Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 Reading: Fiction Part 3

Okay, this should be the last of the fiction.

41.  An Elderly Lady is up to No Good, by Helene Tursten.  "No good" doesn't begin to describe it!   Maud is 88, living in a fabulous, rent-free apartment, which some no-goodniks would like to get their hands on.  Maud takes care of them, all right.  Great fun.

42.  Fiori sopra l'inferno, by Ilaria Tuti.   A thriller set in a small town in Italy, close to the Austrian border.   Teresa Battaglia is sent to Travenì to investigate a series of gruesome murders and mutilations.  She has to work with a rather arrogant, much younger cop, and contend with a village that would rather not know and would rather not have the outside world know it.   The narrative goes back and forth between the present, and events in an orphanage years earlier.   The end is heart-rending.

43.  Fox, by Dubravka Ugresic.  The fox is a trickster, a shapeshifter, and so is this book.  Hard to describe its mix of fiction and history, invented characters and real people, its story told in several section jumping to different parts of the world.  What's true and what's false?  It's not an easy book, but it's worth the effort.

44.  The Willow Pattern, by Robert van Gulik.  A Judge Dee story, with plague and murders.  
45.  Sperando che il mondo mi chiami, by Mariafrancesca Venturo.   The title is a bit of a pun.  Carolina comes from a family of teachers, and is herself what we call in the States a substitute teacher.   It's really hard to get a full-time position, and to get a temporary one, you have to be constantly on call and nearby.  (You'll learn a lot about the Italian educational system and what it's like to be a teacher there from this book.)  Carolina loves her work, and she has an amazing ability to establish rapport and understanding with her young charges, even when she's there a very short time.  Her desire to figure out what's best for them and what's best for her is what drives the plot.  Secondary characters are drawn really well.  We understand her close connection with her grandmother, for instance, and her need to help a student in distress.  The book does not appear to have translated into English (yet), which is a shame.

46.  Little Novels of Sicily, by Giovanni Verga, translated by D.H. Lawrence.  More short stories than novellas, this volume includes the story on which the opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, was based, though there's a whole lot more to it.   The stories reveal the lives of rural Sicilian peasants, corrupt clergy, and greedy landowners.   

47.  The Sole Survivor, and the Kynsard Affair, by Roy Vickers.  Two, two, two mints in one!  Okay, two stories in the same volume.   In the first, a group of men are stranded on an island following a shipwreck.  One survives.  What happened to the rest?   Some were clearly murdered, but the last might have been a suicide.  A judicial inquiry may or may not reveal the truth.  In the second, the question is, who has been killed?  A naked corpse is discovered, and there are two possible victims.  Or are the women one and the same?

48.  Cakes for Your Birthday: a criminal extravagance, by C. E. Vulliamy.  The Liquidation Committee decides to perform a public service, and rid their town of a nasty, malicious, slander-slinging biddy. The chair, a retired headmaster, and his younger accomplices, take advice from a dahlia-loving professional hit man. Things go wrong. 

49.  The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner, by Giles Waterfield.  Oh, funny!  A a satire on what goes on behind the scenes in museums, covering twenty-four hours in the run-up to the gala opening of an exhibition at "BRIT: the Museum of British History".  If you've worked in a museum, if you go to museums, if you know anything about them, you'll enjoy the romp.

50 and 51.  False Dawn and The World Over, by Edith Wharton.   

In False Dawn, Lewis Raycie's father sends him to Europe to buy "great art", which will be the nucleus of a collection that will make Raycie's name echo down the ages.   But in Italy Lewis falls under the influence of John Ruskin, and the art with which he returns is not what was expected.  His father basically disowns him, and it is not until years later, when it is too late for him or his widow financially, that the paintings are truly appreciated.   Read for a class and it engendered quite a good discussion about "what is art".   

The World Over is a collection of short stories, set in Wharton's usual worlds of Gilded Age New York and the Europe of wealthy American travelers.

52 - 56.   The Code of the Woosters; Right Ho, Jeeves; Heavy Weather; Galahad at Blandings; Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (a/k/a The Catnappers), by P. G. Wodehouse, of course.  What else needs to be said?  If you like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing you'll like.  I do and I did.

57.  Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar, by Olga Wojtas.  I picked this up because I thought the concept was interesting, but it goes horribly wrong.

The protagonist, Shona McMonagle, is a librarian and a graduate of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, snitched from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  But this connection goes nowhere, so what was the point?  She finds herself on a time traveling mission to tsarist Russia, but has not been told where she's going, what year it will be (she never finds out), or what her mission is, which is a strange way to go about things. And this, naturally, contributes to her idiotic behavior, behavior that one would not expect from a theoretically intelligent woman, one who comments that being wrong was a new experience for her. She is ridiculously dense, missing things that anyone with an ounce of common sense would realize immediately.

