Thursday, June 3, 2021

Reading Summary for May 2021


I had a very good reading month in May. My big project was reading The Mirror & the Light. Although it was 750 plus pages, it was not the length that bothered me. I just found it to be a depressing read, knowing how the story would end, and I could only read short bits at a time. So I interspersed several lighter books throughout, which is not the way I usually read books. 

General Fiction

A Month in the Country (1980) by J.L. Carr

From the cover of the book: "In J. L. Carr's deeply charged poetic novel, Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church." I enjoyed reading this book immensely; I loved the way it was written and reading about the 1920s in that setting.

Historical Fiction

The Mirror & the Light (2020) by Hilary Mantel

This is the closing book in a trilogy about Henry the VIII and Thomas Cromwell, a subject I knew little about when I first started reading Wolf Hall. It covers Cromwell's later years, following the beheading of Anne Boleyn. As noted above, this is a long book and overall about a depressing subject, so I found it demanding. But definitely worth the effort.

Crime Fiction

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1975) by Agatha Christie

This was a darker book than I expected. Both Hastings and Poirot are older, and Poirot has crippling arthritis which limits his ability to get around. Hastings meets Poirot at Styles, the setting of the first mystery in the Poirot series, which is now a guest house. There are several interesting guests: Dr. Franklin, a scientist, and his wife; Hasting's daughter Julia;  Stephen Norton, a bird-watcher; and Sir Carrington, whose home nearby is being renovated.  I liked it, of course, but it was not as much fun as many of the Poirot books. It was much more serious, more like Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile.

Checkmate to Murder (1944) by E.C.R. Lorac

This was an excellent vintage police procedural, set during World War II. Great characters and an interesting plot, and even better, there are several more by this author, easily available. See my review here.

The Man in the Queue (1929) by Josephine Tey

This was a reread, the first mystery novel by Josephine Tey, and the first in the Inspector Alan Grant series. I would like to get back to rereading more of Josephine Tey's mysteries. See my review here.

The Red Box (1937) by Rex Stout

This was another reread. It is an early book in the Nero Wolfe series, #4 following The Rubber Band, which I read in March. A complex story and interesting characters, and I am sure I would not have guessed the culprit except that I had read the books several times before.

So Pretty a Problem (1950) by Francis Duncan

This book is part of the Mordecai Tremaine series. Tremaine is an amateur sleuth, retired from his job as a tobacconist. As this book begins, we find that a controversial artist has been killed by his wife. She says it was an accident, but they were alone so no one can back her up. I enjoyed this  book, I liked the way it was structured. Last year I read Murder for Christmas by the same author and enjoyed it also. I first learned about this series of books from Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink.


Currently I am reading The Birdwatcher by William Shaw. I am enjoying it, as I expected, and I hope to finish it tonight. I have no idea how it is going to end.

Next I might read She Came Back by Patricia Wentworth or All Systems Red by Martha Wells or The Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman. All of these books are on my 20 Books of Summer list.


CLM said...

I already have Murder for Christmas on my TBR so I must have placed it there after you read it. I do like the cover art on So Pretty a Problem.

I think Mantel is brilliant (except for her use of the present tense) but I was a 16th century history major and I know I am not going to like what happens in this book. So I am waiting until I am in the mood.

My sisters and I liked The Birdwatcher, although I recall it being a bit odd. They have hunted down the rest of the series which I have not yet read. My middle sister works full time and has a new puppy but her house is always clean and she reads twice as many books as I do. Unfair!

TracyK said...

Constance, I hope you enjoy Murder for Christmas. It is a complicated story but I enjoyed it.

I can understand delaying reading The Mirror & the Light. History has never been a favorite subject for me so I am learning a lot, and even inspired to read nonfiction books about that period.

I think I will be reading more books by William Shaw, maybe this series, maybe the Breen and Tozer series, which I have heard is good. I can understand how it would bother you that your sister reads more books than you, but my sister doesn't read that much and I wish we could talk about and share books.

Rick Robinson said...

First, who is that pretty specimen at the top of the post?

Nice list of books read, and I’ve enjoyed your reviews of them you’ve posted. If you saw my comment on Lesa’s blog today, you’ll see I DNF’d Meet Me At the Museum, though many others liked it. The format killed it for me, I think, I’m just not a fan of epistolary fiction. Other books have gotten in the way, so I’ve yet to get the The Rubber Band, but at least it visible now, each time I pass the TBR bookshelf.

