This is a Good Book Thursday, October 15, 2020

This week I mostly read Anna, finding things the Girls sent up and I wrote down without much thought that now seem like foreshadowing. I love my Girls. I did try another Mary Stewart and realized that whatever made me love her in the past is now gone. That’s okay, she was great for me back then. I reread some Rex Stout, too, and a lot of Book Bub samples, and started a book by a mob daughter. Coming soon in the mail: used books about Russian icons.

So what did you read?

90 thoughts on “This is a Good Book Thursday, October 15, 2020

  1. I finally, finally finished L’AMICA GENIALE (My Brilliant Friend) by Elena Ferrante while I was in vacation in Ohio over the weekend. It was a beautiful fall day and I was sitting outside and getting to the last page felt very emotional, not just b/c of the book itself (with a very good, but sad ending) but b/c of the sense of accomplishment of reading something that complex in Italian. I started reading it I don’t know how many months ago, at first very slowly, a few pages a day (looking up a lot) and then when I finally got close to the end, picking up momentum. T

    his doesn’t even count them time I tried to read it a few years ago and didn’t get anywhere b/c it was too difficult. I think if I could have any super power, it might be to read everything in its’ original language, although the work translators do is invaluable!

    I definitely want to keep going with the series, but I need to take a little mental and emotional break before reading the next one.

  2. It makes sense that Mary Stewart’s form of romance no longer flips your switch. In her books (and books of her era) really important stuff about relationship building is seldom implied, let along stated. Matching up at the end is assumed.

    I’m more sensitive these days to what is stated versus what is left to my imagination. Previously I was particular about what I want — such as description that puts me in the place or makes characters turn into individuals.

    Recently, I’ve switched to enjoying the holes in a story where I get to use my imagination to make someone else’s story and characters my own.

    Completely separately, I liked A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking because it speaks to the COVID19 pandemic from an adolescent’s point of view by asking the relevant questions: Where are the adults? Why don’t the good guys and the guys in power stand up to the corrupt evil guys? Why are lying and persecution permissable? Surprise — the true supporters of generosity and legitimate power are the impoverished, the different, and the kids.

    Of course, these are common themes in kid lit, but right now they resonate with adults as well.

    Thanks for recommending it.

    1. I do still enjoy Mary Stewart but the characters are very much straightlaced British people of the period and they didn’t really progress in her later career either. Very evocative of those times (and places) though.

      1. I agree with you, Romney. I love the travelogue sense — and her descriptions were accurate — she was on my mind when I first saw Greece, Skye, and the Pyrenees. And her heroines take great risks, proving to themselves that they stand tall in a man’s world — further, have you noticed that they usually wear dresses while fighting murderers, protecting children, and saving dogs?

      2. There’s a lot of not talking, just assuming. At the end, they’re together, and it’s because they just assume (based on re-reading two books, so it could be the small sample). Ignore me.

        1. I have also been disappointed re-reading Mary Stewart. I do still love her descriptions of the places and the way she uses relevant quotes at the start of each chapter. However, I’m bothered by how her heroines are self-deprecating to a fault. They act plucky but then tend to break down or act silly then chastise themselves for it and often end up deferring to the man at some point. In Wildfire at Midnight, the heroine could not bring herself to save herself by dropping a rock on the man who was trying to kill her and needed her ex to save her. It seemed like it was a given that a woman wouldn’t have the stomach for that. I also find the big leap of assumptions between “we’re strangers, we kissed, let’s get married” to be abrupt and unsatisfying. Plus, in The Gabriel Hounds, the man and woman are first cousins whose fathers are identical twins, which seems like too much fishing in the same gene pool.

          1. Mary Stewart said that the book she wished she hadn’t published was Wildfire at Midnight because she failed in creating a good country house mystery. I think the key to her problem was in not giving the ex, Nicholas, a personality beyond “hot writer guy, scarred by war.”

    2. I don’t think all the books of her era ducked relationship building. Heyer didn’t. My fave YA author didn’t. I think if I think of the Stewarts as mysteries, they work better, although I would have told you they were romances back then. I think the way we defined romance definitely changed from that era, though.

