Tuesday, February 4, 2020

My Reading: January 2020

I read 14 books in January. One book of mystery reference, one nonfiction book, three books in the historical fiction genre, and the rest crime fiction. Of the fiction books, five were published after 2000, four in the 1990s, and three between 1953 and 1977.

And all twelve of the fiction books were from my TBR piles.

Mystery reference

Hatchards Crime Companion: 100 Top Crime Novels of All Time Selected By The Crime Writers' Association (1990)
edited by Susan Moody
I enjoy reading most mystery reference books. This was a reread. The book lists 100 favorite crime novels, as chosen by members of the British Crime Writers Association. Susan Moody provides commentary on each book on the list and there are interesting essays on various crime genres.
Rich Westwood of the Past Offences blog read and reviewed all 100 of the crime novels listed in this book. You can see the list here and links to his reviews.


Life Below Stairs: in the Victorian and Edwardian Country House (2011) by Siân Evans
An entertaining social history of the life of servants in Victorian and Edwardian times, with photographs of rooms used by servants, items of clothing, etc. This was the perfect mix of information and anecdotes about the subject and very readable.

Historical Fiction

Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel
This story follows Thomas Cromwell from his youth to his role as an important adviser to King Henry VIII. The main emphasis is on the period when the king wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, a solution that the Roman Catholic Church would not condone. A wonderful, compelling book, with some problems in writing style, but well worth the read. Even at 600 pages.

A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) by Amor Towles
Another long read, over 450 pages. In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropole Hotel in Moscow because his aristocratic attitudes threaten the ideals of the Russian Revolution. The alternative, if he leaves the hotel, is to be shot to death. He lives the next three decades within the confines of the hotel. This is a very fascinating look at Russia in that time, but sometimes reads more like a fantasy than historical fiction. 

The World at Night (1996) by Alan Furst
Alan Furst has said that he writes "historical spy novels." He is writing more about a time than about the actual espionage. This is the story of Jean Casson, a film producer living in Paris when Germany invades in 1940. He is approached by both the British secret service and the Germans to spy for them. The story continues in Furst's next novel, Red Gold.

Crime Fiction

A Kiss Before Dying (1953) by Ira Levin
The debut novel of the author of The Boys from Brazil, Rosemary's Baby, and The Stepford Wives. My review here.

The Lewis Man (2011) by Peter May
The second book in the Lewis Trilogy, set on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. Fin MacLeod was a Detective Inspector in Edinburgh, but has resigned from that post and returned to the Isle of Lewis to restore his parents' croft and to try to establish relationships with people he left behind when he moved to Edinburgh. This is my favorite of all the Peter May books I have read.

The Thief (2009) by Fuminori Nakamura
This was a short book about a pickpocket in Tokyo. Very intense, very bleak, sometimes confusing, and even so I enjoyed it. My first read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13.

The Last Defector (1991) by Tony Cape
This is the second book in a short series about Derek Smailes, who starts out as a Detective Sergeant in Cambridge, England and in this book is an MI5 agent stationed in New York at the UN. My review here.

Death Lives Next Door (1960) by Gwendoline Butler
This is book #6 in the John Coffin Mystery series of 34 books, published from 1956 to 2002. Dr. Marion Manning is a well-known and respected professor at Oxford University. There is a stranger who follows her around and watches her house, yet she is reluctant to complain to the police about it. It is an unusual story, but I enjoyed it and liked the writing style.

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good (2018) by Helene Tursten
This is a book of 5 short stories that are connected. The protagonist is an 88-year-old woman, living in a lovely apartment in Gothenburg, Sweden, rent free. Some people try to take advantage of her due to her age and seeming infirmities; she is not easy to fool. This small book is full of dark humor.

Midwinter of the Spirit (1999) by Phil Rickman
This is book #2 in the Merrily Watkins series. The main character is a single mother of a teenage daughter and a Church of England vicar in a small town in Herefordshire. She is also in training to be a Diocesan Exorcist, or Deliverance Consultant. This book had maybe a little too much of the supernatural for me. But I really enjoyed reading about a female vicar in the Church of England and I like the writing.

A Drink of Deadly Wine (1991) by Kate Charles
This is the author's debut novel and the first book in Book of Psalms Mystery series. The vicar of St. Anne's church in London is being blackmailed and asks his old friend, David Middleton-Brown, to come help with the situation. The plot is very complex; I thought I had it figured but was totally surprised at the end.

A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977) by Ellis Peters
The first book in the Brother Cadfael mystery series, set in Medieval times. A group of men from Brother Cadfael's religious order have been sent to Gwytherin, a small parish in Wales, to acquire the bones of a saint and bring them back to Shrewsbury Abbey in England.  Cadfael goes along because he is Welsh and can translate for them. The people of Gwytherin must agree to let the bones of the saint be moved, but then a prominent man in the village is killed, which complicates things. This was a very educational read, but also enjoyable. I am ready to move on to the next book soon.


Cath said...

I so agree about The Lewis Man, such a good book. Peter May is a class writer. I like his Enzo McLeod books too, set in France.

Very pleased you enjoy that first Cadfael book, I have books 4 and 5 on my library pile now and am so looking forward to reading them.

Also pleased you enjoyed the Merrily Watkins book, I recall I liked that one two.

An excellent reading month for you, Tracy. Particularly impressed that you read Wolf Hall. I've been resisting that but am not sure why.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That is quite a number. I also like the Peter May series. I am seeing WOLF HALL next summer so I should read it first.

Kay said...