A note at the end of the book suggests that there will be more books featuring this woman. I will not be reading them.

58.  Sorcery and Cecelia: the Enchanted Coffee Pot, by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.  An epistolary novel set in Regency England featuring Cecelia and her friend and cousin Kate.  Wrede and Stevermer alternate the writing, so Cecilia and Kate each has her own distinctive voice.  It's got fantasy, magic, wizardry, as well as a couple of feisty teen-aged girls.  I enjoyed it.

59.  A Coin in Nine Hands, by Marguerite Yourcenar.  This is a collection of short stories, culminating with an assassination plot against Mussolini, linked by the "coin" of the title. Everyday lives, isolated, lonely, are connected as the ten-lira piece changes hands.

To be continued  .  .  .  with non-fiction.


2019 Reads - Fiction Part 2

I was listing books alphabetically by author, and discovered that I missed a few!

So .  .  .  

21.  Flight of the Falcon, by Daphne du Maurier.  A rather odd book.  The protagonist is a courier for a tour company in Italy.  There's a murder of an old lady in Rome, and he might or might not know who she was.   He returns to his home town, where his brother (whom he thought was killed in the war) is organizing a pageant about a dubious Renaissance duke.  It's all very odd.

22.  Eve's Ransom, by George Gissing.  A shorter Victorian.  Maurice Hilliard, having unexpectedly come into a bit of money, goes (doesn't everyone?) to London to enjoy life, and not incidentally to track down a young woman with whose photo, shown to him by his landlady, he has fallen in love.  She is not doing well financially, and so is willing to take what she can get from him, including a trip (accompanied by a friend) to Paris - rather compromising at that time.   Things get complicated, but all works out in the end.

23.  La Ragazza con la Leica, by Helena Janaczek.  This is a fictionalized account of the life of photographer Gerda Taro (the first woman photojournalist killed covering a war - the Spanish Civil War) and various of her colleagues and friends.  It jumps back and forth in time, and is primarily other people's recollections of her.  Interesting enough that I sought out non-fiction about Taro.  

24.  The Island of the Mad, by Laurie R. King.  A Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery.  Mary is asked by an old friend to track down her aunt, who disappeared with her nurse after being furloughed from Bedlam (a mental hospital) to attend her brother's birthday celebration.   All clues lead to Venice, so Mary heads there with Holmes, whose brother Mycroft has charged with reporting on the political situation.   While there, the two also become involved with "bright young things", like Cole Porter. 

The island of the title is Poveglia, one of the lagoon islands, a place where in the late 1700s plague victims were sent, likely to die, and in 1922 a mental institution was built there.  There are all sorts of stories of an evil doctor and hauntings, and the like.  I was there once, in the dark, it's very spooky.

25.  Chicago, by David Mamet.  1920s Chicago, the mob, newspaper men.  I finished this only because my book club was reading it.  I don't think I've ever read such ridiculous, stilted, pretentious dialogue in all my life. Seriously, after half a page, I threw the book down, yelling, "No one talks like this!" And this man is a playwright (not that I've ever thought much of his plays, either)! The narrative is pretty bad, too.

26.   Compulsion, by Meyer Levin.   A novel based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case.  Not bad.  It drags a bit once we get to the trial.   There's a reason that books, films, television shows about trials are so unrealistic.   They need to be dramatic, and, let's be honest, trial (in this case, sentencing) transcripts aren't, and Levin basically just parrots the testimony.

27.  The Quiet Side of Passion, by Alexander McCall Smith.  This is one of his Isabel Dalhousie series.  Isabel is coping with now two children while editing her philosophy journal, and sticking her nose into other people's business (in fairness, usually because someone asks her to do so).  The usual secondary characters - housekeeper Grace, niece Cat - are their usual selves, and the always obnoxious Professor Lettuce also puts in an appearance.

28.  The Peppermint Tea Chronicles, by Alexander McCall Smith.   A 44 Scotland Street book.  This is my favorite series of his.   It's always a joy when a new one comes out.   Bertie and Stuart are reveling in the absence of the truly annoying Irene, who is off getting an advanced degree in Aberdeen.  Bruce the narcissist is thinking of settling down(!), but his ego trips him up badly.  Elspeth and Matthew continue to figure out how to raise triplets.  Can't wait for the next!

29.  Speedy Death, by Gladys Mitchell.  Murder at an English country house, where one of the party, Mrs. Bradley, is a psychoanalyst and amateur sleuth.  Very twisty and enjoyable.

30.  Festa di Famiglia, by Sveva Casati Modignani.   Italian chick lit.   A group of friends meets regularly for dinner, and support each other through life's trials and tribulations.