I’m certain I won’t be reading The Mirror & the Light, though I often enjoy historical novels, I doubt I have over 700 pages of interest in it.

I remember buying Curtain when it was published, but didn’t read it for years until I’d read a lot more Poirot novels. I think I finally got to it in 1978 or 1979. I don’t recall anything about it now! ...[pause]... I’ve looked up the plot summary and it still rings no bells! I’ll have to dig out that hardcover for a reread. But first, I’ve just started Doing Time by Jodi Taylor, which comes in at over 450 pages of medium to smallish print, so I’ll be busy with it for a while. In the garden, our blue Campanula have started blooming. The hot spell, several days in the 90s, is over, mid 80s today and cooler tomorrow.

I’ll have a Bryant & May review tomorrow.

TracyK said...

Rick, Rosie was posing on top of a chair. She likes to sit on the arm of the couch too.

I have liked some epistolatory novels, but that isn't my favorite format either. It would be hard for me to recommend The Mirror & the Light to anyone, since I had problems with it. There are varied reactions but the length often bothers readers. Plus it is present tense.

My summary of Curtain is not very good; the plot is very complex. I do hope to review it sometime.

I have gotten a copy of the first book in The Chronicles of St. Mary's series by Jodi Taylor. Very much looking forward to reading it. I should have put it on my 20 Books of Summer list. But it is pretty long and I was looking for shorter books. Maybe I can sneak it in sometime.

I bought a lot of plants for the garden and then got sick and did not feel up to planting them and I am so far behind. Glad your weather is cooling off.

I saw your Bryant & May review (and commented of course) and now I want to read those too.

NancyElin said...

Tracy, I’m happy to tell you I bought 15 crime fiction on Audible yesterday!! 10 Agatha Christie, 1 Walter Mosley, 1 Gail Bowen, 1 Ian Fleming and 1 R. Chandler. I tried Rex Stout but the narrator is terrible si I bought Fer-de-Lance. It is going to be my first real effort to read your favorite genre! You have inspired me as usual! Also starting Foundation(Asimov) with your 20BooksOfSummer21. Francis Duncan and E. Lorac are new for me…but practically all CF is new for me! Love the foto…Great ‘catitude’!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Pretty sure I saw a film of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Will have to check.
I did read the last Poirot for a long time either. Also not a fan of stories told through letters, and even less through emails and texts, which I have seen done lately.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm glad you had a really good reading month, Tracy. That makes so much difference, doesn't it? I like your idea of interspersing lighter reads with a dark one. It breaks up the 'heaviness' of the darker story. Thanks, too, for reminding me of Josephine Tey; it's been a while since I read her work.

Cath said...

You had an excellent reading month! The Birdwatcher was very good. And E.C.R. Lorac has so many good books available too, in fact I read one by her last month, Bats in the Belfry. Suspect your husband may have more...

TracyK said...

Cath, I noticed recently that there is a new E.C.R. Lorac coming out: Two-Way Murder. In the UK, not here in the US yet. So that is a good sign. Glen has Bats in the Belfry and Murder by Matchlight. After I read those, I will look for more.

Neeru said...

You seemed to have a good reading month though I don't think I can read a present tense tome.

TracyK said...

Neeru, I don't blame you. It seems to depend on the author for me. I have found that some books written in present tense don't bother me at all, while other books in present tense are still difficult to read. It is about half and half. But if I know ahead of time, I don't read books in present tense.

TracyK said...

Nancy, I hope you enjoy the crime fiction books you bought. I haven't tried listening to books, but I have heard that Agatha Christie books are really good that way. I hope you like Rex Stout but not everyone does; the Nero Wolfe books are sort of a cross between great detective and hardboiled mystery.

Same for Foundation. Although I think I read this years ago, not sure what I will think of it now, but I hope we both like it. I know I like Asimov's writing in general.

TracyK said...

Patti, the film of A Month in the Country is what motivated me to buy and read the book. The book had been on my list and Glen noticed that the film was available on Prime. I always like to read a book first if possible. Soon I will see how the film compares.

