The Black Tower & Long Ago In France

I read an article recently mentioning M.F.K Fisher and decided to check one of her books out of my library.  Mrs. Fisher is an accomplished food writer, who lived through WWI and WWII.  These historic years definitely impacted her writings and point of view. She produced 27 books in her life, which spanned 1908 to 1992.  This book focuses mainly on her time in Dijon beginning in 1929, the time between the wars.  Her prose is evocative and candid.  Her ability to connect food to people and places is singular. Her discussion of France and the people she knew and then her revelations of what happened to them during WWII is done in a very pragmatic manner, making her natural reserve and composure come through in the writing. Anyone interested in food history would find this a very worthwhile read.

The Black Tower is book 5 in the P.D. James’ Adam Dagliesh series.  Dagliesh is recovering from a difficult illness and decides to visit an old family friend, only to discover that he has just died.  Of course, Dagliesh steps into the middle of the investigation, even if it is somewhat reluctantly.  There are references to Lourdes and miracle cures, the treatment of the dying and disabled, and even smuggling.  The more books I read in this series, the more that I enjoy and appreciate them.  Dagliesh is a fascinating and intelligent character, a delight to read.

Case Histories & The Poisonwood Bible

I picked up The Poisonwood Bible at the library book sale a while back and it has been sitting on my shelf.  I’ll be honest, I only selected the book because it appears on many lists as  a must read.  I am not religious at all and I kind of cringed thinking it would be very preachy

The book concerns itself with a family of missionaries, parents and four daughters, who go to the Congo in the late 50s, early 60s.  Having lived through the tale end of that period I cannot imagine why anyone with even a single brain cell would choose to take small children there with what was occurring.  The father is an obsessive fire and brimstone preacher with no respect for Africa, Africans, or his family.  We can all guess that this is not going to have a completely happy ending.

First, the good, the author’s voice, the setting details that give an excellent sense of place, the well developed characters in the mother and daughters (even when you want to slap them), and the fact that it does not come across as religously preachy at all in the reading.  I would say I enjoyed the first 400 pages and would have been happy to have the book end there.  There had been some hints as to what was to come, but they were not overdone in those 400 pages, so I was okay with that.

Then, the bad, the rest of the book, so about 143 pages.  After about that point the book takes almost a manifesto tone with the subjects being:

  • How bad Christians are for sending missionaries.  Ehh I could take that one or leave it.
  • How evil America and Belguim and various other European countries are and how their foreign policies cause all the problems in Africa.  I’m am well aware that grievous errors were made especially in the Congo at that time, but I don’t think you can lay all blame at America’s feet.
  • How communism will be the saving grace of Africa. Yeah, because corruption is never a problem with communism in practice.
  • How all morality is relative.  umm, just no.
  • How Americans should feel shame, in fact all white people should be ashamed, in fact we should feel shamed for having a choice of toothpaste in the grocery store.  Sorry, don’t really find shame productive in any sense of the word.
  • How marriage is oppressive.  Perhaps for one of the clearly most passive female characters I’ve ever read it was, but not for everyone.
  • How all cultural norms are equally worthy.  Ummm, let’s think, female genital mutilation anyone?
  • How many ways can we idolize the “noble savage”.  I  find that stereotype offensive.

There is more, but it just irritated me beyond belief.  I can’t stand reading novels that turn into a soapbox for an author’s political ideals/agenda, even when cloaked in a character’s voice.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson was in contrast to above, an excellent, engaging read, this is one of those books termed a “literary mystery”.  The story centers around cold cases involving young women/children and the private investigator, Jackson Brodie, who finds himself wrapped up in them. One was a young child, from a highly dysfunctional family who disappeared during the night from a tent in the backyard.  Another was a teen murdered in her father’s office, with the culprit never caught.  The third was a child who disappeared while her mother was imprisoned.  The writing here was first class and totally absorbing.  The writer pulls you into each of the stories with her very intimate style.  My favorite storyline was Theo’s, the father whose child was murdered in his office.  His story alone made the book worthwhile.