You read a lot, Tracy! Good for you. I always love the assortment of books that you select to read and I've often not read any of them. However, this time you read one of my favorite books - The Lewis Man. I love that one and also think it's my favorite Peter May book - either that one or The Blackhouse. I liked the 3rd in the trilogy, but maybe not quite as much as those two. Enjoying your retirement? LOL

Margot Kinberg said...

Peter May is so talented, Tracy, isn't he? I'm very glad that you liked The Lewis Man as much as you did; I think that trilogy is fantastic. And you've reminded me that I ought to add more non-fiction to my reading mix this year. It's easy to forget all the great non-fiction out there when there's also so much fine fiction, too...

TracyK said...

Cath, I don't know why I put off reading the Cadfael book for so long, maybe the time period was not what I wanted to read about. But I did enjoy it. I liked the pace and the writing. And learning about the time period.

I enjoyed Wolf Hall, but I did find it challenging to read. It is written in present tense, if that matters to you. And there were definitely times when the writing style got confusing for me and other reviewers mentioned the same thing. But I still found it an excellent read and the subject was very interesting to me. It is very long though. The 2nd book is only about 400 pages but the third is over 750 pages. Don't know whether I will want to tackle that one.

TracyK said...

Patti, it did not feel like I was reading that much more but this is probably the most books I have read in a month ever. This month I am reading Bleak House and short stories and thus probably a smaller total.

I agree, I would read Wolf Hall before seeing it. I do have Bring Up the Bodies and will probably read that in the next few months.

TracyK said...

Kay, I do like Peter May's writing, and often there are things I learn about too, which I always appreciate. I have read at least one book from all of his series and one of his standalone books (Entry Island). I will have to get The Chessmen and finish that trilogy.

Yes, I am loving retirement. I am reading more and blogging more but not getting some of the other things done I had planned on. But that will come with time.

TracyK said...

Margot, I do like Peter May's writing for many reasons and want to try more of his standalone books.

I am not much of a nonfiction reader but reading Life Below Stairs has motivated me to read a longer, more text heavy book my husband has... Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge.

Judith said...

In January you read a number of books that have been memorable favorites for me. I will return to wax on about them, but Ken and I are diving out the door to hear a local jazz band play at barVino, a wonderful spot with great food and drink. Til later, keep reading!

TracyK said...

Judith, I look forward to further comments from you. I know that you had read A Gentleman in Moscow, it may have been that your blog is where I first heard of that book. Hope you and Ken have fun with jazz and good food.

Judith said...

Hi Tracy,
Yes indeed. We had a wonderful time on Wednesday evening. barVino was packed to the rafters (skiers mostly), but we managed to get served (a new calamari dish that is the best I have ever tasted), and adored the music as we always do when this group of older guys play. They are incredibly good, and could get a gig anywhere in New York State, but like us, they enjoy the slower pace of life here.
Yes, I was captivated by A Gentleman in Moscow, especially the descriptions of his relationship with the little girl as she is growing up. A wonderfully different sort of book--humorous, yet with some very serious, thought-provoking moments.

I have so loved the Peter May trilogy, the second book of which you mention. I have read Books One and Two, but have been holding back from the final novel, Chess Man, because I so relished reading about that island and the atmosphere there--the hard life-the people. Oh, gosh! Your reading Lewis Man makes me want to finish the series this year. I thought that May develops his lead character very well, from where we meet him in the first book.
Remarkable, really.
And oh gosh Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies! I thoroughly enjoyed them both. It took a bit of time for me to become accustomed to the slower pace one needs to fully appreciate her style. And frankly, I thought her style and especially the pace had improved in Bring up the Bodies. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of the third book in April.
I'm interested in all the other books you mentioned! You had a grand reading month!

TracyK said...

Judith, Glad to hear that your evening at barVino went so well. It sounds wonderful. I am assuming the weather is better there now than it was a couple of days ago.

Re the Peter May trilogy, I am waiting until the book sale in September (a long wait, I know) to see if I can find more of his books then, and I have a couple I can read between now and then.

Yes, I did have to slow down my reading to take in Wolf Hall, and will do the same for Bring Up the Bodies. I am glad you plan to read the third book in that trilogy, I am eager to see how you like it. I will be holding off on that one for a while.

Right now I reading Bleak House, along with a couple of other books, so I expect I will read less total books in February.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, "Hatchards Crime Companion: 100 Top Crime Novels of All Time" is what I'd be most interested in, though every one of these books sound good. I must pick up Peter May's novels at the book exhibition next time.

TracyK said...

Prashant, Hatchards Crime Companion was fun to read. It gave me lots of ideas for books and authors to read.

Clothes In Books said...

Well done for tackling the TBR, and a great month's reading. I have read a few of these. Looking forward to the 3rd in the Wolf Hall trilogy.

TracyK said...

Although making a dent in the TBR is a goal this year, I was surprised to read so many books in that category this month. I look forward to what you have to say about the 3rd book in the Wolf Hall trilogy. If I like the 2nd one as well as the first, I will probably end up reading it too, even though it has so many pages.

col2910 said...

Well done Tracy. Are you reading more in your retirement? I ought to read something else from Alan Furst soon. I've enjoyed the ones I have read so far. The Thief and the Ira Levin book are also waiting patiently on the TBR pile.

TracyK said...

Col, I do appear to be reading more since I retired, although I don't really notice it. I am slowing down this month, and reading more short stories.

I find I have to space out the Alan Furst books although I do hope to read Red Gold soon, since it has the same protagonist as The World at Night.