31.  Charade, by John Mortimer.   Mortimer's first novel (it shows) is based on his experience in a film unit during WWII.  The narrator is basically a "gofer" in the unit, the other people are all a bit odd, and there's a death that might be murder.   A bit weak, but, I say, it's his first, and we know he'll improve.

32.  Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata.  Keiko is definitely not leading the life expected of a young (well, not so young any more) Japanese woman.   At 36, she has been working at a convenience store, where the prescriptive, rule-bound nature of the work suits her personality very well.  Family members, though, try to get her have a more "normal" life.  A bit quirky, and with some good points made about the difficulty of fitting in.

33.  The Story of the Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit.   A re-read.   There are some "children's books" that I still like to read, and E. Nesbit's are among them.  When the family fortunes disappear, the children vow to restore them.  Well, you can imagine!   Fun.

34.  The Pit: a story of Chicago, by Frank Norris.  This concerns a Chicago trader's attempt to corner the market on wheat, and the financial and familial consequences.   The descriptions of trading in the old Board of Trade building are excellent, as are those of the social and business lives of the city.   This is the second in what was intended to be a trilogy, The Epic of Wheat, but Norris died before writing the third.

35.  Dear Mrs. Bird, by A. J. Pearce.  This is set during the London Blitz, and the protagonist is Emmy, a young woman who would love to become a Lady War Correspondent, but finds herself as dogsbody to an agony aunt, one who will answer only Acceptable problems. Feeling that even (or especially) the writers of Unacceptable letters need help, Emmy starts to write back.  The book has its comic moments, but it's also a very good picture of life during the Blitz, the worries and the rationing, how the folks, particularly the young ones, went on with life.

36.  The Secret Commonwealth, by Philip Pullman.   The second of "The Book of Dust" trilogy focuses more on Lyra, now an adult, than did the first.  Poor Lyra.   She and Pantaleimon are at odds.  Truly.   That's not supposed to happen with your daemon.   But, unlike just about everyone else, they can separate, and it's in part the circumstances that led to that that also caused Pantaleimon's sense of betrayal, their inability to communicate with each other in the old way.  And now each must take a dangerous journey without the other.

37 and 38.  Unnatural Death and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy L. Sayers.  These are both re-reads.  In fact, I re-read Bellona Club because I'd acquired a new copy to replace one that was falling apart.   

39.  Oedipus the King, by Sophocles, translation by Nicholas Rudall.  Chicago's Court Theatre mounted a production of Oedipus this season, and will later do The Gospel at Colonus and (next season) Antigone.   They used (mostly) the Rudall translation.   In conjunction with the performance, they held a seminar about the play, facilitated by a staff member and classics professor from the University of Chicago.  I liked doing a deep dive into the play, the discussions were thought-provoking and made seeing the production so much better.  I told the artistic director that they should do this sort of thing more often!

40.  Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey.   Another re-read, for the anniversary of the murder of Richard III.  

Books read in 2019 - Fiction - Part 1

I'm going to do this is multiple posts, as it would get crazy long if I didn't!

One of my goals has been to lighten my overladen bookshelves by reading heretofore unread books that I doubt I'll want to keep.  As a result, there are a fair number of older works of fiction on this list, including many detective/mystery books.  But, of course, a lot of newer books as well.

1.  The Piccadilly Murder, by Anthony Berkeley.  A "Golden Age" mystery, with the usual convoluted plot.  A great deal of fun.

2.  The Lawyer's Secret, by M.E. Braddon.  Braddon is best known for Lady Audley's Secret, but wrote absolutely TONS of "sensational" fiction.  My copy of this novella also included a shorter work, "The Mystery at Fernwood".  I must say that the "secret" was pretty obvious (at least to me) early on, but I nevertheless do enjoy these Victorian sensation novels, even when they aren't triple-deckers.

3.  The Lake on Fire, by Rosellen Brown.   I had so looked forward to this book.  It's Brown's first novel in many years, and is set in Chicago at the time of the World's Columbian Exposition.   It follows a young Jewish immigrant, who leaves rural Wisconsin for Chicago, accompanied by her prodigy of a young brother.  So it sounded pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, it's surprisingly poorly written.  The characters never came to life, and the ending is very weak. 

4.  The Pyramid of Mud, by Andrea Camilleri.   What can I say?  If you enjoy the Montalbano series (which I do), you'll enjoy this book.   Gosh, I'm going to miss Camilleri.

5.  The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler.  An excellent bit of noir.

6.   La ragazza nella nebbia, by Donato Carrisi.   Read for my Italian book club.  A murder mystery set in the small town of Avechot, it is also a commentary on the media and police work.  A complex plot well worked out.

