Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for January, 2019…
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton – If there was one word to describe this murder mystery, it was this: BONKERS. Every day, Aiden Bishop wakes up in a new body, but every day his mission is the same: Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m. tonight. Find out who kills her. Aiden has eight days to solve the mystery; if he figures out the answer, he’ll be released from this bizarre game. If he fails, he’ll start all over again. Evelyn Hardcastle was like nothing I’ve read before, and I’m still trying to decide if I liked it or not. It gets major points for keeping me guessing and turning pages. Bonus for the fun of discussing it with Katie, who read it a few days after I did. (One question remains unanswered: the UK title is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I still don’t understand why Evelyn had to die an extra half a time in ‘Murica.)
The Time in Between, by Maria Duenas – I’ve had this popular recent novel of a Spanish dressmaker who turns spy in World War II, on my TBR for awhile, and I enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun, very engaging, with a cast of complex, living characters who seem to leap off the page. I loved the evocative Morocco scenes, and the spy parts were good fun – as World War II spy novels often are. My one complaint: at 609 pages, it was too long. There was more backstory than I needed or wanted, and I found myself wondering when we’d be getting to the espionage parts. Once we finally did get there, the author had to rush to get through the plot; it did seem that the book could have benefited from a touch more editing and a more even pace.
I‘ll Be There for You: The One About Friends, by Kelsey Miller – I think I saw this on Instagram first, and I knew I had to read it. This new nonfiction release is a deep dive into the cultural phenomenon of Friends, a television show that I – like everyone else – love. Miller explores the history behind the show, how it came to be made, the relationships between the cast members, and how the show came to represent a generation. She doesn’t shy away from the more problematic aspects of Friends – the gay jokes, fat jokes, and lack of diversity that dismay the modern viewer for good reason – but even when she turns a critical eye on these elements, the reader can tell that it comes from a place of loving the show. Seeing it for what it is, but loving it nonetheless. Any fan of Friends will definitely want to pick this one up.
The Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey #11), by Dorothy L. Sayers – I loved the winter selection of the Tea & Tattle Book Club! I’m always glad to visit with Lord Peter Wimsey, but I usually prefer the installments in which his lady friend, mystery novelist Harriet Vane, appears. The Nine Tailors doesn’t feature Harriet, but I didn’t have time to miss her what with all the bell-ringing and corpse-finding. The book opens on New Year’s Eve with Lord Peter, attended by his faithful valet Bunter, driving his car off the road near the parish of Fenchurch St. Paul. The parish’s kindly rector, the Rev. Mr. Venables (OF COURSE) takes Lord Peter and Bunter in and conscripts Lord Peter into assisting with all-night bell-ringing, as one does. Two months later, a disfigured corpse turns up in the churchyard (again: OF COURSE) and Lord Peter returns to solve the crime. There are references to bell-ringing, secret identities, missing jewels (WHY NOT) and more fun.
The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley – I’ve been meaning to read this classic bildungsroman for ages now, and finally made time for it this month. The Go-Between is the story of young Leo Colson, who visits a school friend’s wealthy family for the summer and finds himself swept up in the adults’ machinations, with tragic results. Ian McEwan was influenced by it while writing Atonement (which I love) and it’s easy to see why. So – I liked, but didn’t love, The Go-Between. The plot was engaging and the writing evocative, except that I found it hard to buy into the central relationship. And Hartley did one of my pet peeves – he explained his use of symbolism. I haaaaaate it when authors explain what they’re doing. I’m a smart lady; have a little faith that I can put two and two together on my own without having it banged over my head repeatedly, thank you. The best part of the book was Leo’s relationship with Marcus, which was so true to life and absolutely hilarious.
Fables, Vol. 10: The Good Prince, by Bill Willingham – The Fables series gets better and better, and The Good Prince was a delight. The Fables are preparing for war against the Adversary, but before the hostilities begin, there’s a respite as the reader follows the adventures of Prince Ambrose, a/k/a The Frog Prince. Ambrose’s memories have been buried for centuries, but he has begun to recall how the Adversary’s troops murdered his family, and he decides to get revenge. But because Ambrose is possibly the sweetest character ever written, his method of getting revenge is… different. Accompanied by the ghost of Lancelot of the Lake, and wielding Excalibur, Ambrose enters the Homelands at the head of a ghost army, builds a new kingdom called Haven, and promptly sends an envoy to needle the Emperor and proclaim that Haven’s doors are open to refugees from the Empire. Throughout the adventure, Ambrose – now King Ambrose of Haven – remains as pure-hearted as ever, and the result is that it’s a really lovely read.
