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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.

READING:

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. . .

TO READ:

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.

Reading:

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?

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.

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.

Reading:

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!

Well. Here we are at the end of June, and I’m as surprised as you are that this has happened already. Frankly, this caught me off guard, but my calendar is backing my editor up on this.

So without further ado, here’s what:

I ALREADY READ THIS MONTH SO FAR:

An Unmarked Grave: This is the 4th in the Bess Crawford series, the one about the WW1-era nurse/amateur sleuth, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like this series and recommend you read them if you haven’t already. Bess is a very sympathetic character–she’s strong-willed and practical and kind and just the sort you’d want to nurse you back to health. In this one, it’s 1918 and the Spanish flu is decimating soldier and medical personnel alike. Just before she succumbs to the dread disease, Bess realizes that one of the bodies awaiting burial in the shed didn’t die from wounds or disease, but was instead murdered. She recognizes him too–a family friend. When she’s recovered, she starts on a trail to find the killer, and ends up putting herself and her family in great danger. What I like about these books is that they’re not just murder mysteries or historical fiction, but they really look at life in that time and those circumstances, and the huge effect of war on those whose lives are touched by it. Go read it! This month I also read, and loved, book 3 in the series, A Bitter Truth.

Listening to Africa: This collection of poems was written by a woman who went on a long safari through several East African countries. She’s a good writer and I enjoyed them.

The New Republic: A very interesting novel. Deals with truth vs. media manipulation, and also with hero worship and what it means to put someone on a pedestal, both for the hero and the fan. Well done and gives you LOTS of food for thought. You could discuss this novel for hours! It’s also cram-jam packed with puns, just to bring some brightness to your life.

Game of Secrets: This is the sort of novel that makes you want to write fiction. It’s filled with lush descriptions but it doesn’t lose the sense of plot, and keeps things moving forwards. The center premise is life in a small New England town, and it’s told from the perspectives of 3 women–Marne, her mother Janie, and Ada, who was once the lover of Janie’s father and whose husband is popularly supposed to have killed him. (Did you follow that?) It’s a novel of family secrets and cover-ups, but also of growing up, of coming to forgive and show grace, and of allowing the past to stay there.

When Capt. Flint was Still a Good Man: Really enjoyed this book. It’s sort of a coming-of-age novel, with some Shakespearean references thrown in, not to mention great descriptions of the Pacific NW. How much is too much to pay to preserve a way of life for an entire town? Cal is 15 and unprepared for the answer his father gives to that question. Go read my review for more, and then go read the book.

Between You and Me: I pretty much fail at pop culture, but even I could see that this book referenced a lot of the events of Britney Spears’ life. Written by the authors of the popular Nanny Diaries, this  book contains their trademark humour and snark, but also gives a devastating look at how life on the top takes a huge toll on those who get there. I ended up feeling a lot of sympathy and compassion for the character of Kelsey Wade (the one who references Spears). The story is told from the p.o.v. of her cousin, Logan Wade, who becomes Kelsey’s manager. A good summer read, especially if you like pop culture.

WHAT I’M READING RIGHT NOW! AS YOU READ THIS!:

The Voluntourist: Ken Budd is having a major mid-life crisis. His own father just died suddenly, and he’s facing the fact that he’s not going to be a father himself. He deals with it by deciding to give something back to the world, and begins to volunteer in places as diverse as Costa Rica, where he and his wife Julie teach English for a couple of weeks, to China, where he and a friend work with autistic children, to Ecuador, where he works with an environmental group. Budd’s a good writer and I enjoy his introspection and inherent honesty. I’m not quite halfway through–he’s got at least 3 more trips to make. I lived overseas myself and I recognize that popping in for 2 weeks here and there does a limited amount of good, but I like that Budd himself realizes this.

Abdication: This book takes place in England in 1936, and contains many actual historic figures (you can figure out two of them just from the title!), living in a world peopled with fictional characters. It’s interesting and it’s a fine book but sometimes it’s apparent that the author has done her research almost too well–in other words, it occasionally reads a bit like an article on what life was like at that time.

Four Quartets: Somehow I had never read these. I know! Of course I LOVED them. I think I am going to memorize parts of “Burnt Norton” and “Little Gidding.” (I know, you already did, in college. I’m such a loser)

And on the enormous stack of TO BE READ:

The Soldier’s Wife: I like Joanna Trollope as an author, and I think this should be an interesting look at the complexities of modern marriage when 6-month tours of Afghanistan are added to the mix.

Bullying Decoded: The Economics of Abuse: Long-term readers may remember that we’ve dealt with this in our own family, so I thought this looked interesting.

Where We Belong: I wasn’t going to read this one but they sent me the first chapter and I was hooked. Looks like intelligent chick lit.

Double Time: A memoir of raising twins. WHY DIDN’T I WRITE A BOOK? Sigh. Anyway, my interest in this topic is obvious.

Year Zero: The aliens have been hooked on earth music since the 70s, and due to copyright violations, the Earthlings now own everything. Supposed to be a zany combo of Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde.

Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq: Sigh. I don’t have time to read this. I was at Powells to pick up something for Elliot and I got sucked into a vortex swirling round the Middle East section and a zombie ate part of my brain AND held a gun to my head so I had to buy this, and also a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot. I could do this because I sold a bunch of books, in an attempt to stop having to triple-book each shelf of the bookcase. This is the story of 2 Iraqi sisters and 2 American aid workers and it’s about a clash of traditional Arabic/Islamic values with American-style feminism, supposedly, but it’s all personal stories and it actually looks really good. Really good. Who knows when I’ll get to it?

Skios: A Novel: supposed to be a humourous send-up of academics, captains of industry, ambitious social climbers and dotty philanthropists (I am modifying this from the back cover). Set on a private Greek island. I want a private Greek island too.

There you have it, aside from a few that I’m forgetting. What about you? Is it raining with you too? And what are you reading, in rain or shine?

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