7.  The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davies.   I enjoy Davies work a lot, and, as usual, his characterizations are very well done.  His last, and, though perhaps not his best (I think I'll always like The Salterton Trilogy the most, perhaps because that's where I first encountered him), worth reading.

8.  Cold for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone, by Maurizio de Giovanni.   This series features a group of police officers, all of whom have not-so-stellar reputations, who have been sent to the Pizzofalcone station to replace a bunch of corrupt cops.  The powers-that-be are always looking for a reason to disband the squad, but good police work stops that from happening.   Here, a double murder provides the basis for the plot, but I always think that de Giovanni's strength is in creating the Neapolitan atmosphere, and creating fully-fleshed-out, interesting characters.   (I also recommend his Comissario Ricciardi series, also set in Naples, but during the Fascist period, which is a character in itself.)

9.  Optic Nerve, by Maria Gainza.  Not so much a novel as a series of connected chapters, in each of which a work of art becomes the trigger for memories and meditations.  

10.  Time for Frankie Coolin, by Bill Granger.   Set in Chicago in the '70s.   Coolin is a white, blue-collar guy, who owns a couple of rundown apartment buildings in black neighborhoods. He's doing okay, working in the trades has got him and his family out to the 'burbs.   Then favor for a relative lands him in hot water with the feds.   This is such a great book!   Really captures the flavor of the people and neighborhoods and culture of Chicago at the time, and will help you understand the impact that had on where we are now.

11.  Goodbye, Piccadilly, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.  This is the first of a series of the author's "War at Home" series, following a family before and during World War I.  I read it on the recommendation of a friend.  It's not a bad read, but I guess I'm not really a "family saga" sort of person, as I am not inspired to continue the series.

12.  The Tale Teller, by Anne Hillerman.   Tony Hillerman's daughter has continued his Chee/Leaphorn series, and in the more recent contributions she has started to make the series her own, by giving more prominence to Officer Bernie Manuelito, who is married to Chee.  Leaphorn has been asked to track down a missing Navajo artifact, Manuelito stumbles on a body, while Chee and Manuelito are also looking into a series of burglaries.  You'll not be surprised to learn that some of these things are connected.

13.  Was it Murder?, by James Hilton.  Of course it was!  This was rather a fun book to read, despite the fact that I had the culprit's identity figured out very early on, and also despite the fact that the author never grapples with the legal impossibility of the supposed motive (the culprit may not have been aware of the issue, but the detectives certainly would have been).

But I really liked this quotation: "Someone had actually tried to murder him, to shoot him in cold blood as he sat at his typewriter; it was a monstrous thing, and he experienced, though a hundred times more intensely, the feeling that constrains so many Englishmen to write to the Times." Ha!

14.  Pictures at an Exhibition, by Sarah Houghteling.  A novel about a young man's attempt to recover his family's art collection, stolen by the Nazis.  Because it's long, I'm linking to My review at LibraryThing

15.  Keep it Quiet, by Richard Hull.  Another "Golden Age" mystery.  Murder and blackmail at a staid London men's club. First published in 1935, it's quite amusing (intentionally so).

16.  No!  I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year, by Virginia Ironside.  An amusing account of just what the title says - a woman's 60th year.  She's a bit of a curmudgeon, to which I can relate.  Not great literature, but an enjoyable light read.

17.  The Game is afoot!  Parodies, pastiches, and ponderings of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Marvin Kaye.  Like all anthologies, some of the offerings are great, some are terrible, and most are somewhere in between.  If you are a fan of Holmes, it's worth dipping into.

18.  Unto Us a Son is Give, by Donna Leon.   A Comissario Brunetti mystery.   Brunetti's father-in-law, Count Falier, is concerned about an old friend who wishes to adopt his much younger lover (basically to get around Italian inheritance laws).   When the friend drops dead in the street, is it murder?   A second death definitely is.  Leon's are always enjoyable, if only because they take me back to Venice.  And the food! 

19.  The House Sitter, by Peter Lovesey.  Nobody notices when a woman is strangled on a crowded beach.  There's also a serial killer on the loose, and it turns out the dead woman was a profiler who worked with the police.  Any connection?   An okay book, but good enough to make me hunt up others in the series.

20.  Under Cover: Death Stalks the Book Dealer, by F. J. Manasek.  Linked short stories of crime and murder in the antiquarian book world.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018: the non-fiction

Here's the non-fiction for 2018.  Again, bolding some of my favorites. 

