Reading: Mysteries: Veronica Speedwell returns, and the Mitford Sisters debut

Deanna Raybourn and Jessica Fellowes have me talking briefly about their new mysteries set in the past, escapism of the most delightful variety because the NOW is a little too much, so, take me back!

A Treacherous Curse (Veronica Speedwell #3), Deanna Raybourn, Hardcover, 352pp, January 2018, Berkley

In this, the third installment of the Veronica Speedwell series, we get more backstory on her partner in detecting, Revelstoke-Templeton Vane, aka Stoker, as the two investigate the disappearance of a man from Stoker’s difficult and storied past who did him a great wrong.

I am a huge fan of Veronica; she is one of my must-reads along with Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin, and Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of Three Pines. It is a comfort and a pleasure to have a new adventure with an old friend, especially when you know you can count on reliably amusing and skilled work from a talented author.

Deanna Raybourn imbues Veronica Speedwell with a wit, intelligence, spine, and lust for life that is refreshing and encouraging. I want to be her. In this episode she tangles with Egyptian artifacts, ancient curses, current secrets and scandals, and, as always, the conventions of the times against which, when she brushes up, she quickly dispenses with, making her own way in her own way, unafraid and with great style and aplomb. Too, the language and period detail so seamlessly delivered in these pages, offered in context so it is clear about what is being said, its meaning, its use, is the sign of a truly talented and thoughtful author. Deanna Raybourn manages not only to regale us with a cracking good story in a page-turning thrill ride, but she also educates and delights along the way. Much admiration for her.

Speaking of which, too, if you haven’t, you ought to follow Deanna Raybourn on Twitter [click HERE], because she is every bit as charming, witty, intelligent, and possessed of great style and aplomb as her creation, Veronica.

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1), Jessica Fellowes, Hardcover, 432pp, January 2018, Minotaur Books

Louisa Cannon, a poor, young woman from the lower-classes in 1919 England, in an effort to escape her abusive uncle, manages to land a position in the household of the Mitfords — the real Mitfords given fictional life in this, the first in a series by Jessica Fellowes.

Louisa becomes close to daughter, Nancy, who yearns to escape the nursery and become an adult, and on the way to her 18th birthday celebration and becoming a grown-up, she and Louisa become involved in a mystery to do with the death of Florence Nightingale Shore — another real person made fictional whose murder actually did go unsolved. Not here.

Through a series of adventures and misadventures, a twisty plot of missteps and mistaken (or stolen?) identities, and connections as intricate and dependent upon one another as the spokes of a well-woven spider’s web, mysteries are solved, love found and lost, redemption achieved, and villains vanquished; all of this done with style and quickly paced, a lovely distraction of despicable behavior made entertaining.

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So, there you have it, my dears: two delicious diversions from current events into which I sank myself, with much gratitude, over the past few days. I’ve been busy with family and dear friends and my own medical adventures, so I really look forward at day’s end (or in doctors’ office waiting rooms) to having an engrossing other world and time into which I can sink. If you, too, need to get away, both of these are great choices, along with my other favorite series mentioned earlier.

Okay, people await my presence. So, here I am, going.

 

READING: 2016: The Comfort of Words

I was one of those book-loving children, oft told, “Why don’t you go outside and play?” Well, perhaps because outside in the real world I felt, at best, tolerated, while,  inside books, I celebrated with friends who saw life like I did and, more important, their stories promised the possibility of belonging and thriving with people of my own kind, a comfort I hadn’t yet found in my day-to-day life where my earliest memories have to do with hiding who I was and how I felt.

While much is different, right now, it seems too little has changed. And 2016 has left me once more burrowing into the comfort of books, resisting the world outside my little bubble wherein I can keep believing the world is made of Love and Light, and all people are, at the core and essence, good.

I read 125 books in 2016 and whether or not it was this cursed year itself distracting me, or perhaps my advancing age and weakening faculties, only a few made lasting impressions. As I go through the list there are many about which I recall very little, except disappointment. In 2017 I intend to be more careful about taking recommendations because often the books about which others are abuzz do so little for me as to infuriate me into believing I’ve been misled by shills or ad placements masquerading as journalism. But, I’m not going to talk about those books, this is about the books I loved — or, if I didn’t exactly love them, I was moved, influenced, impressed.

