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I’m not really all that old, but the way time has been acting lately–speeding along so rapidly–is making me feel that way. Like seriously, how can it be the end of June already? Wasn’t it May 30th just last week, and we were so happy that ESL class had finished for the year? Now gather round, kiddies, and let grandma tell you all about rationing after the war.

And don’t get me started on how old my children are.

But today we are here to talk about books, specifically, books I read this last month (which is JUNE, remember, not May). I haven’t done a nightstand in months and months. Heck, I haven’t even written anything on this blog in months and months. See above: re ESL class. It kicked my butt this year. Maybe I’ll write a post about it later.

This month, I read lots, including:

And Then There Were None: I’d read this one before, but Book Club Girl is doing a summer of Christie and I thought, “What fun!” I finished it last night. It’s one of the creepier of her novels, and I’d completely forgotten who’d dunnit (there are advantages to having such a bad memory!) and it was so disturbing! All those people on the island, dying one by one, that terrible nursery rhyme! Perfect! And, if you want to, it’s not too late to join in on the read-along. Please do! And please let me know over at this post.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair: This one wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was hugely enjoyable. This is a perfect summer read–long enough to last you a plane ride or car trip, but gripping enough to keep your attention. It’s a great mystery, filled with wonderful characters, stinking with red herrings, and I just loved it.

All Day and a Night: Suspense/drama. When a woman is murdered and her body found in a manner reminiscent of a serial killer who’s been behind bars for 20 years, he demands a retrial and says this proves he was wrongfully convicted. Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan (NYPD detectives in a series) are assigned as a “fresh look” team to determine the truth. Meanwhile, young defense attorney Carrie Blank, whose half-sister was one of the original victims, finds herself working for the killer’s defense team. The truth lies in the past. Gripping and well-written.

Small Plates: The nice thing about not doing a Nightstand post for months is that you can talk about books you read months ago. I read this book in April but the review posted this month. It’s a delightful collection of short stories, many of whom feature Faith Fairchild, a minister’s wife who also runs a catering business. It has the feel of classic mysteries (i.e. by Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh) but it’s current, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have a new author like this (new to me that is. Apparently she’s been around for ages). Click on the link to read my review and enter to win a giveaway!

Death of Lucy Kyte: I’ve been reading mostly mysteries, haven’t I? Well it is summer. Author Nicola Upson has taken the real-life author Josephine Tey and re-invented her as a fictional character (which messes with my mind and makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable, frankly, but it works). Josephine has inherited a cottage near a barn where a famous murder took place decades earlier, and she finds herself working to solve both contemporary and ancient mysteries. Set in the 30s, and very fun to read. Creepy!

Invisible Girls: A memoir, not a mystery! Really good. Sarah’s dealt with very aggressive cancer, and she moves across the country to Portland where she ends up meeting a family of Somali refugees who are worse-off than she is. It sounds very cliche distilled into a single sentence, but it’s actually a great, very moving, absolutely non-cliche book. Highly recommended.


A Magnificent Crime (Agency of Burglary & Theft): I really enjoyed the first one in this series. From the publisher: Cat Montgomery is a natural-born thief with a special talent for stealth–or at least she thought so. Years ago, she stole from the diamond-hording businessman Albert Faulkner III, but he somehow figured out she was responsible. Now he wants revenge, and dares her to swipe the elusive Hope Diamond. If she fails the mission, he’ll wreak bloody havoc on her loved ones. But the stakes are raised even higher when Cat discovers that stealing the Hope is not only an impossible task, it’s a cursed one. . .


The Queen of the Tearling Supposed to be a telling of the story of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. Looks fun.

Elizabeth Is Missing: Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love.


What about you? What have you read and loved lately?

I suppose, technically, I probably don’t have consumption, although my cheeks have been suspiciously flushed and I do have an echoing cough. And, I am the woman who got pickpocketed in Paris–not mugged, not held up, no a real-live Gypsy child (I know, Roma, bear with me, I’m not prejudiced) tried to get away with my husband’s wallet, and my husband sat on his chest till the police arrived. My point is, I tend towards the literary.

And I have been awfully, dreadfully sick. And I have realized that I can no longer say, “I’m never sick but this time I really was.” Because apparently I am now delicate. Usually I get sick because I’m run-down, but we just had that lovely snowstorm and I had 4 days of doing nothing but going for walks in the crisp air and coming home and building a fire and drinking hot chocolate. That hardly qualifies as stressful and busy. And yet, a week later, bam! Down I come with this terrible illness that has me practically drinking weak beef tea and having to spend a month at the seaside to restore my health. Seriously, I am feeling very Victorian.

Anyway, enough about me and my cough. I was home for an entire week, literally, from a Sunday afternoon to a Monday morning. I didn’t answer my phone for 3 days because I had no voice. I had no energy to sit up, so I spent most of my time in bed…reading! Yep! Almost everything on the list below is from the last week.

So, this month (week) I read:

The Boy in the Suitcase: This first in the Nina Borg series follows a Danish nurse who works with desperate people on the margins of society, even at great personal risk. It opens when Nina does, in fact, find a boy in a suitcase. Finding out who put him there and why shows the length some people will go to in their attempts to preserve what they value.

Invisible Murder: This is the 2nd in the series. A couple of Roma boys poking around an abandoned Soviet-era hospital complex find something worth a lot of money. Shortly after, a mysterious illness sets in to a group of Roma, and nurse Nina Borg treats them and then comes down with it herself. I actually love this series which deals with human rights issues, poverty, desperation, why people break laws, and more.

