, I'm a third of the way through and longing for more, but I am despairing because I have only 5 days left with it before Overdrive claims the ebook back, without my consent. Overdrive is a tyrant that way.

And have you ever heard of Barbara Cleverly? This is the first I've learned of her. She was born in 1940 and is now 77. I'm very interested in trying one of the early, set-in-India, Joe Sandlilands books.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Buried in Snow and Fire and Fury and Other New Books

An Alberta Clipper that was supposed to provide us with 5 inches of snow has unloaded 14 inches instead. Believe me, we're not complaining. Magnificent snowshoeing today under a crystal-clear cobalt blue sky.  Wednesday will provide us with another significant storm.

I am nearly smothered by an avalanche of books. My February days are destined to have every spare second devoted to reading. As we all know, library holds always seem to drop at the same time, so my current reads are as follows:

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017), the February selection of the "Now Read This Book Club." I'm awe-struck by this historical/true crime nonfiction selection. Members of the  Osage Tribe, who had been removed to north-central Oklahoma in Osage County, became astoundingly wealthy in the early 20th century when oil was discovered on their territory. So wealthy, in fact, that they were able to afford grand houses, servants, top-of-the-line automobiles, and extravagant lifestyles. This altered status made them the totally unprotected targets of vengeful whites.  And therein lies this remarkable, true saga. I knew nothing about this stunning and alarming chapter in Native American history, as so many readers have commented about this eye-opening book.

I'm reading the final chapter of Peter May's 2015 novel Runaway, which is about a group of teens who flee their lives in Glasgow for what they hope will be rock 'n roll fame in London in 1965. More on this soon.

Still reading the fascinating Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Oh, gosh!! Here's how the following bit of news happened.  I needed to purchase an Audible audiobook before they took one of my book credits away, and on an impulse, I selected Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.

I'm 25 percent through and this is my verdict so far: Fire and Fury is sheer political entertainment. And because I listen while I'm knitting, I feel exactly like Madame DuFarge in A Tale of Two Cities.

Lots of the events presented in Fire and Fury, which Wolff says are fact, are already believed by the vast majority of Americans, save for the 30 percent of those who are "Trump's base." The rest of the stuff Wolff reports is believable, I suppose, based on public knowledge about the characters involved, though I will take nothing Wolff says as strict, unadulterated fact.
One of the tip-offs for me was a scene with dialogue between Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon that supposedly occurred at a so-called dinner party at Roger Ailes's home in Greenwich Village. Entertaining dialogue, of course. But reality? Doubtful, even though anyone who knows anything about Ailes and Bannon could certainly imagine such a conversation taking place. 

I've been trying for two days to complete this post, so I'll post it tonight, and post another very soon with the rest of the avalanche. Too many books descending all at once.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The "Now Read This Book Club" NYTBR and PBS Newshour

Okay, everyone. I finally (!) have a URL that leads to actual information about the PBS News Hour and The New York Times Book Review's joint venture, the "Now Read This" Book Club. The linking page does not say this, but supposedly, I have heard, that the Wednesday, January 31st broadcast of the PBS News Hour will have Jessamyn West, the two-times National Book Award winner and author of her most recent award-winning novel, Sing, Unburied Sing,  and she will be addressing readers' questions. Also, as I've mentioned, the title for February is supposed to be announced at that time. 

This is the first month of the book club. There is also a Facebook Page for the Club. The day I visited I really squirmed at some of the readers' comments,  and correspondingly at the replies they received. It would be nice if people didn't use an online book club as a firing squad, one way or the other.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Prairie Fires, Peter May, and NYTBR Book Club

I'm still reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. I'm thoroughly intrigued and I've been studying all the annotations, because they've been so interesting. The history and life stories are complex, which makes the reading even more of a pleasure. Though I read it for part of each day, I'm now only just over 200 pages, in this approximately 450 dense pages of a book. Not a single dull page, for anyone wanting to attempt it.

I just finished The Body in the Casket and enjoyed it. I'm now wanting to read the debut novel in the Faith Fairchild Mystery series, The Body in the Wardrobe, mostly because it won two awards--one was an Agatha for debut mysteries, and the other I can't recall at the moment.

I'm not sure what I will read for fun while I wait for the stand-alone, new Peter May mystery, Runaway, which is about Jack's difficult years as  an older teen in Glasgow, Scotland. I've read two out of the three of his Lewis Island Trilogy books, all except for  the third, Chess Man. I've gone madly superlative about Peter May before. The Lewis Island books are so dripping with setting and atmosphere, that they both ensnared and enchanted me. I can say that because I've read these books, I have absolutely no need to visit Lewis Island to find out what they're like.

I'd also like to mention that the New York Times Book Review is sponsoring a Book Club open to everyone, whether you're a subscriber or not, in conjunction with the PBS News Hour.  The first book,  for the month of January, is the 2017 National Book Award Winner, Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessamyn West. I'm sorry to say I didn't find out about all of this until this past Wednesday, BUT, evidently the author will (supposedly) be on the PBS News Hour on Wednesday, January 31st to discuss the book and respond to readers' questions and thoughts. The book for February will be announced during this broadcast. Dinner is nearing the final preparations, so I can say that there is a Facebook page for this. I wish it were not Facebook, but there we are.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Body in the Casket and Other Progress in Books

I'm halfway through the fun, witty, and oh so clever mystery, The Body in the Casket by Katherine Hall Page. It's the latest novel in the Faith Fairchild mystery series, published in early December 2017. I have read and admired others in the series, most recently The Body in the Snowdrift and The Body in the Sleigh. Our sleuth now has two older teenagers at home to add zest to her life and a thoroughly modern minister husband. Faith is the manager and chef suprima of her own catering business, Have Faith.  This mystery takes place during January, when her family and her business is ensconced in their suburban Boston enclave.  (Summers and vacations take them to an island in Maine, where a number of the mysteries take place.)

The premise; A former, successful Broadway producer wants Faith to cater a weekend birthday celebration for him. All of the guests were once (very strangely) involved in his last theatrical production, which (mysteriously) flopped, ending the productive careers of the birthday boy and a number of his guests. Much to her surprise, Faith has been hired primarily for her sleuthing prowess, and second for her catering skills. According to the former producer, one guest is intent on murdering him. Prior to the weekend, a top-of-the-line cushy coffin has been sent to the producer's address.

Perhaps needless to say, I'm luxuriating in the change of pace since my last read. The only problem is that this one has only about 225 pages. Sigh.

Other Book Updates: I'm still reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I've described in a previous post. Every page fascinates! Extremely worthwhile.

And any day now I have a Peter May mystery that will come in for a landing on my Nook, via SimplyE at the New York Public Library. This one is Runaway, which is May's latest, a 2017 publication. Can't wait for that.