Friday, December 23, 2016

Remarks on Recent Reads: The End of Year Edition


Happy holidays to you!

My reading lately has been a bit eclectic--mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction. There are few new authors to me, and then the tried and true with Agatha Christie and two of my favorite writers of crime, Sophie Hannah and Elizabeth Haynes.

With world events and the season, I wanted something this past week that wouldn't tax my brain too much. That's what led me to Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. There's  something comforting about Miss Marple, and Christie's stories are fun. Several of the tales take place with a dinner group where each person shares a story of a mystery, and the group tries to solve the mystery. Of course, no one is a match for Miss Marple. Other stories are stand alone stories. While some characters are skeptical of Miss Marple's abilities, she's able to solve each mystery relying on her knowledge of human nature and her eye for seemingly meaningless details. I loved all these stories. 

Penelope Fitzgerald is a new author to me. I picked up a volume of three of her novels and read two novels--The Bookshop and The Gate of Angels. In The Bookshop, Fitzgerald takes the reader to a small English sea village in 1959 where middle aged widow Florence Green buys an old building, known as The Old House, where she plans to open a book shop. Florence faces challenges with the aging building and running a bookshop. The village is full of eccentric people, but there are the forces at work that don't want the bookshop to succeed. This is a quick read and one I enjoyed. 

The Gate of Angels (also by Penelope Fitzgerald) takes place in Cambridge of 1912. Fred Fairly, a Cambridge student of physics at the fictional St. Angelicus College, finds himself riding his bicycle on a dark road when a farm cart pulls into the road. To avoid hitting the cart, he collides with another bicyclist, Daisy. Fred and Daisy, both unconscious, are taken to a nearby farm to recuperate. The family that helps them assumes that the Fred and Daisy are married since Daisy wears a wedding ring. Fred awakes in a bed with Daisy and immediately falls in love her before she disappears. As a student of St. Angelicus, Fred has pledged to live a life of celibacy, but he can't forget Daisy. Gate of Angels has lots of twists and turns along with Fitzgerald's lovely writing. 

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah is the fifth novel in the series featuring detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. Fliss Benson receives a card at work which has sixteen numbers arranged in four rows made up of four numbers. The numbers seem meaningless at first, but when Fliss finds out that her new project will be a documentary about three mothers who've been falsely accused of killing their infant children, things become more clear. I was a bit ambivalent about the subject matter of the book, but I've loved each book I've read by Sophie Hannah, and A Room Swept White did not disappoint.

The setting for Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes is an isolated Yorkshire farm, the last place you want to be in a blizzard with no electricity, no telephone, and a killer on the loose. The story begins with Sarah Carpenter who lives alone on her farm. Her husband died several years ago, and her children have left the nest. Two men from her past come back into her life. One rents her guest cottage, while the other one pops up at odd times. Sarah's best friend, Sophie, disappears, and Sarah soon finds out which one of these men she can trust. I enjoyed Never Alone, but it took me about fifty pages to connect with the book. After that, I found Never Alone hard to put down.

How It All Began is the first novel I've read by Penelope Lively, and it won't be the last. The story begins with the mugging of Charlotte, an elderly woman. She breaks her hip and must move in with her daughter and son-in-law. Charlotte's circumstances set in motion a chain of events that affect numerous people. I loved the character of Charlotte and the fact that she's a voracious reader. With a distinctive narrative voice and lots of interesting characters, I really loved this book. 

I recall the hype surrounding Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Maybe that's what took me so long to read it, but I'm glad I finally got around to giving Rules of Civility a try. The novel reminded me of one of those old 1930s films that has beautiful women, handsome men and snappy yet sophisticated dialogue. In the novel, Katey Kontent, Eve Ross, and Tinker Grey are fantastic characters. Thanks to that fateful night in 1930s New York City when the milk truck hit Tinker's roadster, their lives are intertwined. The novel begins with an older Katey looking back on her life, and it's quite a story.  

I would love to know what you're reading.