Mystery and literary fiction fans would both enjoy this novel.

#readathon by Hooked on Books Group at Goodreads

Started the readathon this morning.  So far I’ve managed to read:  Edited to include reviews at the end of the readathon

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Sparks   I loved The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and so I picked this one up.  This follows a woman on a mission, a self-destructive mission.  She begins the book preparing for her vacation and right a way behaves oddly, drawing attention to herself one minute, behaving outrageously, and being offended by the attention another. She tells anyone that will listen that she is looking for her boyfriend, but it is obvious she doesn’t have one.  The sense of tension with sinister undercurrents builds to the ending, making it a compelling read.  By the end of the book, you feel sorry for anyone who comes in contact with her on this journey.  This was a novella, so a quick and fast paced read.  I enjoyed it but not as much as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Daisy Miller by Henry James   I loved this book!  In this we meet, Daisy Miller, an American girl, obviously of the “new” money variety and Winterbourne, also an American but basically an expat, who lived primarily in Geneva and is from “old” money.  Daisy’s character represents America, brash, bold, vital, sometimes impertinent in her youth while Winterbourne represent European sensibilities and is sedate, established, concerned with propriety and appearance.  We follow Daisy and Winterbourne as they meet in Vevey and then again in Rome.  There are hints at what will be the downfall of Daisy and plays on the social mores of the time, the gossip, the preoccupation and hyper focus on reputation above all else.  While Daisy is perceived as a wanton woman, completely out of control, she is in fact the total opposite, naive and innocent.  Winterbourne turns from her because of perception, not reality and remains stuck in his stiff, buttoned up life.

Archie vs. Sharknado by Anthony C. Ferrante 

I am enjoying many of the new Archie Comics be released now, mainly for the nostalgia factor but also due to the quite clever writing and updating of the familiar characters.  The extreme popularity of the Sharknado movies with all their B movie appeal is carried over here  with the addition of the Archie cast of characters.  I did not enjoy this is as much as I am liking the Undead Archie series, but it was still good.  My issue is that it felt like a rushed storyline.  It would have been better to have spread it over three or four issues.

The Chef at War by Alexis Soyer   114 pages.  This is part of the Penguin Books Great Food Series, that I have been working my way through.  Alexis Soyer has been named the first Celebrity Chef.  Indeed, reading biographical information about him, seems to indicate that he was more interested in being well known and well respected upon royalty and the important people in society than in making money.  In this book, Mr. Soyer talks about his experiences in the Crimean War.  He volunteered to work in the hosiptals and soldier’s camps to improve their diet and thus their overall health and recovery. He discusses meeting and working with Ms. Nightingale at this time.  The book includes recipes and descriptions and pictures of his camp stove, an indoor, outdoor fuel efficient stove he designed, which he did not patent because he did not want people to think he was making money off of his work in the war. Really interesting and lead me to read a great deal more biographical information on this chef.  Great read for anyone interested in food history.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan   203 pages.  I have just recently read Atonement, which I enjoyed and so I picked up this novella for the readathon.  On Chesil Beach highlights how one decision, words spoken in haste, and especially from youth and inexperience can have lasting effects that ripple through life.  We meet a young couple on the evening of their wedding eating dinner in their honeymoon suite on Chesil Beach.  Their is an anticipation for what is to come and the reader soon realizes that while Edward is eagerly anticipating having sex with FLorence, she is filled with dread and actually disgust.  Couple those circumstances with inexperience and things cannot go well, but it is not the act that destroys their momentary marriage, but the words spoken afterwards.  A melancholy book focused on regret and the power of words. A must read for Ian McEwan fans.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea   144 pages.  Ronnie Reads and Reviews recommended this to me and gave me her copy, I now know she had an ulterior motive, she needed to speak/rant with someone about this book.  The only things I knew about it was that they made it into a movie with Kris Kristofferson that I was not allowed to watch as a child and that the author committed ritual suicide.  So anyway…