Citadel I loved this one. It’s nearly perfect. The story of a resistance group in Southern France composed mostly of women, but what makes it really good is how it shows how the women come to that point. At first it seems a bit long but soon that becomes an asset.

Children of the Revolution: When the body of an emaciated elderly man is thrown off a railroad bridge, Inspector Banks is called in. As he and his team begin to learn more about the man, they become convinced that the answer lies in his past. A very enjoyable mystery.

Minding Molly: This is the 3rd in Leslie Gould’s series in which she sets Shakespearean plays amongst Amish teenagers. This one is Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it’s fun to trace the basic elements of the story. No fairies are needed, as the insecurities of the teenaged girls are enough to cause all sorts of mix-ups and mayhem.

After I’m Gone: Laura Lippman’s latest is the story of a man who disappears rather than face prison. He leaves behind a wife, 3 daughters, and a mistress. 10 years to the day after he leaves, his mistress disappears. Everyone assumes she’s gone to join him until a few years later, when her body is found. Years later again, detective “Sandy” Sanchez opens the cold case and looks at the names in the file, certain that the person he’s seeking is already in there. Nice and suspenseful.

You can date boys when you’re 40: Dave Barry’s latest. Need I say more? He takes his daughter to a Justin Beiber concert; he contemplates his own mortality; Mr Language Person returns. The best part was watching Ilsa (my daughter) read it. She was giggling so hard she couldn’t speak. You can enter to win a free copy if you click on the link.

Murder Must Advertise: a Dorothy Sayers that I hadn’t read in ages. Lord Peter goes undercover to find the connection between a respectable advertising agency and a drug ring.

The Nine Tailors: another Dorothy Sayers that I hadn’t read in ages. A corpse is found in another person’s grave, and the cause of death can’t be discovered. Lord Peter needs to spend some time in a small village with an impressive church.


An Unsuitable Princess: This is two stories in one, a true fantasy and a fantastical memoir. The fantasy is a vaguely Renaissance era tale about a mute outcast girl and a blacksmith boy. The memoir is a tale of growing up in 70s Laurel Canyon, just outside of LA. The stories go back and forth and it’s fun to see the connections.

The A-Z of C S Lewis: An encyclopedia of everything Lewis, from obscure characters in his novels, to real-life people he interacted with, to short articles explaining his views on various issues. A great reference book!

Boy, Snow, Bird: Boy has run away from an abusive father in New York (Boy is a woman, by the way) and moved to a remote town in New England. There, she meets and falls in love with the mysterious widower Arturo Whitman and his daughter, Snow. I know from reading the back that the child they bear will be dark-skinned because the Whitmans have been passing as white but aren’t, and it’s set in 1953 and is a reflection on race and mirrors and self-image. So far, so good.

To read:

The Moon Sisters After their mother’s death, 2 sisters who are very different travel together to lay her ashes to rest. Along the way, tensions build until they finally have to be honest with each other and face what lies between them. Includes some magical realism.

Clever Girl Stella, now in her 50s, looks back at her life. Everyone is raving about the writing, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

…and several more which are upstairs, and I’m too knackered to bother going to look. I’m at the legs-like-limp-noodles stage of recovery.

What about you? Read anything good lately? How’s your health?

Yesterday was a day off school for the kids, a teacher-grading day to celebrate the end of the semester. Since I’ve worked a lot of 7-day weeks lately, I cancelled my ESL class (we always follow the school schedule) and took most of the day off too. Ilsa and I planned a leisurely afternoon of a trip to a British import store for candy (and Marmite for me YAAY!), followed by a trip to Powell’s to return a book I’d bought her that she already had and to spend my gift card, followed by a coffee. It was a lovely afternoon and we had lots of good conversations about books, candy, and Benedict Cumberbatch. I had a great time spending my gift card on some lovely new books, and I realized how true the saying is: You can never have too many books.

This month, I read:

The Girl With a Clock for a Heart: George Foss clearly remembers his first love, a girl he met during freshman orientation at college who left almost a sort of a spell on him. Now, 20 years later, living a comfortable if uneventful life with a long-term on-again off-again girlfriend, George catches sight of Liana in a bar he frequents. He knows by this point that she’s responsible for the deaths of two people, and is probably wanted by the police still, but he goes to talk to her anyway. She’s been the one point in a life that has been, in a word, dull, and he’s drawn back to her like a moth to a flame. A romantic-noir book, a little uneven but overall a good read.

Hunting Shadows: The latest Ian Rutledge. When Capt. Hutchinson is gunned down attending a society wedding in Ely, the police can’t even determine where the shot came from. A short time later, there’s another death, that of a lawyer standing for office and making a political speech. At this point, Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard is called in. He travels down to the small villages on the Fens in search of any connection between the two men. A good addition to the series, which I really enjoyed.

Labor Day: If you click on the link, you can read my review and enter to win a copy. This was a decent book, well-written and with characters I cared about, but the underlying story (an escaped convict and the single mother who falls in love with him and lets him stay, all told from the point of view of her 13 year old son) did contain an unmitigated creep factor.

The Runaway Daughter: Kamada is the daughter of a high class prostitute in Bombay. She hates the crowded streets filled with cursing beggars, men trying to grope her, and other ugliness, so she fills every waking space with talking vegetables, singing cockroaches, fairies and gremlins. Her goal is to go to America to study. She’s appealing, but the book has the feel of a self-published book even though it mentions an editor, and at 133 pages seemed long.

Taking What I Like: Loved this collection of short stories playing off Shakespearean plays. Reading Taking What I Like is in some ways like taking a lit class from the very best lit teacher–you know, the one who could open up the text for you like no one else could and make the characters come alive, until you felt you’d recognize them on the street.