What Belongs To YouBOOK OF THE YEAR: WHAT BELONGS TO YOU, by Garth Greenwell  There is nothing more to say. I started talking about it while reading the first pages in January and I haven’t stopped since. And many esteemed critics, publications, and remarkably literate people of exquisite taste have also loved it and included it on awards and year-end lists. Click here for my original post about it from February 1, 2016.

AND OTHER LOVES . . .  I’m not going to do a top ten or anything like that. This is a casual chat between friends about the books I remember most and most fondly from the past twelve months.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, by Elizabeth Strout was a study in emotional precision. In a not very long book, Ms. Strout told many stories about the ways in which love can fail. And survive. With not one wasted word or space.

WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, by Idra Novey was one of my very favorite novels of this year and NPR agreed, including it in the Best of 2016. It’s quite a bit more than that. Shaped of incongruously and impossibly beautiful sentences begging to be read out loud, this novel is layer upon layer of truth and effect and reality and fantasy and a literary banquet of pathos and ecstasy quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I read it twice in a row, which I rarely do, because there is so much there there.

Click here for my original write-ups about My Name Is Lucy Barton and Ways To Disappear.

There was a longish dry-spell for me from February to May during which the books I read were not — for the most part — awful, but they didn’t get me really excited. Then came May and:

Tuesday Nights in 1980TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980, by Molly Prentiss which was engaging and intriguing and filled with well-drawn and fascinating characters, and a compelling existential conundrum: What makes us who we are? If we lose the gifts and quirks we think define us, what’s left of us? And it was hella fun too, set in the art world of the 80s with kick-ass detail and capture of the era. This, too, like What Belongs To You, and Ways To Disappear, is a debut novel, and, like those, it is written with an assurance and command promising even more greatness in the future. I can’t wait for the second releases from these three. Click here for my original write-up about Tuesday Nights In 1980.

Next, during the summer, I fell in love with:

THEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO, by Cathleen Schine which was the first of her writing I had read and I loved that it had an octogenarian main character and explored the guilts of parenting, childhood, and family so well and with such tenderness, truth, and humor. And, too, the summer brought me:

THE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS, by Jane Hamilton which was another grand and touching exploration of family dynamics.

Click here for my brief write-ups about They May Not Mean To, But They Do and The Excellent Lombards.

And, finally, my summer was made fantastic by the release of:

A GREAT RECKONING, by Louise Penny which is the twelfth in the Inspector Gamache series. Armand Gamache and his creator, Louise Penny, are both people I would like to be. This series is so much more than a chain of mysteries; it is the embodiment of a world, a community, a magical place difficult to find because it is largely unmapped and out of reach of wi-fi — a dream world full of marvelous people who are quirky and brilliant and angry and flawed and human and friends. I feel they are my friends, my people. Click here for my original blog about A Great Reckoning.

September brought me a wonderful new (to me) writer recommended by Ann Patchett, who happened to have her own September release. But first:

dream-lifeTHE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS: STORIES, by Patrick Ryan which was a glorious collection, unconnected but connected. I went on and on about this book in my original blog — Click here for my write-up about Mr. Ryan’s The Dream Life Of Astronauts — but do you really need me to tell you read this when Ann Patchett has already told you to? Get busy. Then, if somehow you haven’t, it’s time for:

COMMONWEALTH, by Ann Patchett herself. This is another exploration of complicated family dynamics and angers and loves and losses, like so many of the books by which I was moved this year, and it is unsurprisingly brilliant. Ms. Patchett’s deceptively simple style is incredibly complicated and complex, with an eye for detail and the telling moment un-equalled today. Click here for my original blog about Commonwealth.

Now, the thing. My next much-moved-by books were read in November and since the election I have been unable to focus enough to blog about books. I have been reading like a mad-man. Which, in many ways on many levels with many different meanings, I am. I am near crazy from the results. Flabbergasted and disbelieving, still in denial. I am angry unto furious as in enraged that the election was stolen and, far worse, that sixty-two million people in this country are bigoted, misogynist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, racist, mocking the differently-abled, okay with sexual predators, cretins. I don’t want to hear any excuses about how not everyone who voted for him is all those things — for me, that is bullshit. He clearly exemplified all of those horrifying traits, and/or appealed to those who did and if they voted for him, they are at some level guilty of those things. It is horrifying to me. HORRIFYING.

