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 March, 2019…
Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson – Somehow, despite loving popular history, I hadn’t read any Lynne Olson before last month. I’m glad to have corrected that error now and can’t wait to read more. Last Hope Island was fascinating and engaging. Beginning with heart-in-throat depictions of the rescues of the ruling families and government dignitaries of occupied Europe – King Haakon of Norway, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and more – and continuing on to describe the role of the BBC, Britain’s warring intelligence agencies, and the daring of the nascent resistance movements left in the occupied countries, it was the most well-researched page-turner I’ve ever read. (Well, maybe tied with Erik Larson’s Dead Wake). The discussions of the intelligence failures, betrayals, and lack of support for and collaboration with the governments in exile made me heartsick; I said to Steve “This book is proof that there is a God, because without divine intervention I really don’t see how the Allies win that war.”
Old New York: Four Novellas, by Edith Wharton – I’ve been on a bit of a Wharton kick lately, and I loved these four novellas – especially the last one, New Year’s Day (the 1870s installment). Each of the four novellas covers one decade – the 1840s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (although the 1860s story mostly takes place in the 1890s, confusingly). I especially loved The Old Maid, in which two women conspire to hide a secret, and the aforementioned New Year’s Day, which was a heartbreaking story of a woman caught in what seems to be an affair. I won’t say more, because you should read it! It’s a slim volume but every page was a delight. Fully reviewed here.
The Joy of the Snow, by Elizabeth Goudge – After loving The Little White Horse, I’ve been meaning to read more Goudge, and I thought her memoir would be a good place to begin. It was. Goudge describes her childhood and girlhood in lyrical prose – as with The Little White Horse, she is at her best when describing houses. The Ely house, with its passage to the Cathedral green! The garden at Devon! The sweet country cottage in Oxford! I enjoyed the rest of the book – despite Goudge’s well-documented tendency to get a little preachy from time to time; I mostly skimmed those sections – but the houses were the highlight.
Slightly Foxed No. 61: The Paris Effect, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – Although I am trying to make my way through an epic library stack right now, I am powerless to resist a new Slightly Foxed when it arrives at just the right moment, and this one did. The best issues of Foxed – for me at least – combine books I’ve read, books I’ve been meaning to read, and books I haven’t heard of before but now have to track down; this issue was a perfect example of that alchemy. I’m now itching to get my hands on Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals and In Pursuit of Spring, and to read the Nancy Mitford novels I already have on my shelves.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie – As I mentioned here, I’ve spent years wondering whether I had already read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or not. It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer, but now at least I know I’ve read it once – last month. One of Christie’s earliest novels and also one of her best known, it features a surprise ending that totally changed the mystery writing landscape at the time it was published. (Well, it wasn’t entirely a surprise for me, because I actually figured out whodunit – although I didn’t know what the motive was until Poirot revealed all.) Anyway, I absolutely loved it – the clues sprinkled liberally around, the little Poirot-isms, the narrator’s busybody sister… it was a delight from the first page to the last.
Three Men on the Bummel (Three Men #2), by Jerome K. Jerome – I’ll have a full review (for the Classics Club) coming to you next week, but just as a teaser in the meantime – J., Harris, and George are back and scheming up another epic Victorian vacation, this time a bicycling trip through the Black Forest. Times have changed a bit since the friends went up the Thames – George is still a bachelor, but J. and Harris are both married and encumbered with several children, so their plans are complicated by the need to convince their wives to free them for a few weeks. But they find a way and the reader is treated to a number of delightful and hilarious scenes. Three Men on the Bummel doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, Three Men in a Boat, but it was good fun all the same.
Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days that Changed Her Life, by Lucy Worsley – It’s terrible of me to borrow this Worsley from the library when I have Jane Austen at Home sitting on my borrowed-from-a-friend shelf, waiting to be read so I can return it to my dear Susan. But I read this first anyway. (Sorry, Susan!) And while I’m sorry for being such a terrible bookish friend, I’m not sorry for reading Queen Victoria, because it was fascinating and totally enjoyable – not to mention a really neat and different way to approach biography. Worsley follows the Queen through the prism of a day here, a day there, and we get to be present at all the important moments of her life, from her parents’ marriage before she is even on the scene, to her deathbed. I have always been fascinated by Victoria and the age named after her, and I loved this.
Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, by Craig Brown – I guess I was on an “experimental royal biography” kick, or else hampered by library deadlines (maybe a little of both) because I turned next to another royal biography, written in a different sort of style. This one didn’t work as well for me. It might be that Princess Margaret has never been my love language, or that this biography was a bit too experimental. I liked the “glimpses” that consisted of actual quotes from the press or Palace announcements, or that read as more traditional biographical essays (and I did a tiny cheer every time James Lees-Milne turned up to thumb his nose at royalty) but the fictional stories about Margaret married to Pablo Picasso or one of her other admirers read as a little off, and I really hated the dream sequences where the author described his own nightmares about Margaret invading his study and looking at all his notes for his biography of Her Royal Highness. Not information I needed.
The Glass Ocean, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White – I was intrigued by this both from the team-writing perspective (I am currently working on a team-writing project, although it’s going very slowly – my fault entirely, and my writing partner is being very patient) and because the story sounded cool. Williams, Willig and White portray three women who are connected through history. One is a present-day popular history writer who finds something potentially alarming in a trunk belonging to an ancestor who died on Lusitania. The others are two Lusitania passengers – one the wife of a wealthy industrialist and one a conwoman and forger. So this was fine, and it read quickly, but it didn’t entirely work for me and I felt a bit blah at the end. But I’m interested in anything to do with Lusitania, so I did enjoy the descriptions of life aboard the ship.
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, by David Litt – I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, and especially since it spent the last couple of months sitting on my library stack, but other things kept pushing it down the list. Finally I ran out of renewals, so it was time. I loved it. Litt had me laughing and reading passages aloud to Steve throughout the book, and he was such a breath of fresh air and just what I needed to read as my town collapses into a pit of angst over the Mueller report. I especially loved Litt’s anecdote about falling out of a closet half-dressed on Air Force One, and his musings about how much less stressful his life would be if only he was Bo, the Obamas’ dog, instead of a speechwriter.
Whew! Busy month there. March is such a long month that I actually thought I had finished Thanks, Obama on April 1st and was shocked to look at my calendar and realize it was STILL March. Anyway – it was a good month of reading! I was busy with a lot of life stuff, including throwing Nugget a fourth birthday party, hosting family in town for said birthday party, and traveling on business – plus the usual whirl of play dates, library runs, and other kids’ birthday parties – but I managed to squeeze in some excellent reading around all of that. I’m not even sure I can pick highlights, because I enjoyed so much of what I read this month. Edith Wharton and Agatha Christie are always wonderful, and I loved the biography of Queen Victoria that I read, and a month where I get to read a new “Slightly Foxed” is a great month. And now to April. I’ve managed to chip away at my library stack, but I still have a lot to get through, and I am craving some time with the classics on my own shelves. So many books, so little time!