Our Love Could Light the World: A collection of short stories about various members of the Dugan family. What makes this book work so well is that it’s one of those books that seems deceptively light, but in actuality goes deep into family relationships and psyche and the dysfunction that seems an inevitable part of all families everywhere. Each story would stand alone but together, they present a nuanced and complex view of the various family members.

Possible some others I’ve forgotten about

Am reading:

Citadel (from amazon) a mesmerizing World War II story of daring and courage, in which a group of determined women fighting for the French Resistance risk their lives to save their homeland . . . and protect astonishing secrets buried in time.

The Boy in the Suitcase (Nina Borg #1) (.) I read the 3rd in this series and loved it, and found a cheap used copy of this at Powells yesterday. Have I ever mentioned how much I love that store? Oh I have? Ok then.

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj This one is a fun account of the crowds of single British ladies who went en masse to British-controlled India in search of husbands, a necessary endeavor since all the single men had gone off there anyway.

To Read:

You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About: Yaay! I used to love reading Barry’s weekly online humour column, and I’m really happy to see he’s still around being funny.

Boy, Snow, Bird: (from amazon) Boy is Boy Novak, who escapes 1950s New York and comes to Massachusetts, eventually marrying local widower Arturo Whitman. Snow is Arturo’s daughter, a girl of uncommon beauty. And Bird is the daughter Boy and Arturo have together, whose dark skin reveals the family’s secret: Arturo, his late wife, and their families were all African-Americans passing as white. A loose retelling of Snow White, with reflections on race and family life. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

After I’m Gone: The latest Laura Lippman, so suspenseful and mysterious.

Clever Girl: Stella, now in her 50s, looks back at her life. Everyone is raving about the writing, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

Once again, I’m late with this post, which is supposed to go up on the 4th Tuesday of the month. It’s Wednesday today, and Elliot is already on his way home from college for the first time since he left. I’m being all calm and casual, as you would expect, and am not rushing round yelling at Abel to clean their bathroom (since Ilsa has so conveniently disappeared, claiming Chelsea is “depressed” and “needs her.”) nor cooking up a storm of mince pies and coconut pies. Not me. I’m having a second cup of tea and typing, and will get to all that later.

So this month I went to Africa, for those of you who are here just for the nightstand post and don’t normally read this blog. (Assuming there are any of you, which is doubtful as I’m so late, but if you’re here, please say hi) And since that trip involved SO MUCH travel time, I read up a storm. I took 5 books with me plus my Kindle, because I have a deep-seated and irrational fear of being stuck somewhere without a book. This caused a small amount of marital friction but it wasn’t my fault that Donn bought a 5m-square tent that took up most of one entire suitcase, which meant no room/weight for books. We solved this by having me cleverly carry all my books in a grocery bag contributed by my friend Annie, which technically meant I had 3 carry-ons (purse, actual carry-on, and sack) but no one fussed and I safely brought them all home again. (Oh, and in spite of all my careful plans, I still managed to find myself stuck with nothing to read on the flight from Nouakchott to Casablanca. My kindle died, although it shouldn’t have, and I had packed all my books. I was stuck with the stupid in-flight magazine and “Just So Stories” which I had on my phone. My Kindle app wouldn’t work on my phone either. It was terrible, and proved how justified I was in bringing all those hardcover books!)

And I read some FANTASTIC books this month! Seriously, lots to recommend. I’ll start with:

A Guide for the Perplexed: That’s linked to my review at 5MFB. Go there right now and enter to win a free copy. I loved this book and gave it 5 stars. It’s the sort of book that end up in lit classes but that you actually like. It has everything–reflections on memory and how recording events can influence how you remember them, a retelling of the biblical story of Joseph combined with a look at lots of sibling relationships, medieval scholarship, a kidnapping in modern post-revolutionary Egypt, and more. Really really good.

Someone Else’s Love Story: You can also win a copy of this one! Also really really good. Although it’s written in a light-hearted style that had me chuckling several times, the story deals with serious issues and tackles them head-on; date rape, car accidents, divorced and dueling parents, single motherhood, religious differences that divide. But it’s not at all a depressing book. This is a book that ends on a note of hope, of redemption, but neither of these things is cheapened by being given too easily–they cost people something. Seriously–a really good story.

I Am Malala: You knew I was going to read this one! And it’s also really really good and you can also win a copy. Do I sound like a broken record? You know the basic story already–Malala is a teenaged activist who was shot by the Taliban in her remote village in Pakistan, because she would not keep quiet about the importance of girl’s education. And she’s right. She’s brave and sweet and competitive and an avid reader and in many ways a typical teenaged girl, and in many ways anything but typical. You’ll love learning more about her and her story.  The giveaway is open till Sat.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy: A fun and worthy follow-up to the Bridget Jones books. Bridget is once again single, after the incomparable Mark Darcy was killed in Sudan while fighting for human rights. (I know! We’re all sad about this) Bridget now deals with single motherhood and counts twitter followers instead of calories. It’s good, but it’s a lot darker than the original stories, as Bridget is still mourning Mark. It’s also not nearly as funny. I reread the first Bridget Jones’ Diary and still snorted with laughter several times.  Still, if you’re a fan, you’ll definitely want to read it!

Bridget Jones’s Diary: Still so funny, after all these years. And brutally realistic.

