Episode 134 – Travelling between the book covers

I’m still not travelling beyond the comfy reading corner in our condo’s “fortress of solitude”, and yet since the beginning of June I’ve managed to crisscross the planet visiting London, Glasgow, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Ireland, Hungary, Paris, North Dakota, rural Maryland, Gettysburg, Minnesota, Copenhagen, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Channel Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Los Angeles, Windsor Castle, Kent, Tuscany, New Mexico … AND travel through time from the 1400’s to present day. Not bad!

Here’s my journey:

Life Mask, by Emma Donoghue (2021)

The perfect read for fans of Bridgerton…..and so much better for the fact that these are real historical people: sculptress Anne Conway Damer, actress Eliza Farren, the 13th Earl of Derby, Pitt the younger, George III, and so many others. England during the years of the French Revolution is vividly described, while the book remains focussed on the personal lives of the main players. It’s one more wonderful book among so many written by this author.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot, by Marianne Cronin (2021)

5 stars might not be enough for rating this book; it is warm, funny, poignant, life-affirming, and absolutely riveting. I devoured this book in 3 hours, and felt totally sated. There was not one single character with whom I could not relate on some level. The bond between the two main characters, whose ages (83 and 17) add up to the title’s 100 years, makes for a priceless read. This was definitely my favourite book of the summer.

Little Pieces of Me, by Alison Hammer (2021)

Are we defined by our DNA? What makes a parent? What decisions would we make to protect our children? And can we forgive what we don’t understand? Big questions, handled beautifully within the story of woman whose world is turned upside down by the unexpected results of a family tree software’s DNA test. A quick read that will make you think about it long after you’re done reading it.

The Unkindness of Ravens, by M. E. Hilliard (2021)

I love getting in on the ground floor of a new mystery series – there’s a wonderful sense of anticipation generated by wondering if it will be good enough to warrant more. Written by a librarian, with a librarian as amateur sleuth, and set in a wonderfully quirky old manor repurposed as the town’s library, this is an enticing beginning to a new series. The many references to other detectives and mystery books is an added treat. Bring on the next episode!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford (2021)

The concepts of bitter and sweet are perfectly encapsulated in this novel. Moving back and forth between 1942/44 and 1986, from the U.S. Japanese internment camps to Seattle’s Chinatown, this book shares some of the best and worst sides of how immigrants are treated, but in the end it is a beautiful tale of love and friendship.

The Guest List, by Lucy Foley (2021)

This murder-during-a-wedding story is set on a remote Irish island, and voiced by the 5 main characters (suspects??). 80% of the way through the book there is still no actual body, but there is plenty of suspense and innuendo. It was a fun read filled with lots of the kinds of secrets that could inspire murder.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender (2010)

What a strange little book….. and yet I found that I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading it in a single day. It’s an ode to being different, and a perspective into the personal cost that can be involved when a person is too intensely attuned to the emotions of those around them.

Good Eggs, by Rebecca Hardiman (2021)

Delightfully odd. There’s something both endearing and entertaining about rebel teens in cahoots with rebel senior citizens. Add a couple of decidedly bad eggs to the mix, and you have a winner.

The Light of the Midnight Stars, by Rena Rossner (2021)

Fantasy, folklore, and fairy tale mixed with bits of the history of Hungarian Jews in the 1400s. Mesmerizing, touching, hopeful, sad. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Paris Hours, by Alex George (2020)

This is a book with many characters, and EVERY SINGLE ONE is a treasure. The mix of fictional protagonists against a background of real people (Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, and more) makes it a very realistic fiction. I loved every word!

The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich (2020)

I’d go so far as to say this is a “must read” if you are interested in the ways that treaties were viewed by governments, and gaining some insight into why indigenous people would want to maintain their own lifestyle. The author is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa in Minnesota, and has written a number of wonderful novels. (I highly recommend The Round House…. AFTER you read this one!)