LOTS of memoirs and biographies:

A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica: the Ladino Memoir of Sa'adi Besalel a-Levi
Sacred Ground: the Chicago Streets of Timuel Black, by Timuel D. Black, Jr.
The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell
Bookshops: a reader's history, by Jorge Carrion
Fashion Climbing: a memoir with photographs by Bill Cunningham
Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World, by Hasia Diner
My Family and other Animals, and Birds, Beasts, and Relatives, by Gerald Durrell
Escape through the Pyrenees, by Lisa Fittko
By Appointment, by Sidney Berry Hill
Black Tudors: the untold story, by Miranda Kaufman 
Can't Nothing Bring Me Down: Chasing Myself in the Race Against Time, by Ida Keeling
The South Side: a portrait of Chicago and American segregation, by Natalie Y. MooreTwo Schools of Thought: Some Tales of Learning and Romance, by Carolyn See and John Espy
Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: the Fathers of Wilde, Yeats and Joyce, by Colm TóibínThe Girl with the Hat: Esther Mercy vs. Marion Talbot, by Harriet Reynolds Tuve

History, too:

To Sleep with the Angels: the story of a fire, by David Cowan and John Kuenster
Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, by Thomas V. Cohen
Women and the Making of the Modern House: a social and architectural history, by Alice T. Friedman
A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889, by Frederic Morton
Chicago Renaissance: Literature and Art in the Midwest Metropolis, by Liesl Olson
Food and Cooking in Roman Britain: History and Recipes, by Jane Renfrew
Shade: a Tale of Two Presidents, by Pete Souza
The World that Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square, by Ned Sublette
Forever Open, Clear, and Free: the Struggle for Chicago's Lakefront, by Lois Wille

And various other things:

New York è una finestra senza tende, by Paolo Cognetti
The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, by Donald Keene 
Maestros and their Music: the Art and Alchemy of Conducting, by John Mauceri
Mutts Shelter Stories, by Patrick McDonnell
Ciao, Carpaccio! an Infatuation, by Jan Morris
Venice on a Plate: but what a Plate!, by Enrica Rocca
Frank Lloyd Wright at Oberlin: the Story of the Weltzheimer/Johnson House, by Athena Tacha
Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin, by Calvin Trillin
The Man with the Sawed-Off Leg and other tales of a New York City Block, by Daniel J. Wakin
Snobbery with Violence: English Crime Stories and their Audience, by Colin Watson




2017's Non-fiction

Yes, I know.  Really behind with this post, but I was doing the previous one and discovered this draft.  I'm bad.  So here you are.

As promised, here are the non-fiction titles I read last year.

1.  Deborah Alun-Jones, The Wry Romance of the Literary Rectory  A rather delightful book in which Alun-Jones discusses the effect of growing up, or living in, a rectory on some British literary figures, ranging from the Brontes to Dorothy L. Sayers to the various Bensons.

2.  Tim Anderson, Japaneasy: Classic and Modern Japanese Recipes to Cook at Home  Anderson seeks to demystify Japanese cooking for the nervous westerner.  The recipes are straightforward, but there's humor as well.  Each recipe has a different description for the level of difficulty, ranging from "not at all difficult" to really bad puns like "soy not difficult" (for edamame).   It's also a beautifully designed book, with lovely photographs and drawings.  I haven't tried any of the recipes yet (hey, I just got it at Christmas), but I expect that I will.

3.  Anomymous, Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen  For those who are "perplexed by doubtful points of Etiquette, or by the frequent changes in the fashions of Society".

4.  Elif Batuman, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who read them  A combination of memoir and literary criticism, with some travel writing thrown in.  I enjoyed it, but then I spent one summer when I was in college reading nothing but Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

5.   Pierre Berton, The Dionne Years: a Thirties Melodrama   Gosh, it certainly was!   Poor kids.  Mom gives birth to quintuplets at home, and everybody thinks they know better than the parents how to raise them.   The girls are basically put on show.  They didn't do very well as adults, and it's no surprise.

6.  Stefan Bollman, Women who read are dangerous  The title is misleading; it's actually a collection of images of women reading with short essays about those images. 

7.  Timothy Brook, Vermeer's Hat: the Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World  Globalism isn't new, kiddies!   Brook uses the objects in a painting by Vermeer (fur hat, pottery, etc.) as jumping-off points for a discussion of the expansion of trade around the world. 