So, as I finish this up, there are no book-blog-entries to which to refer you. I am reading to numb myself, like I did as a child, and to convince myself that a world and a people exist where I am welcome and honored. So, here we go:

underground-railroadTHE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, by Colson Whitehead which was almost as brilliant as everyone said it was HOWEVER, I remained bitter and didn’t read it for quite a while because I thought Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You should have made the short list and won, hands down. I still do, but Mr. Whitehead’s work was definitely salient and topical and relevant and well-done.

mothersTHE MOTHERS, by Brit Bennett made me laugh and cry and rage and lust and all the things a grand novel ought to do. I read it in that rarer and rarer “what’s going to happen next” mode, I had to keep going. I found its construction fascinating and the characters compelling and I liked it much more than I had expected to — because it had been so hyped, I feared it was another pet of the insiders club. Maybe it was, but this one deserved it. And, then, from Twitter-folk I found –

phantom-limbsPHANTOM LIMBS, by Paula Garner which was another very promising debut novel by a writer I heard about from Twitter (although we do not follow each other) and I am glad I believed and took a chance on this one. Again, a plot in which one of the main characters has lost a close family member — little surprise that this interests and touches me — but there is nothing maudlin or cloying or manipulative in this, and Ms. Garner captures the voices of teens quite brilliantly.

And so ends my 2016 wrap-up. I know there are a few days left, but I am not going to finish another new-to-me book. I am busy re-reading Helene Hanff and Garth Greenwell.

I re-read Ms. Hanff every year because she takes me back to my past, when my dear aunt and I shared books, passed them back and forth, talked about them, and marveled. My aunt believed I would move to New York and be a Broadway star or a writer or someone who somehow managed to live at the Algonquin. She’d wanted to be Edna St. Vincent Millay and I wanted to be Dorothy Parker-slash-Mary Martin. What was most amazing about the two of us, the love we shared, was that for each other — to each other — we already lived at the Algonquin and were our own versions of Millay-Parker-Martin.

I would very much like to have such a love again. I never have come close. I doubt I will.

So, there’s another part of me which makes soul-connections, usually brief, intense, naked and raw and passionate in an entirely different way, and that part of me seemed to be known and understood and written about from the center of truth by Garth Greenwell in What Belongs To You. It spoke to my soul. And it was a fantastic piece of literature with transparent and glorious technique.

So, I’m hanging on by a thread by blanketing myself in Hanff and Greenwell, memories of what was (and wasn’t) and trying to believe believe believe that maybe, some day, I can feel connected again and welcome in the world — despite the sixty-two million assholes who wish me gone, consider me unequal, and voted to abrogate my rights.

I’m being told by a few the equivalent of “Go outside and play” but I am not so inclined. Not right now. So, here I am, NOT going. And, although I want to say Happy New Year, I dasn’t tempt fate.

 

 

 

Reading: 33 Books Of My Summer

From June 1 to August 31 I moved for the third time in four years, did six (or was it seven?) house and pet-sitting gigs, visited the doctor repeatedly for a gastrointestinal disorder that has been going on for three years, and read 33 books.

And you know what? I hate moving but I love my new apartment, love living with my sister, am grateful for the house and petsitting jobs, and today visited a gastroenterologist who seems to be determined to help me, which would be enough in itself, but, too, he is almost a dead-ringer for Raza Jaffrey—

 

— after whom I have lusted since I first saw him wasting himself on Katharine McPhee on SMASH, (FULL DISCLOSURE — I was ALWAYS Team-Ivy, and have seen Megan Hilty in multiple Broadway shows as well as in concert — a lot — twice in one night, in fact, when she did THIS —

–holy shit I love her so MUCH! And I am scheduled to see her again with my dear Team-Ivy and gastrointestinal distress cohort, A, in December — I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, A!!!!) and, my dears, to have the luxury of a life in which I can read 33 books over the course of a summer — I am NOT complaining, in fact, I am expressing my gratitude to the universe and to you people for reading me.

And, since this is SUPPOSED to be about the books I have read this summer, ha, here I am, going, offering short summaries of my summery-reads arranged by date read.

Think TwiceTHINK TWICE (Rosato & Associates #11) by Lisa Scottolinethis was my first Lisa Scottoline and I wonder how I have missed her up until now? On the other hand, grateful I now have a lengthy backlist to savor. Well done, fast paced, nicely plotted, moves like a bullet-train.

THE ASSISTANTS by Camille PerriA fast read about those living privileged lives which are not privileged enough; explores in a satirical way the damage done by sexism and classism, but, almost admires the capitalist destruction of self. Torn about it. But, funny, well structured, and, again, very fast.