A Certain Hunger, by Chelsea G. Summers (2019)

Reading this strange almost parody of “Eat, Love, Pray” was a bit like reading Jeff Lindsay’s character Dexter Morgan’s memoirs, if Dexter were a sex-crazed foodie female. Wickedly funny in a perversely gross way.

Sunflower Sisters, by Martha Hall Kelly (2021)

I’ve been fascinated by Civil War stories ever since seeing the movie version of Gone With The Wind when I was 12, and then reading Margaret Mitchell’s wonderful book. I admire the research that went into Sunflower Sisters, and the skillful way that actual historical figures and facts were used, but overall it felt like I’d read it all somewhere before, and enjoyed it more when I did. A solid 3.5 out of 5, but no more.

Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich (2017)

Dystopian, apocalyptic , quite scary, and yet lyrical in the way of so many of Louise Erdrich’s books. I’d be hard pressed to say that I “enjoyed” it, but I did find it compelling. No plot spoilers here – but if you enjoy the televised version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this book might just be for you.

The Tenant, by Katrine Engberg (2020)

I loved the many dead ends and twists in this darkly funny Nordic detective novel, and am definitely looking forward to more from the quirky partnership of Danish detectives Koerner and Werner!

The Reminders, by Val Emmich (2018)

A heartwarming and wonderful story about a little girl who remembers absolutely everything she has seen since the day she fell and hit her head in a hardware store, and the adult friend of her parents who isn’t sure whether he’d rather forget or relive his memories of his greatest love. This book made me want to relive my own memories!

Hamnet and Judith, by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

A touching glimpse into the private life of arguably the English-speaking world’s most famous playwright, focussing on Anne (Agnes) Hathaway and their children’s places in his life. Enchanting… and heartbreaking.

How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig (2019)

Very strange and yet quite wonderful. Reading about someone who has lived through 400+ years of history in both Europe and North America should have felt like time-travelling science fiction, and yet it felt more like a memoir. Apparently “soon to be a major motion picture starring Benedict Cumberbatch”. I can hardly wait!!

The Girl from the Channel Islands, by Jenny Lecoat (2020)

(Based on real characters and events.) This story is a testament to the power of love and the courage of individuals, even within the most difficult of circumstances and the most evil of times. Although the story itself is different, it is reminiscent of The Jersey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead (2021)

The premise of the book is the production of a movie based on the life of a female aviator whose goal was to fly around the earth, circumscribing a “great circle” that would go over both poles. At 608 pages, it is an epic read, but kept me hooked the whole time. The story is filled with flawed characters – and aren’t those always the most interesting?

The Windsor Knot, by S. J. Bennett (2020)

A lovely gentle murder mystery, if there can be such a thing. The voice used for Her Majesty makes one feel like an honoured confidante within the royal household. Smashing!!

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman (2020)

Never underestimate the intelligence – or heart – of older adults. This book is full of great characters, red herrings, and the kind of droll humour for which Richard Osman is famous on British game shows and panels (catch him as a panelist on QI or hosting Pointless to see what I mean). At times I was reminded of the 1980’s Britcom “Waiting for God”, although the residents of this book’s upscale retirement village are considerably more nuanced. I can hardly wait for the next instalment!

My Italian Bulldozer, by Alexander McCall Smith (2017)

A quick fun little read, even if the ending was predictable almost from page 1. If you enjoy McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this book too.

A Good Day for Chardonnay, by Darynda Jones (2021)

This is the second in a series featuring Sunshine Vikram, the sherriff of a small New Mexico town. She has a mysterious past, a hilarious adventure-filled present, and an oddball cast of co-workers and family members that create an almost Janet Evanovich/Stephanie Plum kind of vibe. Fun to read – and you don’t need to think too hard, so you can definitely enjoy the book with a glass (or 7, as Sunshine would recommend) of chardonnay. SPOILER ALERT!! BUT…. the 5 page long sex scene from 357-362 would have been much better left to readers’ fertile imaginations. In my opinion, it felt like it was written by a different author and inserted into the book to make it more – what ? That disconnect dropped my rating by a full star, from 4/5 to 3/5. Judge for yourselves of course.

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