8.  A.S. Byatt, Peacock & Vine: on William Morris and Mariano Fortuny  

9.  Franco Cardini, et al., The Medici Women  A collection of essays, and quite a collection of women

10.  Katherine Reynolds Craddock, Uncompromising Activist: Richard Greener, First Black Graduate of Harvard College

11.  James Gleick, Time Travel: a history 

12.  Daisy Hernández, A Cup of Water under my Bed

13.  Angela Jackson, A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: the life and legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks

14.  Dean Jackson, Empire of Deception: the incredible story of a master swindler who seduced a city and captivated a nation

15.  Michael Lenahan, Much Ado: a Summer with a Repertory Theater Company

16.  Ethan Michaeli,  The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America

17.  Craig A. Monson, Habitual Offenders: a true tale of nuns, prostitutes, and murderers in 17th-century Italy

18.  R.J. Nelson, Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago's Last Harbor Boss

19.  Paul Poiret, King of Fashion: the autobiography of Paul Poiret

20.  Leigh Eric Schmidt, Village Atheists: How America's Unbelievers Made their Way in a Godly Nation

21.  Vincent Scully, The Meyer May House, Grand Rapids, Michigan

22.  Edward Sorel, Mary Astor's Purple Diary: the great American sex scandal of 1936

23.  Hilary Spurling, La Grande Thérèse: the Greatest Scandal of the Century

24.  Wendy Welch, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

25.  Frank Lloyd Wright, The Japanese Print, an interpretation

Fiction read in 2019

Looks like most of my reading this year was fiction (I'll do a separate post with the non-fiction titles).   I've put my five favorites in bold type. 

Quite a few mysteries/detective stories:

The Sacco Gang, by Andrea Camilleri
Death at the Dog, by Joanna Cannnan
Who Killed Zebedee? and John Jago's Ghost, by Wilkie Collins (in the same volume)
Darkness for the Bastards of Pizzofalcone and Nameless Serenade (a Commissario Ricciardi mystery), by Maurizio de Giovanni
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens
The Lost Stradivarius, by J. Meade Falkner
Death and the Pleasant Voices, by Mary Fitt
The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett
An English Murder, by Cyril Hare
Cave of Bones, by Anne Hillerman
Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales, by P.D. James
The Grand Complication, by Allen Kurzweil
The Temptation of Forgiveness, by Donna Leon
Take Out, by Margaret Maron
The Color of Fear, and The Breakers, by Marcia Muller
The Great Impersonation, by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Shell Game, by Sara Paretsky
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy L. Sayers (a re-read on Armistice Day)
To Each His Own, by Leonardo Sciascia
The Labyrinth of the Spirits, by Carlos Ruiz Záfon

It's an interesting variety, actually.   A touch of noir, some classic English works, contemporary American (mostly by women), and some recent European authors.  A few, such as the Záfon and the Falkner, have a touch of the supernatural about them.

Speaking of the supernatural:

A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life, by Deborah Harkness (her All Souls Trilogy)
The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman

I read several short story collections:

The Teeth of the Comb and other stories, by Osama Alomar
The Coast of Chicago, by Stuart Dybek
Night Hawks, by Charles Johnson
The Logic of a Rose, by Billy Lombardo
The Decapitated Chicken and other stories, by Horacio Quiroga
Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories, by Alexander McCall Smith

A couple of children/young adult books:

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (another re-read)
Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi
The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone (a bit of magic here)

In Italian:

La Più Amata, by Teresa Ciabatta
Le Otto Montagne, by Paolo Cognetti
L'arte della gioia, by Goliarda Sapienza (read it in English, too:  The Art of Joy)

and lots more:

The Everlasting Story of Nory, by Nicholson Baker
Wish Her Safe at Home, by Stephen Benatar
Summer Crossing, by Truman Capote
The Outcry, by Henry James
The World Goes On, by Lázló Krasznahorkai
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (yet another re-read!)
A Guide for the Perplexed, by Jonathan Levi
Fludd, by Hilary Mantel
Summer's Lease, and The Narrowing Stream, by John Mortimer
Malacqua: Four Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event, by Nicola Pugliese
Garments the Living Wear, by James Purdy
The Stone Tide: Adventures at the End of the World, by Gareth E. Rees
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
Memento Park, by Mark Sarvas
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher
Hope Never Dies!, by Andrew Shaffer
A Time of Love and Tartan, by Alexander McCall Smith
The American Lover, by Rose Tremain
Orley Farm, by Anthony Trollope
The Neighborhood, by Mario Vargas Llosa
Jeeves in the Morning, and Thank You, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

Some of these were by familiar authors, others by authors new to me.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

I'm back! With books read in 2017

I don't know how consistent I'll be about posting, but this is a start!  A long list of books read in 2017, with some commentary.


1.  Peter Ackroyd, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree  This has been sitting on my shelf for awhile, and I took it down because I'm seeing an opera based on it.  It's about a serial killer in Victorian England, and has quite the twist!

2.  Laurent Binet, The Seventh Function of Language  You don't have to be a semiotician to enjoy this book, though it doesn't hurt to know a bit about people like Michel Foucaut and Julia Kristeva.  Roland Barthes really was killed when he was hit by a laundry van after lunching with François Mitterand, but this turns the incident into (perhaps) murder, and is also rather a send-up of the French intelligentsia.