Fables, Vol. 11: War and Pieces, by Bill Willingham – Volume 11 picks up right where Volume 10 leaves off, and we see the war between Fabletown and the Empire. Fabletown – in a surprise move – strikes first, catching the Empire off guard. Prince Charming directs the war from the skies, the Big Bad Wolf commands the rear guard, and a secret weapon moves into the heart of the capital city. It’s an exciting volume, full of lots of bravery and some sad moments as the Fables’ side experiences losses. I am loving this incredibly imaginative comic.
Spying on Whales: the Past, Present and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures, by Nick Pyenson – This was a really interesting take on popular science around cetaceans. Pyenson is a paleontologist and the head of marine mammal paleontology at the Smithsonian, and he approaches the subject of whales from that perspective. Most of the literature I’ve consumed about cetaceans is written by conservationists and marine mammologists, and Pyenson’s focus on how whales evolved and where they came from sheds a fascinating new light on where they may be going.
How Long ’til Black Future Month?, by N.K. Jemisin – This one was spotty for me, which I think was mostly a function of short stories not being my jam. I often find them hard to get into, and I can never bring myself to care as much about short story characters as I would care about characters in novel-length fiction (probably not surprising). Some of the stories, I really enjoyed – L’Alchemista, The Effluent Engine, and Cuisine des Memoires were my favorites. Others made no sense at all, and one I couldn’t even get through – I have no ability to read about bad things happening to kids, and I could tell immediately that I was going to be upset by the story Walking Awake, so I skipped it. Other stories, I think, suffered from not having enough pages for Jemisin to flex her world-building muscles. The best stories in the collection were those that took place in a somewhat fantastical version of a real place – for instance, The City Born Great (New York), or The Effluent Engine and Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters (both New Orleans).
The House of Special Purpose, by John Boyne – Georgy Jachmenev and his wife Zoya have lived in London since they fled Russia (by way of Paris) after the Bolshevik Revolution. Now it is 1981, and Zoya lies dying in hospice, while Georgy reflects back on their life together. Georgy was in service to the last Tsar of Russia – as a companion and bodyguard to the Tsarevich Alexei – and his memories of his life with the Imperial Family, and their demise, still haunt him. So – this was a fun book to read, if you didn’t squint too hard at the details. It was engagingly written, and both Georgy and Zoya are sympathetic characters. But you really have to suspend disbelief at Georgy’s knack for being present at pivotal historical moments (he helped dispose of Rasputin’s body and was the witness to the Tsar’s abdication papers?!) and if you know much about the Romanovs, you’ll spot a lot of historical inaccuracies. From what they ate (Georgy describes the family at one of their “typically sumptuous meals” but in reality, they were big on the traditional food of Russian peasants – lots of brown bread) to the way things transpired at the Ipatiev House, it was really farfetched. (I’ve read a fair amount about the Romanovs, so maybe I’m a poor example.) The inaccuracies notwithstanding, this book was a page-turner and a lot of fun to read.
Lagom (Not Too Little, Not Too Much), by Niki Brantmark – I think Lagom is supposed to be the next hygge? I’ve seen this and a couple of other books on the topic on #bookstagram, so I grabbed it from the library. It was a really, really pretty book – lots of lovely and restful pictures. But it was kind of also a lot of common sense. Did you know that you should take breaks from work, use your vacation time, eat reasonable portion sizes, and spend time in nature? Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. But a nice restful way to spend a day’s reading.
The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018, by Lia Leendertz – I know you’re thinking that’s a typo, but it isn’t. Jac, why would you read a 2018 almanac in 2019? Excellent question. The answer is: I am still waiting for my 2019 edition to arrive, but in the meantime, the 2018 edition was on Amazon Prime and packed with lovely nature writing, delicious-looking recipes, and sweet line drawings of garden treats, fauna, and more. I read it in a day and I’m not even a little bit sorry I gave the time to a 2018 almanac in 2019.
Swimming With Giants: My Encounters With Whales, Dolphins and Seals, by Anne Collet – I’ve had my eye on this one for some time now. Anne Collet is a famous marine mammologist and cetacean specialist, and Swimming With Giants is her memoir of a fascinating career. The translation is a bit shaky in parts, but Collet’s voice comes through charmingly, and her career is so interesting and envy-inspiring. Obviously swimming with whales and dolphins is frowned upon now, so I’m glad to have gotten to live vicariously through Collet’s 1970s experiences.
Well, that escalated quickly. Thirteen books to start off 2019! And a bit of a mixed bag. The highlights were definitely The Nine Tailors, I’ll Be There For You, and The Almanac 2018, but there were other fun ones mixed in as well. Not as many classics as I’d have liked to see at the beginning of a new year, but I’m not worried. I have eleven more months to read all the classics my heart desires.