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope: I love her writing and her stories, so I was interested to read her retelling of Austen’s book set in modern times. And I did enjoy it. I am not a huge fan of Jane Austen–I like her stuff, and I adore P & P, but I’m not a purist. It was amusing to see the Dashwood sisters listening to music on iPods and watch scandal spreading through texts and Youtube. The estate left to John Dashwood wasn’t entailed–the problem is that Henry never married Belle, just lived with her in bohemian splendour and produced 3 daughters. This is a very accessible version of the classic and I enjoyed it, but it won’t satisfy true Austen-ites.

Death of a Nightingale: Another really good read. This is a mystery of sorts, or I guess you’d call it a thriller, with violence and threats lurking in the shadows, but it also gives, in flashbacks,  a fascinating look at life under communism in Ukraine in 1934, when a famine devastated the area and left a family reeling under its effects. Nina Borg is a nurse who works in a crisis centre in Denmark that houses illegal immigrants; Natasha is a Ukrainian woman who escaped an abusive relationship. Now that boyfriend has been found dead and Natasha’s implicated. She escapes custody to search for her daughter. Tying strands together are these memories from 1934, but it’s not till the end that you find out the connection. It’s a really good book, hard to put down. (Perfect for long flights!)

What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?: A Memoir: David Harris-Gershon and his wife were American students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem when one day, while his wife was studying in the cafeteria with friends, a terrorist bomb ripped their lives apart. His wife, Jamie, survives because she was reaching under the table to get out a book; her friends are killed. David is plunged into a maelstrom of emotion, and this book recounts how he found his way out. And yes, it does involved studying the Israeli-Palestinian question with fresh eyes and it does involve a meeting with the bomber’s family. Very good and thought-provoking.

Bellman & Black: Remember 13th Tale and how fun that was? This is author Diane Setterfield’s second novel. It’s also set in Victorian times, and it supposed to be noir and gothic and creepy, but sadly, it is really isn’t. It’s actually a little boring at times, and it falls short of her first novel. I hope she keeps writing though, with less pressure, and produces something really good next time. She’s still a really good writer.

Right now I’m rereading:

Possession. Still so good. Bellman and Black put me in the mood for this complex tale spanning modern literary researchers and departmental politics and Victorian writers and their love-lives. It combines a literary mystery with a modern romance and a literary romance with a modern mystery. If you haven’t read it, you should. (Fun aside: I haven’t read it since Mauritania, and my copy had bits of sand along the spine.)

To read:

The old shelf is pretty light at the moment. I don’t have anything that publishes before January. I’ll tell you about those next month.

What about you? Do you share a deep-seated fear bordering on irrational panic at the thought of a long flight with nothing to read? Please share in comments.

or a late nightstand, as in, this nightstand post is a day late and probably a dollar short, if we’re going to be honest here. But I wanted to do one this month.

This month’s reading is brought to you by insomnia and mental disorders. No, not mine, silly. I sleep quite well, when I can get to bed, that is. It’s just been a theme in my reading lately.

OK. THE BIT ABOVE WAS WRITTEN LAST MONTH. Yes, I’ve sunk so low I’m posting unfinished posts a month late. This is pretty bad. I also haven’t been updating my blog. I had terrible computer problems, but they’ve been sort of solved. That is, I have a new laptop (YAAAY!!) but it came with Windows H8, so there’s a long adjustment period required. I will update my blog soon. Meanwhile…

Last month, I read two books about insomnia. Isn’t that weird? Both Kind of Cruel (a really good domestic thriller! Sophie Hannah’s latest) and Sea Creatures (also really good and well-written!) dealt with main characters suffering from insomnia. I also read a lot of other books, none of which are springing to mind. I’m too lazy to go look. Anyway, that was weeks ago. Onward and upward!

This month, I also read a lot of books. It’s what I do. Let’s see if I can remember them. Um.

Free Spirit was a fascinating book, sort of like that fabled train wreck you can’t look away from. Written with humour and compassion, author Josh Safran describes being brought up by an idealistic mother who gave birth to him in a commune and fled the threat of nuclear war by taking him to live off the grid in the Washington rain forest. It’s actually super funny and super depressing at the same time. It contains some very strong scenes and strong language too, I’ll warn you. But a glimpse into a totally different way of life through the eyes of a child.

After Her was also really well-written. It’s Joyce Maynard’s latest. If you like her, go enter the giveaway!

A Question of Honor is the latest Bess Crawford mystery. I think it’s the best so far. Bess is trying to solve a series of murders from 10 years earlier, ones that revolve around English families taking in British children whose parents are stationed in India.

The Ghost Bride was very interesting and unusual. Ilsa actually read it first, as it arrived in the mail as we were on our way out the door, and she thought it looked good. We both enjoyed it. It takes place in the late 19th-century Malaysia (then called Malaya) and is, in a way, a retelling of a folk tale. You’ll learn quite a bit about social mores and customs of the time, and it’s a great story as well.

Right now, I’m reading:.

Spider Woman’s Daughter is set in the Navajo nation. It’s written by Anne Hillerman, daughter of Tony Hillerman, and it continues the series he started. I read a couple of others in the series (by Tony, that is) a few years ago, so I wanted to try the new one. So far, pretty good.

Almost True Confessions: Closet Sleuth Spills All is light and funny so far, also a murder mystery but sort of zany.

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales is really fun. 2 editors put their heads together and approached several different authors, who took favorite short stories–everything from Sleeping Beauty to Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”–and, as it were, boiled them down to the bones and reassembled them. In other words, they looked at essential parts of the story and then retold them in another time and setting. Really enjoying this one!

And soon, I’m going to read:

Bellman & Black. The new one from the author of The Thirteenth Tale. Pretty excited about this one!