Beautifully written text with characters that are just absolutely heartbreaking.  The story surrounds a young boy, Noboru, his mother, who is a widow, and the sailor, Ryujii, she begins to date.  On the periphery, but driving the action are the Chief and the rest of the gang the Noboru.  There is one scene of animal cruelty, in which the boys, as a gang under the direction of the Chief, torture a kitten to death.  It is important to note that this scene is not gratuitous and it indeed forshadows the ending of the novella. In fact, everything in the book is necessary and builds a sense of tension and foreboding. The themes include love, glory, adulthood, and making choices.  In the end, it is horribly, hauntingly sad.  I know that this will not leave my mind for a while.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson   138 pages.  I have read The Lottery, countless times and even saw the old black and white film of it in school at least twice, so I decided to read something else by Shirley Jackson.  We Have Always Lived in The Castle starts out introducing us to Constance, Merricat, and Uncle Julian, all that is left of the Blackwood famly, the rest of the members being murdered by arsenic poisoning.  Although Constance has been acquitted, the family is ostracized by the townsfolk and leads an isolated existence of the outskirts of town.  The entire novella leaves you guessing and builds a sense of doom for what will happen or what will be revealed next.  This is like The Lottery in that is ostensibly a “normal” town, yet the further you get into the story the more twisted and bizarre it becomes.  Excellent read.

Resurrection by Zed Amadeo 

I ordered this at the last minute and found the plot ideas and the characters quite interesting.  There is a lot going on for such a short book, under 100 pages, and this makes the pacing feel a little frenetic.  The plot points could have easily been fuel for a 300 page book with good pacing and a longer book would have allowed for more character development. Overall, an interesting read and I look forward to seeing how the storyline develops in later books.

I’m just going to keep editing this post and adding to it as the Readathon continues.

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

 This is my second book by Michael Robotham.  This one is a stand alone novel.

What would make a man escape prison the day before he is due to be released?  This is the question that is the premise behind the book. Audie has been pretty much a model prisoner all the while tolerating attempted poisonings, stabbing, beatings and all forms of brutality. Another character raises the point later in the novel that the question shoud be with all that, why didn’t he escape sooner?  Audie was convicted of a robbery of millions of dollars and the cash was never recovered and now he is out of prison and being hunted not only by the authorities but by others as well. Audie is just trying to keep a promise.

I really enjoyed this book.  The story unfolds with views of what is currently happening and what happened to Audie in the past leading up to his imprisonment.  The characters Audie and Moss are well drawn, sympathetic characters.  As a reader, you find yourself rooting for them and eagerly turning the pages to see what happens next. The feel of the book is very similar to the film The Shawshank Redemption and fans of the movie would like this.   Highly recommended thriller.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Wandering about on the internet a couple nights ago, I found this essay, A Nice Hobby, Like Knitting: On Barbara Pym.  I had heard of the Barbara Pym, but never read any work by her and after reading the essay reserved a copy of Excellent Women from the library.

Excellent women are those women in post WWII England, who kept the stiff upper lip, dealt with the austerity and kept home, church and community all running smoothly even with limited rations.  They are in many cases spinsters or sometimes widows.  The novel is an in depth character study and sketches in the life of an excellent woman, Miss Lathbury.  The daughter of a clergyman, who has now died, she finds herself alone, but not really, in the world.  Miss Lathbury is relied on by many and touches lives in ways you would not expect.

The issue explored with Miss Lathbury as a childless, husbandless, excellent woman is that people think nothing of expecting her to be available to them at all times, after all what else would you have to do?  I found myself nodding along as people attempt and sometimes succeed in roping Miss Lathbury into chores with no consideration or even thought of what she might want to be doing. This is a position that the unmarried childfree people often find themselves in today.  Who can work extra hours?  Not A, he as a new baby at home.  Not B, she is having dinner with her husband…etc.  Along with this is the “pity” that surrounds the idea of being an unmarried woman in her thirties during that time.

Very well written, humorous, and completely charming read.  The book blurb refers to Barbara Pym as the 20th Century Jane Austen and I would certainly agree that she is well deserving of that praise.