THE NEST by Cynthia D’Aprix SweeneyMore privileged people dissatisfied with their level of privilege. Why are all the “summer reads” this year so obsessed with the haves who feel they haven’t enough and act execrably because of it?

MOST WANTED by Lisa ScottolineMy second Lisa Scottoline read since “discovering” her earlier in June. This, a plot involving sperm donor being a serial killer and mother-to-be determined to get to the truth of it all. It moves. It goes. It does what you want it to do and gives you what you want. I like that in a sperm donor and a book.

Our Young ManOUR YOUNG MAN by Edmund WhiteI have read almost everything Edmund White has written from A Boy’s Own Story to City Boy to The Joy of Gay Sex to the Proust and Genet biographies. He is a part of my history, a part of the history of all gay men of my generation. He broke ground. He pushed. He pulled. He succeeded. He failed. He blazed trails. And I will honor him and every word he writes for as long as he writes.

THE GIRLS by Emma Cline I liked this. I marvelled at the insight of an author so young, in particular her ability to capture the feeling of the late sixties and early seventies, and the lamenting, ennui, and patina of regret & disappointment coloring the remainder of the lives of survivors of the radicalism & extreme believing of the time. That said, not quite sure it was worth all the summer-buzziness it got, but, there it is. I have come to think nearly all buzzy-books have more to do with who is marketing them as opposed to how well they read, if that makes sense.

Then and NowTHEN & NOW: A MEMOIR by Barbara CookIt’s Barbara Cook, who is such a part of my life, so integral to my experience and the stories of who I am, it is as if she is a close, personal friend. She is that sort of talent, that sort of love, and so whatever she sings, says, offers, acts, writes will always be a five-star event for me.

THE CHILDREN by Ann Leary Fast summer read. I found the ending a bit less than satisfying and the characters’ traits seem sometimes pasted on and pat rather than earned and true, but, all hail a writer who has a plot and moves things along and doesn’t indulge in MFA-fuckery.

THE DEADLY DANCE (Agatha Raisin # 15) by M.C.Beaton

I love Agatha, and in this episode she begins her own detective agency, which has given her a welcome increase in the bite and spark which was very much on display in earlier installments and which had faded into a less interesting near-nastiness in the last couple — although I still loved visiting with her in those, too. But, hoorah for this turn!

GRACE: A NOVEL by Natasha DeonThe writing was well-calibrated in that “I’ve been workshopped a lot” sort of way, but I found it difficult to follow the time-jumping narration, its back and forthing, perhaps because its voices were all too much the same, needing more individuation. And I thought it went on longer than it needed to. And it was very hard to take, its tragedies were painful to bear.

THE UNDERGROUND MAN (Lew Archer # 16) by Ross MacdonaldMy first Macdonald, though this is 16th in Lew Archer series. It transcends the faux-detective-noir-ish sort of genre: he is a true pro at this, a master. The plot was twisty, the characters well-defined, the writing phenomenally evocative. Had I not read Eudora Welty’s review of it, and known her fondness from MEANWHILE THERE ARE LETTERS — the brilliant collection of the correspondence between the two — I’d have missed Mr. Macdonald’s work.

They May Not Mean to But They DoTHEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO by Cathleen SchineI loved this book. Quite the brilliant exploration of the love, guilt, manipulation, anger, joy, forgiveness, and insanity of being family. The insight into an octogenarian main character was a refreshing change of pace from the usual senior character portrayals in fiction. Read this if you have parents. Or kids. Or, a family.  ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN by Lisa JewellWell constructed, suspense-thriller-ish novel, fast read with a young adult vibe, great for a hot summer day. Again, though, maybe a little more media-buzzed/hyped than warranted.

SWEETBITTER by Stephanie DanlerA very fast read & well done, the writing is lovely, here and there one comes across a stunning insight, but, in the end, it felt cheated and posed, like one of its major characters, Simone. Somehow not all it was pretending to be, a little pretentious and too much muchness. Still, I do recommend you read it, but, again, buzzy-hype warning.

Some Enchanted EveningsSOME ENCHANTED EVENINGS: THE GLITTERY LIFE AND TIMES OF MARY MARTIN by David Kaufmanmy dear aunt, Sissie, adored Mary Martin, and thus, so did I. She was and is a legend, the likes of which we won’t see again. Annoyed this book did things like call Rose in GYPSY Mama Rose, and misspell Minnie in HELLO, DOLLY! as Mini. Sloppy for a book about musical theatre. And the author seemed determined from the outset to prove that Mary Martin really wasn’t as nice as she pretended to be, making sure to find lots of people who had issues with her. A bit bitchy, I think, but, still, I devour anything with old-Broadway gossip so, I loved it, though it felt somewhat disrespectful to do so.