At the Bottom of Everything The publisher’s blurb says: It’s been ten years since the “incident,” and Adam has long since decided he’s better off without his former best friend, Thomas. But when he receives an email from Thomas’s mother begging for his help, he finds himself drawn back into his old friend’s world, and into the past he’s tried so desperately to forget. As Adam embarks upon a magnificently strange and unlikely journey, Ben Dolnick unspools a tale of spiritual reckoning, of search and escape, of longing and reaching for redemption—a tale of near hallucinatory power.

I have several other books on the nightstand, but it’s upstairs and I’m downstairs, and this month’s theme seems to be “Laziness.” Appropriate after last month’s theme of “Insomnia,” no? Anyway. Check back in soon for an actual update. Clue: I will probably miss next month’s Nightstand because I will be on another continent!!

What are you reading this month? Anything good?

I can’t believe no one commented on what an adorable baby Elliot was. Go ahead and scroll down, look at the previous post, ooh and aah, then come back. It’ll only take you a minute, unless your laptop is as old as mine and then you’ll have time to swear and raise your blood pressure. Don’t worry–that high blood pressure will be lowered by cute baby pictures!

So, it’s that time of the month again (giggle! That phrase takes me back to jr high). Time to discuss what I’ve been reading and what I’m about to read, and also what I read. These are exciting times.


The Honey Thief: This is really good, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Hazara people of Afghanistan. Author and local Najaf Mazari, working with journalist Robert Hillman, wrote down some of the stories of his people, who come from a tradition of oral storytelling. The stories are a blend, a little folklore, a lot of recent history. There are even recipes, the most detailed recipes I’ve ever seen!

Elizabeth the First Wife: This one is fun, perfect for summer, witty, light-hearted, light. Elizabeth comes from a family of extreme high-achievers but is content to teach at a community college. She gets offered a chance to spend the summer in Ashland, OR, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, helping her ex-husband, now a Hollywood A-list actor, perform in Midsummer Night’s Dream. As one would expect, lots of mayhem ensues. Really enjoyed this one.

Oh Dear Silvia: After a fall from a balcony, Silvia Shute is in a coma. She’s visited by her ex-husband, her daughter, her lover, her nurse, her house-cleaner, her whacky sister. Alternating between humorous (albeit a dark humour) and depressing, the truth of Silvia’s life and character is revealed piecemeal by those who knew her best.

Loyalty: Fina Ludlow is the only girl in the Ludlow family, an exremely tight-knit family of lawyers who are willing to go as far as it takes to win a case. Fina’s not a lawyer though–she’s a private investigator, and the family hires her when her sister-in-law is missing. As Fina delves deeper and deeper and turns up more and more, she has to choose where her loyalty will ultimately lie. Fina is of the hard-boiled school of P-I. She’s hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-loving, and not afraid of a knock-down drag-out fight.

Emma’s Secret: What if your daughter was kidnapped and then your prayers were answered and you got her back, but all was not as perfect as you’d expected? Megan is thrilled to have her 5-year-old Emma back after 2 long years, but she finds her heart breaking all over again as she sees how much Emma has changed, and how Emma seems to love and miss the elderly couple who kidnapped her. A good look at how trauma endures and consequences linger, but a hopeful, redemptive novel with a lot of chocolate in it.

If You Were Here: McKenna is working as a journalist when she gets sent a video of a woman lifting to safety a young man who’d fallen onto the train tracks. She recognizes the woman as a close friend who disappeared without a trace 10 years earlier. As McKenna digs deeper and deeper into the past, she comes across more than she bargained for. McKenna will have to choose who to trust, and that choice could take her life.

A Beautiful Heist: A fun read with a bit more depth than expected. Cat Montgomery is a jewel thief and she’s good at it. She takes job after job, searching for a way to expunge the guilt she feels from her sister’s death. But she has rules and conscience: she’ll only steal what’s insured, only what the job stipulates, and only from someone who won’t be hurting as a result. Then she hears of the ultimate job (in an Indiana Jones twist)–a Faberge egg hiding the Gifts of the Magi! (Yes, those ones–gold, frankincense, myrrh).


The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia: This is sort of literary and theological criticism on the Narnia books, and by extension Lewis’ other works of fiction (the Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, etc.) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowen Williams. It’s really good and I’m hugely enjoying it.

Her Royal Spyness (A Royal Spyness Mystery): Got offered this free on my Kindle. (Did you know I have a Kindle now? I like it more than expected but, also as expected, am frustrated that I can’t easily look back in book). It looks light and fun.

4:50 from Paddington: Also on my Kindle. This is an Agatha Christie and a fun one. Elspeth McGillicuddy sees an actual murder happening on a train running parallel to hers in the night. She dutifully reports it but no one believes her as there is no body. Jane Marple to the rescue!

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family: The subtitle says it all. Josh Hanagarne’s memoir on growing up Mormon, with Tourette’s, loving books, taking to body-building as a way to control his tics.


Sight Reading

Love and Other Subjects

The Illusion of Separateness

Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China

There you have it! This month I also graduated a kid, hosted my husband’s entire family, went camping with a bad back, and generally had a little too much of a good time, or something like that.

I completely skipped this meme last month, but I’m not going to make up–frankly, between traveling to the conference and then spending nearly 2 weeks in bed while attempting to displace my lungs to the outside of my body, I read a LOT of books this month!   I hope you did too because reading is fun, and doesn’t require a lot of energy.