3.  Rita Mae Brown, Cakewalk  I was happy to see the return of the Hunsenmeier sisters.   Brown nobly resisted her tendency, notable in her recent Sneaky Pie mysteries, to put speeches into the mouths of her characters.  In this book, they have actual conversations.

4.  Mary Burns, The Reason for Time Historical fiction set in Chicago in 1919.  Read for the Cliff Dwellers book club

5.  James Byrom, Or Be He Dead  Mid-century British mystery novel

6.  Italo Calvino, Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore  In English, If on a winter's night a traveller.  I read this a few years ago in translation, and was happy that we chose to read it in my Italian lit class.  I love it just as much (if not more) in the original.

7.  Wilkie Collins, Armadale  Lengthy, convoluted Victorian mystery, with coincidences abounding.  Loved it.

8.  Maurizio de Giovanni, Glass Souls  A Commissario Ricciardi mystery.  This series is set in Naples during the Mussolini régime.  It's really good.

9.  Pablo de Santis, Voltaire's Calligrapher  Calligraphy, philosophy, and mysterious doings.

10.  Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely  Noir

11. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie  Not the nun-type sister, not by a long shot!   Another Cliff Dwellers book club read

12. Edna Ferber, The Girls  Why have I never read any Edna Ferber before?  I loved this book!   Three generations of the women of a Chicago family, changing as the city and the world changed.  There's a lovely passage in which the change is made evident in the contrast between an older woman's clothing (corsets, whalebone) and the youngest's (wisps of cloth).  Cliff Dwellers book club.

13. Joanne Harris, Different Class  This follows up on Harris' Gentlemen and Players, which would be good to read first, though not necessary. 

14 & 15. Susan Hill, The Small Hand and The Woman in Black  Two ghost stories by a master.   Very twisty, they remind me a bit of M.R. James.

16.  Anne Hillerman, Song of the Lion  An enjoyable mystery by Tony's daughter.  She continues the Leaphorn/Chee series, but with a lot more emphasis on Chee's wife, police officer Bernie Manuelito.

17. Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time  Nope.  Don't care if it is a "classic", it's thinly plotted, little characterization.  I was not impressed.

18.  Donna Leon, Earthly Remains   A Commissario Brunetti mystery, of course.   And, as pretty much always, nothing is "solved", because the corruption that allows the laguna to be polluted and destroyed is, perhaps, unsolvable.

19.  Penelope Lively, The Purple Swamp Hen and other stories  I had a good time with this varied collection.  Short stories are tough, and Lively knows how to write them.

20.  Gabrielle Lyon, Devin Mawdsley, Kayce Bayer, Chris Lin, and Deon Reed, No Small Plans  In 1909, Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett wrote the 1909 Plan of Chicago, a comprehensive approach to urban planning for the city.  A simpler version, called Wacker's Manual of the Plan of Chicago, taught the plan to eighth-graders in the Chicago Public Schools.   No Small Plans is a graphic novel inspired by that manual, launched by the Chicago Architecture Foundation with a Kickstarter campaign, and also aimed at Chicago teen-agers.   In three main sections, set in past, present and future, teens think about the design of the city they live in, what they think it should be, and how to make that happen.  Between these chapters are bits about Burnham, to make the connection with the city's history.

21.  Kenneth Mahood, The Secret Sketchbook of a Bloomsbury Lady   A hoot!  Great drawings, funny satire on the Bloomsbury crowd.

22, 23 & 24.  Dacia Maraini, La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucría, The Silent Duchess, and Bagheria  The first two are the same book, but I read it both in Italian (for lit class) and in English.  Set in Sicily in the early 18th-century, it follows the life of Marianna Ucría, a deaf and mute noblewoman, through childhood, ridiculously (by our standards) early marriage to her uncle ("zio marito" she calls him), motherhood, widowhood.   Her inability to hear and speak (the reason for which we will learn) actually gives her an "out", a way to have a substantial intellectual life, particularly after she is introduced by an English visitor to the work of David Hume.   Bagheria is Maraini's memoir of life in Sicily, after her family returns there from Japan (they had gone to escape fascism, and spent time in a concentration camp there), and of her family's history.  

25.  Eric Charles May, Bedrock Faith  Another CD read.  Set in a middle-class African-American neighborhood on Chicago's south side (fictitious, but based on the area where the author grew up).   The community's quiet ways are disrupted when a young man returns after a lengthy stay in prison.  His odd behavior (he claims to have found God, but has he?) and the neighbors' reactions to him drive the story.  May creates varied, interesting and believable folks.

26.  Margaret Mazzantini, Splendore  Another for Italian class

27.  Sharyn McCrumb, The Unquiet Grave  Yet another of McCrumb's Ballad Series, based on the true story of spousal murder, and a mother who claims her daughter's ghost told her how she died.

