Instead of boring you with an end of the month synopsis of all the books I read during the month, I've decided to do short posts as I finish each book. That's less trouble for both of us. This will be the last multiple book post, unless I finish two books on the same day. So, here we go!
The Spell of Holland - Burton E. Stevenson My friend Katrina just got back from a trip to Holland to visit family. I was there in 1988, but only in Amsterdam, so I decided I'd go along - but not with her - and about 100 years before she went. Stevenson and his wife went to Holland in the early 1900s. This book, published in 1911, is his record of the trip. They didn't want to go on a 'tour' and were determined to stay at inns and hotels that catered to the Dutch, not the ones the English and American tourists stayed in. The author is chatty and fun and opinionated but open-minded. They go off the beaten path, once going to a place even the Dutch couldn't understand why he wanted to go to. I could hardly put it down. I feel a bit guilty talking about his book because it's from my collection of old narrative travel books and it's hard to find. It even has a lovely fold-out map. There seems to be a modern reprint, but it's almost $40.00. Here's a photo of my book:
The Shape of a Year - Jean Hersey This book sounded so good when it was reviewed by Belle earlier this year that I jumped on the Internet and bought a used copy (I don't think it's currently in print). I like books about the quiet country lives of people. Gladys Taber is one of my favorites in this genre. The author goes through the year, month by month, describing her home, the things she and her husband do for fun (play duets on their recorders! fly kites! she hooks rugs while he reads out loud to her), their flower and vegetable gardens, the walks they take with friends, the birds that visit their feeder, their grandsons. It's a calming book, but it also makes me miss the country home we sold to come live in the city. There were a few things that I thought made it feel a bit dated (it was published in 1967, I believe), but it's always fun to remember how much life has changed in even that fairly short period of time.
Top Secret Twenty-One - Janet Evanovich My oldest niece and I have an arrangement: she buys me the latest Stephanie Plum mystery, gives it to me for my birthday or Christmas, I read it in a few days, and then I send it back to her. Works for us. We both like Stephanie and her goofy pals, so why not share? If you read these books, you should know that I'm in the Ranger camp. If you don't read these books, you won't know what I'm talking about. I know Ranger isn't forever; those guys don't settle down well and, well, would you really want him to? He wouldn't be Ranger anymore. These mysteries are silly. This one involves a pack of Chihuahuas, a homeless man, a hugely fat naked man, several murders, exploding apartments and cars, and a very dangerous Russian. I didn't think this one was as exciting as most of the others, except for the ending. Maybe they're too formulaic. At least Rex made it through again. That hamster must be about 10 by now, the oldest hamster in history - but I want to keep living that fantasy.
The Long Way Home - Louise Penny From one sort of mystery to another. I turned my cousin Anne onto the Inspector Gamache mysteries and she repaid me by sending this one, the latest, to me for my birthday. They are consistently the most intelligent, well-written mysteries. I love all the characters, especially Ruth, the cranky old poet, and her duck Rosa. Gamache and Reine-Marie have retired to the village of Three Pines. Clara Morrow has a problem: she kicked her husband out to give them a year's separation to see how they feel about each other, the year's up, and Peter hasn't returned. She doesn't want to bother Gamache, who's trying to recover from physical and emotional wounds sustained on his job. But she finally asks him to help find Peter. Myrna, Ruth, Reine-Maire, and Jean-Guy all volunteer. It makes for one crazy road trip. I'm not going to say more. These are great books. I highly recommend reading them in order. The characters have such depth and they change over the course of the books. Oh, how I want to live in Three Pines!
The last three are library books, so no photos of the ragged copies I borrowed.
Nine Lives to Die - Rita Mae Brown I've read all of the Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries (I also read all The Cat Who ... mysteries) and I think this will be my last. Maybe it's partly because I just finished the Louise Penny book, but the characters in this series seem flat to me and the situations contrived. I like the cats and the Corgi, but maybe I've had enough of talking animals, even if they just talk to each other. (My neighbor has Corgis and just got a puppy - he's the cutest little guy and so friendly. The older ones can be a bit grouchy.) Anyway, two men involved in a program to help boys are found murdered, both with their index and middle fingers cut off. A coyote finds a very old skeleton buried in the woods and Harry's pets lead her to it. Odd though, the skeleton keeps disappearing and reappearing. Harry and her friend and neighbor Deputy Cooper have to solve both mysteries.
Game for Five - Marco Malvaldi I don't remember which blogger mentioned this author, but I know one of you did. I was hoping it would grab me like the Inspector Montalbano mysteries have, but it didn't. Four old men hang out at a bar in a Northern Italian coastal town. They play cards. The bartender, the grandson of one of the geezers, gets involved in a murder when a drunk young man comes to the bar to use the phone to report finding a dead girl stuffed in a trash can. The police think it's a prank because he's drunk, so the bartender goes to the trash can, sees the dead girl, and calls the police. The police are bumblers and are on the wrong track. The bartender watches and listens and finds the clues that point to the murderer. Thank goodness it was a short book!
The Architecture of Happiness - Alain de Botton I know this will disappoint Belle (see above), but I had a hard time with this book. I loved, loved, loved this author's book The Art of Travel, but I didn't love this one. I finished it just an hour ago, so maybe I need to think about it more. I felt that there were too many contradictions, that de Botton argued both sides, so it was confusing to me. I get the point that the places that surround us, that we live or work in, or that we look at when we leave our homes, have a great effect on the way we feel. Personally, I can't stand modern architecture or skyscrapers taller than or built after the Empire State Building's era. Try as I might, like abstract painting, modern architecture makes me feel anxious and jittery. I've only lived in one new house in my life. The house I live in now was built in the early 1800s, and the one I moved from was over 300 years old. Old houses comfort me, reminding me that people lived in this house before me, were born, were happy, suffered in many ways. I guess I like living with ghosts.
It looks like my reading hasn't been that satisfying since the Louise Penny book. She's hard to top.
Katrina, Peggy (I think), and I are planning to read Rebecca during the month of October. We're not reading together in any sense except that we're all reading the same book and planning to finish it by the end of the month. Then we'll discuss it. If you'd like to read along, please join us!