Deadly Harvest: The latest in the Detective Kibu series and really good. It begins when a young girl, on her way home from school and dreaming already of Christmas although it’s only September, accepts a ride with a man and is never seen again. The police aren’t too concerned–no one cares too much about an AIDS orphan living with her aunt. (Did I mention this is Botswana?) However, when more girls disappear, it becomes apparent that a witch doctor is operating in the area and kidnapping, murdering and dismembering bodies to be used in muti–a powerful occultic potion. Based in part on true stories, this book was darker than the previous one I read in the series, and goes more in depth while still showing us Kubu at home enjoying his wife and daughter and good food and wine.

The Sisterhood: This is almost a fantastic book. It’s a really fun read with great characters and a plot woven back and forth between 16th-century Spanish nuns trying to survive the Inquisition and a modern college student who’s trying to research an obscure Spanish artist. My one  complaint was this sub-plot that showed the author read and was influenced by the Da Vinci Code. I found it annoying and detracting.

Equal of the Sun: A Novel: This historical fiction tells the story of Princess Pari, a 15th-century Iranian princess who was her father’s favorite and really his protege, the one whom he taught all that is needed to run a kingdom. But when he dies without naming an heir, all is thrown into turmoil, as Pari lives in a time and place that will not allow a woman to rule, especially given her abundance of brothers. The story is told from the point of view of her eunuch and closest advisor, Javahar and is a tale of political intrigue.

However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph: The subtitle of this book really rubbed me the wrong way. However, the book takes place in Senegal and I couldn’t resist at least giving it a try, and I’m glad I did. The book turned out to be really good and they should change that subtitle! It is the story of an American woman who didn’t want to be the Great White Saviour but instead just wanted to educate women in ways they’d understand culturally, which she learned by listening to them. The women of the Senegalese villages are the real stars of the book, which is quite inspiring and worth a read.

Cover Her Face: The first of PD James’ books. I enjoyed it, but it lacked a lot of the psychological depth of her latest works.

Death Comes to Pemberley: PD James’ foray into fanfic. Sort of. It follows on what happened 6 years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, and is all about Elizabeth and Darcy and Lydia and Wickham and all. At first I didn’t like it but I kept on with it because I was too tired to get up and find something else, and then I kind of got into it. It’s not bad at all, but I really don’t get the point of books that follow as sequels of other famous books, as they’re never as good as the original. Nor is this as good as James’ normal stuff.

I also read two other PD James. I decided to read all the Dalgliesh series in order, because why not? I was sick as a dog. I sent Elliot to the library with a list, and he came home with #10 and #12 in the series, so I read those. Then I decided I was better enough to move on.

I also reread, for the umpteenth time, most of the Narnia books. Apparently we have lost both our copies of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Sigh. Also reread a Bess Crawford mystery. I like mysteries when I’m sick.


The Honey Thief:  Beautiful, fascinating collection of tales from the Hazara people of Afghanistan. It starts a bit slow but soon I was captivated by the loveliness of the stories. There’s Hameed, a boy without common sense with his head in the clouds, who ends up being given a copy of Huckleberry Finn in Dari, which ends up rewarding him in a surprising way. There’s the Englishman nicknamed “Try Again” because he keeps returning to the remote village to photograph the snow leopard, an animal the villagers have never seen and do not believe exists. There’s the Hazarat man who emigrated to America and became very rich, now returned dying, to beg forgiveness from the grandson of a man he wronged. It’s a gorgeous book. These are the stories of a people, a tribe, but especially a village. The author has captured them before they could be lost to time, but he has also written them in English so we can enjoy them too.

Elizabeth the First Wife: I’m really enjoying this one–it’s smart, funny, and light-hearted. Elizabeth teaches Shakespeare at a community college in Pasadena and is content to live in the shadow of her over-achieving family and ignore her ex-husband who’s now an A-list Hollywood star. Suddenly he’s back in her life, persuading her to spend the summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, helping him not make a fool of himself doing As You Like It.

The Abundance: A Novel: Do you ever start a book, enjoy it tremendously, but somehow put it down because you have a deadline and then not get back to it? This book is lyrical and beautiful, but I started it a really long time ago and need to finish it. It’s about first and second generation Indian immigrants in America. I’ll finish it soon and let you know what happens.


A Beautiful Heist (Agency of Burglary & Theft)

If You Were Here (the latest Alafair Burke)


Oh Dear Silvia: A Novel (written by British comedian Dawn French)

Sight Reading

The Water-Babies This is a new special edition. Of course I’ve read it before, but when Elliot was little we had an abridged story book of the tale, and it was his favorite for a long time. So I’m looking forward to revisiting Tom the Chimney-Sweep and his life in the stream. Victorian fairy tales are the best!

Augh. What was I thinking? Elliot is graduating next month, we have invited everyone we know to the party (if you haven’t gotten yours yet, don’t worry–I’m famous for my procrastination! The invitations are addressed and on the table. Just come), ALL the inlaws are descending upon us, and more. When will I have time to read all these books? Sigh. They all look really good though, and there’s a camping trip in there that will give me lots of reading time, so it will happen.

What about you? Is your June crazy too? What about this month? What did you read that I should be adding to my wish list?

It’s Spring Break! Yaaay! I for one am very happy. I’m actually trying to take some time off and relax, read some books for a change… well maybe that wouldn’t be a change. But we all need breaks, and I’m hoping to take some.

The End of the Point:  This is a story about a place as much as people. In this exquisitely written novel, author Elizabeth Graver takes us deep into the lives of one extended family and the summer place where they feel most themselves, most at home.    The novel is told from the points of views of several different characters, including a nanny for the family. Really good.