Ella Minnow Pea was a book in letters I enjoyed, but that was years ago, and I don't know if I have read any since. Charles McCarry's The Miernik Dossier is told through documents, including transcripts and diary entries. I have read it twice but it is not my favorite of McCarry's books. I think it keeps you at a distance from the characters.

Rick Robinson said...

It's present tense first person that drives me nuts. I've tried a few audiobooks, but find them too demanding; I have to focus every second in fear of missing a word. I do better with print, in hard copy or ebook form.

TracyK said...

Margot, a good reading month does make a difference. And variety helps a lot too. I hope I can find time to reread more books by Josephine Tey. And maybe even another book by Nicola Upson who uses Tey as a character in her books.

TracyK said...

Rick, I am not sure if I have read books using present tense first person but I can how that would be worse.

I have not tried audiobooks, but the reason I have avoided them is exactly what you describe. I know I would miss a lot and you can't flip back through the pages (or, as on Kindle, search for something). I think they might work for rereads for me, since I would already be familiar with the story. It was Carl Anderson at Stainless Steel Droppings who suggested that the Agatha Christie books work well as audiobooks.

Howard said...

What a beautiful cat.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Howard, we think she is beautiful too, and sweet and loving, but she wakes us up too early.

FictionFan said...

What a great month of reading! I'm glad to hear you felt The Mirror and the Light was worth it - I haven't got to it yet because I feel I may have to re-read the earlier two first since it's so long since I read them. Checkmate to Murder is great - Lorac has been the star of the BL's show for me.

TracyK said...

FictionFan, I had read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in early 2020 and I remembered enough about the story. And my husband and I watched the TV series in the last few months, although that was more confusing than the books. I cannot keep all the people straight, but I did better with The Mirror & the Light in that respect. I still haven't figured out how to review it.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I actually liked Curtain a lot. The whole idea of abetment, without getting your own hands dirty (in the "evidence" sense at least) seemed particularly treacherous to me. But then again, it was the first time I came across such a plot, so maybe that affected my reading experience.
You seemed to have had a great reading month, great going! :-) ~Lex

Sam said...

I absolutely loved both The Birdwatcher and All Systems Red, and will look forward to seeing what you have to say about those. William Shaw is an impressive writer, in my opinion...but I've only, to this point, read the follow-up to Birdwatcher because my library doesn't seem to want to order his later books even though they have multiple copies of his first two.

TracyK said...

I loved The Birdwatcher, Sam, but I did not love the ending. I checked your review of Salt Lane, without reading too much of the details, and I am glad you like the first DS Alexandra Cupidi book, because I wasn't sure what to think of that character. I am going to look for a copy of that one or the first in the other series.

I am looking forward to reading All Systems Red. I am now reading The Small Boat of Great Sorrows (set in Bosnia and Germany).

TracyK said...

I did like Curtain, Lex. I thought it was a great ending to a series. And, as you say, a very unusual premise. I thought the Poirot TV episode for this book was very good, and affecting.

Katrina said...

I remember I dashed to the bookshop the day The Mirror and the Light was published, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and devoured it in a few days. I didn't find it depressing, just sad in parts. I enjoyed Checkmate to Murder and The Man in the Queue and I know I'd like the Rex Stout book, I must track more of them down.

CLM said...

No, it just bothers me that her house is cleaner than mine!

TracyK said...

Katrina, I remember that you were very enthusiastic about the book when you read it, and I thought that I would be too. When I started reading it and was having having difficulty with it, I kept asking myself, What is wrong with me?

One reviewer said that they stopped reading it because they wanted to believe that it would end differently. (Or at least paused for quite a while.)

Anyway, I can only think that I was horrified by the realities of Henry the VIII's court and people aspiring to the court in general. I did really like the book and may read it again someday. And it has not dampened my enthusiasm for reading more about the Tudors and Cromwell specifically. I have two very long biographies and Wolf Hall Companion by Lauren Mackay.

TracyK said...

Well, Constance, I can understand that. Anybody's house is cleaner than mine, and my sister's is too.

col2910 said...

Wow, a lot of older book there. And sorry, but nothing much there that I want to read myself. Roll on June (though we're closer to July now)

TracyK said...

June is a lot different, Col. I am reading an old mystery now, but the previous 5 books I read were all published after 2000. And July and August will have more newer books too. Because that is what is on my 20 books of summer list.