THE INNOCENTS (Quinn Colson #6) by Ace Atkins

I didn’t read the first 5, nor have I read any previous Ace Atkins, but this was a great noir. Dark, full of uncomfortably real, small-town, small-mind ignorance and hate to which Quinn Colson stands up. I liked it. Fast read. Well done.

MODERN LOVERS by Emma StraubThis is an easy read, short chapters, many interesting characters, well constructed. What kept me from 4-starring was its lack of exploration of the possibility of happiness outside coupledom, or, the absence of an examination of how that cultural assumption might be a kind of bigotry/hindrance. But, as far as buzz-hype-y summer books, this one came rather closer to deserving the noise than did most of the others.

Excellent LombardsTHE EXCELLENT LOMBARDS by Jane HamiltonI am a fan of Jane Hamilton; reading her is akin to hearing a great & beloved friend share a personal story. I enjoyed this book very much, until the last few pages, by which I was a bit confused and then felt abandoned, as if the story had no ending, as if I’d been left hanging. I needed (wanted?) more closure, which is perhaps more about me than about the book, and even with that I am saying ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK (Amelia Peabody #1) by Elizabeth PetersI liked this but I did not love it the way I expected to. I expected to because so many of my Twitterati pals love this series. I will probably try the next one at some point and see if it grows on me.

TRYING TO FLOAT: COMING OF AGE IN THE CHELSEA HOTEL by Nicolaia RipsFurther proof one should wait until one is older to write a memoir. I expected from copy and write-ups it would be about characters in the hotel, but, not really. It was about a young girl’s journey, which is fine, but not how it was marketed.

AN INNOCENT FASHION by R.J.HernandezI began to suspect about halfway in this novel of mordant wit & fashion publishing industry insider roman a clef surface, was a much deeper look at society, class, and the illusions and delusions of millenials (and all of us) which would turn out to have a less than happy ending. I think, in fact, it is one of the saddest stories I have read in some time. Well written, yes, but ultimately bleak.

ROBERT J. PARKER’S KICKBACK (Spenser #43) by Ace AtkinsI am newly addicted to Ace Atkins. He is smart, witty, and moves a story. Things happen and the voices in which he writes always interest and amuse and compel. Nice work.  

BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellowes I wanted it to be Downton Abbey. It wasn’t. A bit predictable and it felt, to me, and I’m sorry to be negative, calculated: a formula written for reasons other than the author being compelled to tell a cracking good tale.

IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam HaslettA family, a history of mental illness, well written. Moved when I read it, three weeks later I had forgotten the plot and had to read reviews to remind myself. Maybe the intense relationships/actions within a family destroyed by depression caused me to block it out. Maybe not.  Nice cover design.

LOST GIRLS: AN UNSOLVED AMERICAN MYSTERY by Robert KolkerRecommended by a number of people I follow on Twitter. I found it confusing — the structure and jumping about was extremely difficult to follow — and, finally, it felt as if the whole enterprise was without thesis or point, really. As in, whatever he meant to do, didn’t — for me — get done. And I think it would have benefitted from stronger editing.

SWEET LAMB OF HEAVEN by Lydia MilletNot for me. I read books from every genre, and I am fine with authors playing with those, but this seemed an ill-conceived mish-mash of indecision about what it ultimately wanted to be and say, what story it meant to tell, and I ended up feeling disappointed and annoyed.

YOU WILL KNOW ME by Megan AbbottAnother hot-buzzy-summer read, especially because it came out during Olympics season and was set in competitive gymnastics milieu. I worked around competition parents for many years; those kids, those teachers, those parents, nuts and totally capable of murder. Fast read. Fun. Sad. The real crime is the ruination of kids for distorted, so-called American dream.

DAMAGED (Rosato & DiNunzio #4) by Lisa Scottoline –  Obviously, this summer I became a fan of Ms. Scottoline’s. Her plotting, pacing, and characters are reliably fine and this novel also offered lots of relevant information about the foster care system; and, perhaps slightly unbelievable but much welcome happy endings for everyone. I’m good with that.