Operation Oleander: A YA book appropriate for all ages. Jess’ dad is in Afghanistan, and to help feel connected to him she raises funds for an orphanage there with her best friend Meriwether. However the presence of American soldiers delivering supplies to the orphanage raises its profile and there’s a bombing, in which Jess’ dad is badly injured and Meriwether’s mother is killed. To make matters worse, some Afghans, and some media, blame Jess for the bombing. This book deals with serious issues (how to best provide aid, challenges of military families)  but presents them very well, and we see Jess mature throughout. It’s a really good book and well worth reading.

Glamorous Powers: This is a really unusual book that I totally loved even though I don’t know if others would. Does that even make sense? I’ve been trying to think how to explain it, and I think you just feel so much deeper in the character’s head than one normally does when reading. Jonathan Darrow is an Anglican priest who has psychic visions, ends up leaving a monastic order and remarrying at the age of 60. Really unusual, like I said, but I also totally loved it, overall, although sometimes it was a bit slow. There are 6 in the series and I want to read the rest. (I read a few from this series in Morocco but I want to reread and fill in the gaps)

One Step Too Far: I could not put this one down. Emily decides to leave her family and it’s obvious some terrible trauma has occurred but we don’t know what until nearly the end. I didn’t see it coming and actually gasped out loud! She manages to create a new life for herself in London, and we see her heartbroken husband, and glimpses of her childhood and her twin sister, unexpected, unwanted and unloved and a troublemaker as a result. Really gripping. A perfect summer (or spring break) read.

Not Less than Everything:  A collection of essays on heroes of conscience, a look at people who’ve inspired various authors. Good overall.


Canada: Nearly finished with this one. Narrated by Dell, aged 15 and part of a set of fraternal twins. Their parents, ordinary people, commit armed robbery, and Dell ends up in Canada with the brother of a friend of his mother’s. It’s slow-moving, character-driven, full of description, extremely well written.

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat: A collection of essays about food followed by recipes. I’m not too far in but I’m really enjoying it. Food is so much more than fuel–it is memories of our childhood, our mothers or occasionally our fathers, or it signifies special times. Favorite foods are so much more than simply taste and texture.

Ghana Must Go: After the patriarch of the family dies, the others gather. At least I think they do. I’m not  very far in, and still looking at the patriarch’s death.

To Read:

Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other, and the World: I think the title is pretty self-explanatory.

Something About Sophie from the amazon description: Answering a call that summons her to a stranger’s deathbed, a reluctant Sophie Shepard is too late to hear what he was so anxious to tell her. What was so important that a dying man would think of her in his final moments? With the help of Dr. Drew McCarren, Sophie begins to dig into her past, setting off a chain of events that chills the quiet town of Clearfield, Virginia to its roots.

The Abundance I read another book by this author and loved it. This one concerns Indian immigrants and their children, now adult and American. Looks really good.

What are you reading? Anything good? Please tell me in comments!

I have been reading up a storm, which sort of matches the weather. Today we had sun, hail, sun, deep dark clouds, and so much more. I love these kinds of days, but I do think we’re heading into an early spring. We really didn’t have much of a winter either. Sigh. I love winter.

But you don’t care about my thoughts on the weather. How boring! You want to know, what have I been reading? What am I reading? And what am I going to read? (3 uses of the continuous tense, notice, and yes my ESL classes are going swimmingly)


Proof of Guilt: The latest in Charles Todd’s series on Detective Ian Rutledge. Very enjoyable classic murder mystery, with lots of clues and red herrings and a fine, crisp conclusion.

This is How I Save My Life: A young normally-active woman is stricken with Lyme’s disease and goes to India to receive stem cell treatment. She’s all better now but it’s not because of that–no, she healed herself through positive thinking. My takeaway from this book: if you’re sick Amy believes it’s your own fault. Yeah. Not a big fan of karma personally–I think it’s a very cruel philosophy. Still, I enjoyed her descriptions of India, and would have liked to learn more about her treatment.

All That I Am: Really good, really well-written. Concerns early resistance to Hitler, i.e. in the years leading up to the second World War. Funder has taken real people and real events and given us a fictionalized version that rings true.

Sparkly Green Earrings: written by Melanie from Big Mama. If you read her blog, you know her style, and this book echoes that. Very approachable. A memoir of the segment of her life from when she and her husband decided to try for a baby to now, when their daughter Caroline is about 8.

Where the Light Falls: I enjoyed this book, although it could use some tighter editing. Young American woman goes to Paris in the 1880s. Lots of period details and interesting people.

Untimed: A YA (definitely for older teens though) sci-fi book about time travelers, who run in families. The boys can only go backwards and the girls can only go forwards. Charlie accidentally changes history and has to figure out how to get things back to the normal he knew. Can he succeed? I think the giveaway is still open if you’re interested; click the link.

The Bracelet: I have mixed feelings on this. It’s actually really good and I totally enjoyed it, but there are some definite holes in the plot and I would feel better if I could discuss them with someone. So go read it; you’ll enjoy it. The holes aren’t huge, just that they keep it from being excellent. Nurse Abby Monroe goes to Pakistan (she’s super naive about world events, which is one of the holes) and learns about human trafficking. The best part are the women’s stories; they ring true. They are horrible, and the novel does a good job of shining a light on this. Really a good book in many ways, and the story line keeps moving. The author spent time working as a nurse in Afghanistan and you can tell from her descriptions of people and places.

There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense: I liked this one. It concerns a plot to take over the homes of elderly single women, playing off the fact that people won’t believe them and think they’re confused.