28.  Arthur Meeker, Prairie Avenue   In late 1800s Chicago, on "the sunny street that holds the sifted few" lived folks like Marshall Field, George Pullman, John Glessner, and young Arthur Meeker, who grew up to be a writer and wrote this novel about the people in his neighborhood.  His protagonist is a young boy who comes to live with the wealthy side of the family after his parents do a bunk, and, as an outsider (though very much treated as one of the family) has a clearer view of things.  A bit of a roman-à-clef, and very well written.  Not Meeker's only book, but the most well-known.  CD book club.

29.  Shion Miura, The Great Passage   "The Great Passage" is a dictionary, a dictionary literally decades in the making.   Young Mitsuya Majime is recruited from the publisher's sales department to join the dictionary department to work on the book.  He's a bit of an odd duck, and fits so much better there.  On the way to the final publication of this tome, he finds friendship, romance, and himself.  Just a lovely book, particularly for those of us who get excited about words.

30.  Audrey Niffenegger (ed.), Ghostly: a collection of ghost stories   A varied bunch, in age and (like most anthologies) in quality.  Audrey not only edited, she wrote one story and illustrated the book.

31.  Sara Paretsky, Fallout   A V.I. Warshawsky mystery

32.  I.J. Parker, The Dragon Scroll  A mystery set in 11th-century Japan, the protagonist/detective being a government clerk sent to discover why tax convoys are disappearing.

33.  Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess, The Painted Queen  The very last Amelia Peabody, begun by Peters and, after her death and at her request, completed by Hess.

34.  Ann Petry, The Narrows  Interracial romance goes very wrong in Connecticut.  I wasn't familiar with Petry, but this was a very good book, read on the recommendation of Eric Charles May (see # 25)

35.  Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve  British courtroom drama, beginning with the life stories of each of the twelve jurors (and quite a curious collection they are).

36.  Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage   Those of us who have been waiting not so patiently for Pullman's new trilogy will not be disappointed, if the first volume is any indication.  The events here precede those of His Dark Materials, and we learn more of Lyra's origins, and how she came to live at Jordan College.  Unusually for Pullman, the protagonist is a young boy (Malcolm, who rescues Lyra from the fire and flood and the Magisterium), not a feisty young girl, though there is one in the book.  Perhaps we'll see more of Alice later on.

37.  Michael Raleigh, In the Castle of the Flynns   What a marvelous book this is!   Daniel Dorsey is eight when his parents are killed in a car crash and he goes to live with his maternal grandparents, and a variety of aunts and uncles.   It's an extended Irish family on both sides, with drunks and nuns and brawlers and policemen, very Chicago!   Raleigh is a great storyteller, bringing his characters to life with vividness and credibility.  You feel like you'd know these people if you met them.   A CD book club read.

38.  Ugo Riccarelli, L'Amore graffia il mondo  Italian lit class.

39.  Robert Rodi, Edgar and Emma, a novel after Jane Austen  Rodi takes a four-page bit of Austen juvenilia and turns it into a full-fledged novel.  And, boy, does he have her down (to be expected from the man who wrote Bitch in a Bonnet!).  Every so often, we get something that seems a tad too contemporary, but then we're back in Regency England, at the manor house or parsonage, and all's right with the world. 

40.  Saki (H.H. Munro), The Toys of Peace and other papers   Saki's great, a wonderful satirist, with a sly sense of humor and a jaundiced eye on the world.  

41 and 42.   Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project, A Distant View of Everything  A 44 Scotland Street story, and a Sunday Philosophy Club story.  Both as you'd expect.

43.  Colm Tóibín, House of Names  Tóibín's usual astonishingly gorgeous prose, in service to a re-telling of the Oresteia from differing points of view.  

44 and 45.  Anthony Trollope, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, The American Senator   The first is set in Australia, unusually for Trollope, the story of a young man who goes out to make good.   The American Senator's descriptions  of the contrast between the former colonies and the "old country" in light of Trollope's mother's writings about the U.S.   But, as usual, the real focus here is on political reform and who's going to marry whom (and how and why).

46.  Jean Webster, When Patty went to College by the author of Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy, both of which had a lot more substance than this one, which is about Patty's senior year at a women's college.  Probably based, at least in part, on Webster's experiences at Vassar.

47.  Jeannette Winterson, Christmas Days  Twelve stories, many with fantastical elements about them, interspersed with recipes.

48 and 49.  P.G. Wodehouse, Hot Water and Full Moon  Well, it's Wodehouse!  Blandings, Jeeves and Wooster, what more do you need to know?

Okay, that's the fiction.  I'm leaving the non- for another day.