THE LOST GIRLS by Heather YoungI wanted to like this more than I did. I wish I had an in-depth understanding of why it didn’t capture me as it ought, but I don’t. Taking nothing away from the writing, which really was quite good, but somehow I knew too early what was going to happen & I felt a bit emotionally manipulated, and maybe by August 21, when I read it, I was exhausted by so many “buzzy” summer reads being just not nearly as fun and hype-worthy as I’d been press-repped into believing they’d be. Which is maybe why my next book was —

perfect paragonTHE PERFECT PARAGON (Agatha Raisin #16) She is one of my reliable loves, Agatha Raisin, as is her fabulous author, M.C.Beaton. I have all of the books, up through 25 waiting to be read (I’m saving up for 26 and soon to be released 27) but am rationing myself. It’s a real comfort knowing 17 awaits me when next I need a visit with someone on whom I can count, and my dear Agatha is always SUCH A DELIGHT!

UNDER THE HARROW by Flynn BerryA promising debut; I like being unable to tell whether or not the narrator is reliable; I thought the ending was a bit unearned, as in, perhaps too facile. But so admire the ability of authors to build mysteries, what a gift.

Penny, Louise A Great Reckoning 2A GREAT RECKONING (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #12) by Louise PennyI cannot briefly express my love for this book, for all the Gamache books, for the artistry of Louise Penny, so, check my blog earlier this week for a complete review, just click here: A GREAT RECKONING — my appreciation. ONE OF MY TOP SUMMER PICKS.

PARADISE LODGE by Nina StibbeThis was — sorry to use such overused words — a charming and delightful read. Funny. Touching. Lovely tale of a fifteen-year-old young person coming into her own while working in a home for the elderly. Truly enjoyable.

So, there it is. I’ve managed to write about 33 books in under 2500 words, which, if you know me at all, must be some sort of miracle at work. Oh, right, I am, after all, MiracleCharlie. One day I’ll talk about how I got that name, but for now, here I am, going, off to finish reading an old Nabokov I’d missed and a new Tama Janowitz memoir which is — so far — delighting me. Happy Labor Day, dear ones. Much Love and Light and HAPPY READING!

 

 

 

Reading: 3 Months, 25 books – I suck as a book-blogger

Since July, when last I blogged about my reading, I’ve finished 25 books, and gotten my first library card in 30 years, the getting of which has changed my reading habits – again. With library access, I am more likely to try something new, take a chance on a recommendation about which I’ve doubts, choose to try something not 100% my usual-thing. When I am paying for books, I need be cognizant that my declining years are fast approaching and even a cardboard box has upkeep costs. So, I’m trying to buy only those things I know I am going to want to keep for long, slow reading, or re-reading, or to write in, or, too, classics I have long meant to acquire, and, of course, those written by Twitter-pals (or, you know, authors I stalk) who I know could use the sales.

So, I will try not to bore you with needlessly long recaps of all 25 books I’ve finished (you could follow me on GoodReads – click here – if you really want to know; in fact, DO, because I only have 21 friends there) but, I do want to talk about some at least a bit.

Raybourn, Deanna

Click on cover for details about the book.

One of my goals this year was to read across genre, outside my comfort zone. I spend so much time advocating for all sorts of equality, it struck me as hypocritical that I was pooh-poohing whole categories of writing. So, now, I try to “get around” as they used to say in high school – and play with all the groups.

I continued my exploration of romance writing (because, god knows, real-life romance is completely out of the question), tasting two supernatural-sort-of-other-world-beasty-creature novels; Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson and Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison. They were kicky enough and fun, but, I think, much to my surprise, I’m more of a regency guy. I’m number 2 in library-line for Deanna Raybourn‘s (follow her here on Twitter, she’s a delight) newest, A Curious Beginning, and am eager to get to that.

dangerous fiction

Click on cover for more information.

Speaking of Twitter-folk-I-follow; new pal, Barbara Rogan (follow her here on Twitter, she’s pretty delightful too) wrote a literary-world mystery which I enjoyed immensely and am hoping is the first in a series: A Dangerous Fiction: A Mystery. I loved its insider knowledge of the publishing world and its clever plotting and vivid characters.

I also allowed myself two more in the Agatha Raisin series; #13: Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate; and #14: Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House. If you’ve not yet become addicted to M.C.Beaton’s delightful Agatha, quick, drop everything and get started.