The Life & Times of “Call the Midwife”:  You may remember (oh come on, you do not) me RAVING about a book called Shadows of the Workhouse, which was hands-down one of the top 3 books I read last year. It’s non-fiction but reads like fiction, written by a woman who worked as a midwife in the London slums in the 1950s. I didn’t even know they’d made a TV series of it. This book follows the first 2 seasons of the TV series and I absolutely loved it. I missed Season 1 in the US, but Season 2 starts this spring and I’m planning to watch.


Canada: The latest by Richard Ford. So far, really good. Del is 15 and looking forward to starting high school but his father is getting involved in shady business. I already know from the back cover that his father and mother will rob a bank and go to jail and Del will go to Canada.

Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero: I’m not Catholic, but some very good writers are, and I love reading about heroes of conscience. This is a collection of essays, various people writing about others who inspire them. Some are great; some are so-so.


The End of the Point: story of a family through the last-half of the 20th century. Looks better than I just made it sound. It actually looks really good.

Operation Oleander: YA novel. A teenaged girl raises money for a girls’ orphanage in Afghanistan, where her father is deployed. But then the Taliban targets it.

Before we moved to Mauritania, I read everything I could lay my hands on that had been written about the desert country about to become my new home. Perhaps you will not be surprised to know that wasn’t much. I could not find a book, in English, with Mauritania as its subject. The best I could do were books written by people who had traveled through the Sahara, who had visited Algeria and Tunisia and Egypt and Mali and Morocco and Mauritania.

In general, these travelers loved Algeria and Tunisia and Egypt and Mali and Morocco, but they didn’t love Mauritania. They found it hot and dusty and dirty, and they found the people isolated, suspicious, even hostile. I think what really determined their reaction was the city of Nouakchott which, I must admit, can be isolated, suspicious and even hostile, not to mention hot, dusty and dirty.

The one writer I found who actually seemed to like the country, to accept it as he found it and respond to the people with equanimity, was Quentin Crewe who wrote In Search of the Sahara. A British journalist with MS, confined to a wheelchair, he gathered a group and headed through the desert in the mid-80s in two Unimogs. Crewe is a great writer, and I appreciate that he includes a lot of the history of Europeans in the Sahara, although I skimmed those parts because what I really wanted to learn about was the Sahara in the mid-80s.

He writes of Oulata (where we visited ourselves, one Spring Break, and that was the trip where we nicknamed our guide Uncle Pervie cuz he wouldn’t stop holding Ilsa’s hand even when we told him not to, and that was also the trip where we saw the sleeping crocodile less than 10 feet from Elliot who was shouting, “LOOK!” It was a great trip.). He comes through Nouakchott and they head up the beach to Nouadhibou, because of course the road between Mauritania’s two main cities was another 20 years away from completion. He sees the great fishing grounds before they were depleted, and sees the fishermen and the dolphins working together to allow both man and dolphin to catch and eat fish. He recognizes heat and dust and dirt and suspicion, but he transcends it because he begins with a different sort of attitude. And, heading north of Nouadhibou towards the Moroccan border, their Unimog hits a landmine and blows up! Everyone survives, but they have to fly out. I’ve heard there are still land mines along that border, and when Donn went there I warned him not to wander off. He gave me a look. In general, it’s best not to wander along borders away from official crossings but in full view of them.

Last month, Donn’s sister and her husband came to see us (YAAY!) and of course we went to Powells. We always go to Powells. Most of our friends are avid readers, and even if they’re not, it’s a Portland landmark. I am always up for a trip to Powells, even if the urgency has been lost since I started this gig with 5 Minutes for Books, which guarantees that I always have a guilt-inducing stack I’m working my way through. (I am greedy when it comes to free books.)

I was wandering through the travel section, and I saw a copy of In Search of the Sahara! It’s been out of print for years, and I’d forgotten about it. Only $6! I picked it up and it smelled musty and damp and loved , that smell of old books that seems to be dying out in this brave new world where Powells only buys your newest, most pristine books, and even I got a Kindle at Christmas. Of course I bought the book, and I’ve been enjoying it. It’s really fun to reread his descriptions all these years later (I initially got the book from the library in the late 90s) and after visiting the places described.

On that visit, I also saw copies of all the books I own on the Sahara (Sahara Unveiled,  William Langewiesche’s similar trip from Algeria down across Mali and Mauritania; his account is so depressing that it scared me to death about moving there; and Mali Blues, in which the rather clueless Lieve Joris travels from Dakar, Senegal, along the bottom of Mauritania to Mali, where she interviews musicians. In one of my favorite examples of her obtuseness, she is visiting a French friend in Senegal and sees his child leave her clothes on the floor, and judges, because the child obviously only does that because she has a maid, thereby revealing herself as both childless and unmarried.) It was a little weird, like someone else had collected the same books and decided to get rid of them.

I was at Powells just before Christmas and I picked up an atlas put out by the Onion, flipped it open at random, and started that choked-down quiet giggle one gets in bookstores, shaking with laughter and blocking the aisle. It was so funny! I bought it for Donn and we’ve had lots of fun going through it. My favorite page is Sudan–slogan “All Better Now, Thanks to You,” which goes on to claim that the government, on hearing of a woman in Iowa wearing a “Save Darfur” t-shirt, was overcome with shame and changed their ways. They present Malaysia as a place for jihadists to vacation, relax, loosen their suicide belts.

But they go too far. I understand–how funny can one be about places like the Democratic Republic of Congo? Still, there’s a kind of anger that comes through, a slamming of anything that is not how the editors think the world should be, which is great if you happen to agree with them, and belittling if you don’t. That may be okay for a satirical atlas, but it’s a poor attitude for a traveler.

March 2023

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