Saturday, September 19, 2015

August Reading

Looking back at August, I almost can't believe how many books I read.  Of course part of the time I was on vacation with lots of time to read.  The sad thing is that, years ago, I always read at this pace.  But the last few years my reading pace has slowed considerably.  But this year, once I got on a roll on vacation, I kept going.  Of course, a lot of my reading was genre (mystery) reading which I enjoy but find easy to fly through.  I can finish a book in a night if it is genre.

Here goes:

Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood.  Yes, this series was on my list for July but I finished the rest of the series in August.  I really enjoy these mysteries.  Phryne doesn't take crap from anyone and is a thoroughly modern woman (for the 1920s and even for today).  In the later books I found some of the "skills" that Phryne has a little eye-rolling - it's almost like she is a female James Bond.  But it wasn't enough to stop me from enjoying them.  I look forward to her next adventure.   Recommended

Four Tana French Books:   The Secret Place; Faithful Place; Broken Harbor and The Likeness.   I began reading Tana French last month, starting with her first novel In the Woods.   The books are a series but unlike other crime novel series, she hasn't created a detective who solves all the crimes.   In the first novel our point of view character was a homicide detective in Dublin and we met his partner and other homicide cops.  The second novel is from the point of view of the partner, who is approached by her former boss from the undercover division for a job.  The third novel is from the point of view of the undercover detective and the fourth novel is from the point of view of a homicide detective we met in the third novel.  Her mysteries are good but it really her character development that makes these novels so wonderful.  These aren't light reading and yet they are page turners.  Highly Recommended.

Four Francis Brody Novels:  Dying in the Wool; A Medal for Murder; Murder in the Afternoon; and Woman Unknown.    After finishing Phryne Fisher I decided to look for another series set in the 1920's Post Great-War world.  Brody created an amateur detective, Kate Shackleton, whose husband was declared missing in action in the Great War.  A suburban widow who doesn't want to admit she is a widow, she assists people in finding loved ones lost in the War.  Then someone asks her to solve a real mystery and things get interesting.  I enjoyed these books. Recommended

Deadly Election by Lindsey Davis.   Lindsey Davis is one of my favorite mystery writers.  Her novels are set during the first century AD in Ancient Rome.  This new series features a woman detective, Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of long-time Davis detective Marcus Didius Falco.  These days Flavia is all grown up and a widow.  I always like Davis' depiction of the Rome of yesterday and I've always liked her characters.  It took a couple of novels for her to settle in with Flavia Albia as her main character but with this novel she hit her stride.  Recommended. 

A God in Ruins by Kate AtkinsonA "companion novel" to her wonderful novel Life After Life, this is the story of Ursula's brother Teddy who died (or not) in the first novel.  In this novel, he survives World War II - not an easy feat for a flyer.  The story moves back and forth in time between Teddy as a post-war survivor trying to figure out what to do now that he's survived and Teddy during the war when he was sure that he was going to eventually die.  I really liked this novel - although not as much as Life After Life.  Mostly because Life After Life was so unique.  My book club read this book and no one else liked it.  So maybe I'm an outlier.  Highly Recommended.

The Daisy Dalrymple Series by Carola Dunn.   After finishing Brody's Kate Shackleton series I again decided to look for a series set in the 1920'sThe Honorable Daisy Dalrymple has a title but no money.  Her father's estate was entailed.  With the death of her brother during the War followed by the death of her father in the influenza epidemic, a distant cousin inherited the title and the estate.  Rather than live with her mother in the Dower House (and listen to her mother complain about everything) Daisy decides to support herself.  She moves into a house with a school friend/photographer and convinces a magazine that her title will gain her entree into great country houses so that she can then write articles about them.  Unfortunately for Daisy, everywhere she goes she finds a dead body.  Carola Dunn has a sense of humor about this and how unlikely this would be.  In the first novel Daisy meets Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher and the two team up to solve mysteries - somewhat reluctantly on Alec's part.  I'm almost finished with this 22 book series - which seems hard to believe but the first 15 novels or so are pretty short, less than 200 pages each.  I'm enjoying them.   Recommended

Sunday, August 9, 2015

July Reading

June was a very light month for reading - in July I couldn't stop reading.

A Dead Man in Instanbul by Michael Pearce.  The second in the series of mysteries I started last month, this time the hero is sent to Istanbul.  It's a nice view of pre-World War I Turkey but the mystery is a little weak.  I'm not sure I'll go further with this series.  Can't really recommend.

Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood.   I've really been enjoying the television series on Netflix so I thought I'd go back to the original mysteries.  I started at the first and am working my way through them - I won't list them all.  The plots are different than the TV series and there is no sexual tension between Phryne and the police inspector.  Instead she has multiple lovers but her main squeeze is a Chinese importer, Lin Chung.  I am enjoying these very much and will probably finish the entire 20 volume series next month. Recommended.

In the Woods by Tana French   The first in Tana French's series of mysteries set in Dublin.  This was a very good novel although it was somewhat frustrating that one of the mysteries was never solved.  The novel is written from the point of view of the detective investigating the murder who is slowly falling apart.  When characters do things that I think are stupid, I prefer not to be in their minds.  I'd rather read about it in third person.  But it was not enough to stop me enjoying the novel. Recommended.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.   Another novel written in the first person.  For plot purposes she needs to be naive and a little bit stupid.  Again, I prefer that if the protagonist is not smart that I not be in their head.  There were interesting facts about forgeries but not nearly as good as the robertson Davies novel What's Bred in the BoneNot particularly recommended but would make a decent beach read.

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.   Parts of this novel are written in the first person and parts are written in the third person. The narrator is not stupid which is a relief.  This novel is the third in the series. Truthfully I don't remember all the characters of the other two novels but that didn't matter. It was a compelling read.  Some day I'm going to read all three again, closer in time to each other.  Recommended.

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante.   This is the second volume of the Neapolitan Series.  About halfway through this novel I found myself exasperated and thinking that the characters were all acting like a bunch of teenagers.  And then I realized that they were a bunch of teenagers.  Again, this is a novel written in the first person and again the narrator, for plot purposes, seems to be be required to not really be able to figure out what is going on.  Probably I was just tired of first person narrative, but I didn't really enjoy this volume as much as the first one.  I already have the third volume so I'll read it but I am still at a loss as to why people are raving about the style of the writer.  Recommended with reservations.

Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes.  This was an interesting novel - the story of a man who slowly drives himself crazy by being jealous of men that his wife slept with before she met him.  The ending did totally surprise me.  It was well written but sometimes I get tired of those 20th century novels written by men who are obsessed with sex.  But at least it was written in the third person.  Recommended with reservations.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.   The whole time I was reading this novel I kept wishing that I was seeing it as a movie instead.  Then, right after I finished this novel, I read that Steven Spielberg would be directing a move version.  This novel, set in a dystopian near-future, is about a society obsessed with 1980s culture.   There were so many references that it was almost overwhelming.  Many of them I didn't get since I never played video or arcade games.  I'm also bad at identifying songs by titles or artists - I have to hear them.  But despite that, I did really enjoy this novel.  It was clever.   And, even though it was a first person narrator, he wasn't stupid - at all.   Recommended.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  This was an odd book. Again written in the first person but not a stupid narrator.  it kept my attention but I didn't really like it.   I never felt invested in the characters.  Recommended.

June Reading and Watching

I've gotten behind in posting what I've read.  For some reason I thought I had done a post for June, but now I realize I never pushed "publish".  In June I finished only three books:

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.   Lila has gone missing but Elena is not about to let her disappear without a trace.  Instead she embarks on this memoir which takes the relationship between the two women from the time they were small girls until they are about sixteen.  Lila isn't a particularly nice friend. She isn't particularly lucky in life but she is smart.  Elena constantly feels inferior and tries to live up to Lila.  It's a story that kept my interest and I enjoyed it.  But I don't really see why the critics find her writing so compelling.

A Dead Man in Trieste by Michael Pearce.   I'm not sure where I heard of Michael Pearce or why I decided to try this book.  Maybe because I didn't really know where Trieste is and wanted to.  The style is very old fashioned and the story is not particularly complicated.  But he did paint a vivid picture of Trieste and the Balkins in the early 1900's. 

Citizen: an American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry, this isn't your typical book of poetry.  Most of it, in fact, isn't poetry in the traditional sense.  Her theme is the lived life of a black woman, of feeling invisible, or not belonging even in relationships with white friends.  I appreciated the perspective but as a work of literature it didn't speak to me.

The reason I didn't finish many books in June is that I was spending a lot of time at the theatre:

Antony and Cleopatra at St. Louis Shakespeare in the Park

The Barber of Seville at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

La Rondine at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Richard the Lionheart at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

 Emmeline at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

My Fair Lady at the Muny