I like my series – as you can tell – they are comfort books — like grilled cheese sandwich and tomato-basil soup between covers — full of friends and characters to whom I can return, authors who will deliver what I expect with well-wrought prose and fast-paced, interesting plotting. So, I read a John Sandford and a Harlan Coben and a Rhys Bowen (from Her Royal Spyness series) and an Alan Bradley (from his Flavia de Luce series) too.

Nature of the Beast

Click cover for more information about book.

And, speaking of series, if I had to choose a favorite (and I can’t, because books and authors are like my children, my dear ones, I love them all in different ways for different reasons) I might choose The Inspector Gamache world gifted to us from the brilliant Louise Penny.  The latest installment is The Nature of the Beast, the eleventh book featuring Inspector Gamache and I am crazy for him and all the others who live in Three Pines. Especially Ruth. I feel as if I, too, live there, or, rather, am privileged to visit each time Ms. Penny blesses us with another episode. You must start from the first because you really do develop relationships with these characters and feel as if you live among them; you cry with them, you grow with them, you ache for them, you love them. This is truly a beautiful and wondrous reality Ms. Penny has crafted, full of imperfect, fantastic, annoying, delightful, cantankerous, giving, sad, glorious, mysterious, needy, funny, human folks – like you, like me, like family.

I also read my first Lawrence Block, about whom many have raved. I liked it. I will be reading another. Has he made regular status yet? Not sure.

And another series first, Tagged For Death: A Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery #1 by Sherry Harris. I envy people with the ability to invent these worlds and work the outlines required for these cozies but I guess garage sales just aren’t my things. I’m going to stick to the ones about bookstores – which is no reflection on the author, rather, I don’t like candy with nuts either – doesn’t mean nuts aren’t tasty to lots of people.

Grasshopper Jungle

Click on cover for more info about book.

I also read my second, third, and fourth Andrew Smith novels. I had read Grasshopper Jungle a while ago and quite enjoyed it. Then, I met a dear friend of Duchess Goldblatt, Anne, who works on Mr. Smith’s books. She spoke so highly of him and I adored her so much, I determined to read more of his work. I started with Winger and moved immediately into its sequel, Stand-Off.  Both take place in boarding schools – with which I have been obsessed ever since my mother refused in my youth (fourth grade) to allow the nuns and priest of St. Peter’s to send me away to Jesuit school (can you imagine what I’d be now, had I gone? Thank you, Mom.) – and fall into the YA Genre. I am not YA, but I enjoy YA, and I think Mr. Smith a very gifted fellow. And what a great name. The books move incredibly quickly, loads of plot and interest, and I find the dialogue to be true to the way my nieces and nephews near that age speak. I followed these up with the first in a series of his, The Marbury Lens. So, Mr. Smith wins the prize in this installment for most books by one author. If you’d ask me to recommend one, I’d say my favorite of them was Grasshopper Jungle.

I read a number of buzzy novels about which I’d heard from Twitter-folk. Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, which I liked but from which I expected more being as it had a Sondheim lyric for a title. Amy Stewart’s Girl Waits With Gun was fun-ish, and clearly a set-up for a series, but, again, I expected more. H.S. Cross’s Wilberforce was one I almost gave up on, but didn’t because it was about boarding school – and you know, I have that thing — but I found it about a third too long and a quarter too obtuse and what I wanted was far less. I also could have used less of the forced Southern-y, eccentric charm heaped onto Annie Barrows The Truth According to Us – which had a great title, anyway. And, Jules Moulin’s Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes was fast and sort-of sexy and completely rom-com-y and ready for filming and completely unbelievable but I didn’t care, happy ending, hot guy loves me sort of okay, never gonna happen but what the hell this is what I want to believe in sometimes alone in my big old bed in my fifties – if I was Goldilocks, this one was just right.

I’ve had some huge disappointments in the past few months (I’m not JUST talking about my life) and learned what DNF means – Did Not Finish. Three very huge, touted books for which I had waited and wanted and pre-ordered and dove into just flabbergasted me. I could not finish Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Larry Kramer’s The American People, and Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. NOW PLEASE UNDERSTAND – I am not denigrating the authors, I am sure the failure is mine – but Giant I found just too slow and repetitive to make it past page fifty; American People was in need of massive cutting – or so I thought – I had real difficulty following who was who and what was what when and why any of it was going on; and clearly I am an ignoramus for not liking A Little Life – it keeps winning award after award and many a genius loves it, but, for me, it was so relentlessly dark, hopeless, brutal, as to be unkind – I felt violated, I felt some of it was uncalled for, the unceasing ugliness of it was too much for me – no matter how lovely the prose. Life is hard enough without reading 700 pages of agony and sorrow and abuse. I just couldn’t.