Killer Crust & How to Be a Good Wife

Killer Crust is book 5 in the Pizza Lovers Mystery series.  I read book 1 and really enjoyed it, but when I went to get the next one my library only had book 5 &  6, so I skipped a little.  Turns out a lot must have happened in book 2,3, & 4 that I missed.  In this outing in the series, Eleanor and Maddie are taking part in a pizza making contest hoping to win $25,000 to invest in the shop.  The contest takes place at a resort in town and of course shortly into the contest there is a murder.  The murder happens to be Luigi, aka George, the judge and creator of the contest.  Maddie and Eleanor begin to investigate with Kevin’s blessing, far different from their relationship with Kevin in book 1.

Even with reading the book out of order I still enjoyed it and the mystery.  i liked the fact that it appears that there was definitely growth in the characters as the series progressed.  I am sure that I will go back and pick up the other books at some point.  Quick, fun cozy mystery read.

How to Be a Good Wife.  I think there was a sign that I was not supposed to read this book.  I ordered it online from my library. I got the email it was in and ready for me, but when I got there no one could find it.  Went back the next day and they still couldn’t find the copy supposedly on hold for me, but they had it in large print so I just checked that out.  I should have just walked away…

This book does not have a resolution…really…on purpose according to the author, who I am sure is a perfectly lovely person who just happened to write a book that made me want to throw it against the wall and howl in frustration and still has me raging.  My poor mother was trapped in a car with me this afternoon and had to listen to my rant.

There are types of books that do not give a clear cut ending or resolution to story lines, usually literary fiction type books.  The problem with this particular book is it is written as a thriller, reads as a thriller anyway, and there was information hidden from the readers, so they will never know if they are right or wrong in siding with Marta or Hector.  You give me a mystery, you expose some clues, you suggest unreliable narrator,and then nothing, nothing.   I just can’t….

Last night’s reads #books

Last night thanks to a neighbor’s car alarm, I didn’t spend much time sleeping so I finished these three.  Elizabeth is Missing is a book I had heard about but was avoiding because quite frankly I find the entire topic of dementia/alzheimers absolutely terrifying.  In the book, we meet Maud a grandmother who is concerned about the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth.  She is attempting to find Elizabeth by carrying out her own investigation, however she is hindered by her family and Elizabeth’s and her own mind, clouded by dementia.  To confuse matters further, there are actually two disappearances, Elizabeth’s in the current day and Sukie, Maud’s sister seventy years prior.

In Maud’s mind, the two disappearances blend, twisting together and separting again in moments of clarity.  The book follows Maud on this frustrating journey as it also allows the reader a peek into the impact dementia has on Maud’s family and how they handle it.  Well written and engaging, if depressing and disheartening.

212 is the third book in the Ellie Hatcher series by Alafair Burke.  The hook is very current, focused on the dangers of the internet and how it allows predators to terrorize victims with no repurcussions. The main gist of the mystery involves mistaken identity and sorting through the red herrings, which are numerous, and lead the reader and Ellie Hatcher down several side streets and alleys before solving the murder case(s).The murders are tied up neatly in the end and the cases are solved.  Interesting, quick mystery read.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was an impulse pick up for me.  I have seen the book in Barnes and Noble and on a few blogs and decided to give it a shot.  This is a family-centric novel that explores the meaning of family and connectedness or not that we experience.  I can’t really say much else with out giving major spoilers, the book is not what it seems initially.  It starts with meeting Rose and learning how she has “lost” both her brother and her sister, and it is not really up for discussion in her family.  What is clear is that it has had a devastating impact on them all, Rose, her mother and her father.  Just how devastating, you will have to read to find out.

I will say that the book was well written and completely compelling (I had to know how it ended).  However, I do think there was a significant weakness.  In some ways it is political issue statement designed as a novel.  The author has a personal point of view and there is no voice through character or narration for any other side of the issue.  The other thing you need to know is that for an animal lover, the book is extremely disturbing (at least in my opionion). Personally, I wish I would not have read it.  That is not to say that it hasn’t and won’t work for many other readers.