I did and could do the first in the Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novel series, My Brilliant Friend. Again, it must be me, but despite Mr. Wood in The New Yorker, and loads of TwitLit people I respect and admire, and NPR, and on and on, LOVING this book, this series, I could just barely stay awake and stick with it. I finished it, but won’t be reading books two through four.

For pure, solid, reliable, take-me-away fun, I picked up a P.G.Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves. Loved. Laughed. Smiled. Was taken away – as I wanted to be.

being mortal

Click on cover for more information.

I did some non-fiction too. A memoir-ish quick read, The Whipping Boy, by Allen Kurzweil, also much about boarding school and the lifelong effect of having been bullied there. (Having typed that, I’m a BIT concerned about just how many of these 25 books had to do with boarding schools. Hmmm.) A hilarious collection of essays by Isaac Oliver called Intimacy Idiot – he is a gay man who has had many of the same experiences as have I and I wish I had written this. Truly funny. Not so funny, but absolutely brilliant, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. No doubt part of my appreciation of this book is that I’m in my fifties, my Mom is in her eighties and we’ve been to the emergency room once after a fall, and for surgery this past week to clear an artery, and regularly visiting offices of all kinds of doctors, and, too, had recently to move her from one assisted living place to another where she is far less autonomous and far less happy and I am guilt ridden and terrified and cannot understand how we, as a nation, do not have better systems in place to care for those near death. Read this book. Now.

As fate would have it, I also read Being Mortal because I was pretty sure I was dying. I’d lost 15 pounds in three weeks, no one seemed to be able to tell me what was wrong, all my body could manage was to expel, never contain, and, during that illness of my own, I found out my Mom needed a surgery that had a high probability of causing a stroke – although the probability of stroke without the surgery was 99% – so, yes. Well, Mom survived and should (fingers crossed) be back in her own room tomorrow night and I was cured – until yesterday, when apparently the parasite that had taken up residence in my intestine and was meant to be evicted by a combination of anti-and-probiotics, returned. Ha, along with my boarding school theme, I guess my Guts are home to a bunch of nasty parasite-plebes causing me GREAT DISTRESS.

So, I will try to write about books more often and before I finish another twenty-five. But these GutMonsters are trying to kill me, and they wear me out pretty badly, pretty quickly. I was out today for about an hour and when I got home, bam, down for the count. Got back up, made dinner, did the dishes, finished this. So, not going to surrender but, jeesh, whatever this is – it needs to go away.

Love and Light kids. Happy reading.

My Year in Reading, Sort of: 2014 Highlights

reading falneur

(HOLY HOLY HOLY — UPON PUSHING THE “PUBLISH” BUTTON, I WAS INFORMED THIS IS MY 700TH POST ON THIS BLOG?!?! SOMETHING ABOUT THAT STRIKES ME AS … STRUCK. LOL)

Reading is my passion.

I’ve found great comfort and solace in reading. Reading took me to worlds I longed to visit but could not otherwise reach. Reading educated me. Reading saved me by making me aware of  possibilities and lives and loves I could never have imagined on my own. Reading gave me New York, the Algonquin Round Table, the Bridesheads, Jane and Paul Bowles, Helene Hanff, gay men, Fran Lebowitz, Andy Warhol and Studio 54, the Beats, the Bloomsbury Group, the Violet Quill bunch, and, holy of holy, as is Stephen Sondheim to my musical theatre jones, so is Joan Didion to my reading addiction. I actually think that without Joan Didion — and all the others — I would have killed myself long ago. Truly, I think it is reading that has kept me alive.

I’m not sure how much a favor to me that has been but that is another blog.

BooksReading has been my escape. Reading has been my constant lover and friend, my companion through my entire life. My memory may be going but I can still tell you where I was, approximately how old I was, and what was going on in my life when first I read HARRIET, THE SPY and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE and Proust — okay, I’ve never actually finished Proust — but I can tell you all the times I bought new translations, new versions, why I did so, and what they looked like. I have in storage not one, but TWO CARTONS of versions of Proust and books about Proust. And I can tell you that I first read Joan Didion in Saturday Evening Post magazines I stacked and date ordered in one of the rooms in the abandoned wing of Libertytown, that room with the blackboard still on the wall left over from when the house had been an academy for wayward boys, that room I — the most wayward and lonely of boys — had Continue reading