          1. You can’t buy her books for less, either. From Wikipedia: Rosalys Haskell Hall (1914- ) was an American writer and editor of children’s books. She worked in New York at Doubleday Bookshop, from 1938-1944. Beginning in 1944, she worked as an editor in the Children’s Book Department at Longman’s, Green & Co., which later merged with David McKay Co. Hall also worked as a freelance editor for other publishers.

            From the description of Rosalys Haskell Hall papers, 1952-1969. (University of Oregon Libraries). WorldCat record id: 72718221

            Rosalys Haskell Hall was born in New York, New York, on March 27, 1914. Hall attended Ecole Sevigne, Paris France, New Jersey College for Women (now Douglas College of Rutgers University) and Ethical Culture Norman Training School. Hall also took special courses at Columbia University and New York University.

            Hall belonged to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Junior Writers Forum in New York and Newport Historical Society.

            Hall was a teacher of kindergarten and French at the Sutton Beekman School in New York, New York, a seller of children’s books in New York at Doubleday Bookshop, from 1938-1944; and at Longman’s, Green & Co. (now merged with David McKay Co., Inc., under McKay name), as editor in Children’s Book Department beginning in 1944. Hall also worked as a freelance editor for other publishers.

          2. I did not know any of that.

            But I’ve read Green as Spring a thousand times since I was probably about twelve–a library find and one of the many reasons I think libraries are essential–and I’m pretty sure it established my basic idea of what a romance should be: a smart, fast-mouthed, not beautiful heroine; attractive, socially powerful hero; strong community of individual personalities, lots of food, and snarky dialogue on every page. The antagonist is the only drawback, although she’s believable; I just don’t like women-in-conflict-over-men stories, but the plot is mostly the romance, so it’s really Frannie vs. Michael. Oh, and also family, which plays a big part since Frannie and Michael are seniors in high school.

            It’s a shame that’s such a nosebleed price. It’s very much a YA in the fifties story, so it won’t appeal to everybody. I just loved the characters and the dynamic, and I think that’s where the Girls woke up and said, “Oh, yes, we can do this.”

            In other words, it’s important to me, but not worth $50 to you. Can’t BELIEVE it’s that much.

          3. She died 19 April 2006 in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Wikipedia says 1) she was descended seven times from Roger Williams, and 2) she was best known around her retirement neighborhood as a dog walker . . . . and her great grandmother was Julia Ward Howe.

      1. I watched a panel discussion yesterday with Loretta Chase, Sarah McLean, Lucia Macro, and Falguni Kolthari called “Bodice Rippers in the #MeToo Era.” They talked about how writers in the 1980s and 1990s wrote about relationships and sex and what readers at the time wanted and got from those books, comparing to modern times. It was sponsored by the Cary Library in Lexington, Mass., and it’s an hour and half long, but interesting. It’s here on YouTube:

  3. I’ve been enjoying reading Olivia Dade romances but 6 books later I’ve probably had enough now. Great if you want many, many types of well-written podgy women with determinedly beta men.

  4. I read & enjoyed Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. Short (novella), which appeals to my anxiety-raddled brain, sweet, and just fundamentally pleasant.

    1. I finished Pure Moon this week, too. I just loved how the characters talked! And it was a very talkative book. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Zen Cho, but this was the best.

  5. I am still a big Mary Stewart fan. I have my faves for rereads….This Rough Magic and The Moonspinners. Those women were feisty for the time, and I think they can still hold their own. The romances were pretty much a sideshow.

    Anyone else still tear up when Vanessa and Timothy watch the old horse going through his routine in the moonlight?

    1. Yes!

      When I first visited Delphi, I was so carried away that I asked the guide if it was true that they’d found a second statue by the Charioteer’s sculptor in a nearby cave. Even before she said no, and I realized that I’d confused fiction with reality and felt like a 4-star idiot.

  6. No books to recommend, but there’s a wonderful interview of Martha Wells, mostly about Murderbot Diaries, at Smart Bitches, in both podcast and transcript:

    The thing that struck me, beyond the great answers by Martha Wells, was how prepared the interviewer was. She knew the genre(s), could ask insightful questions, and recognized all the references the interviewee made (to books Martha recommends), so the interviewer could talk about them intelligently, and there was a real back-and-forth between them, like friends who shared an interest. It’s such a contrast from celebrity-interviewer situations, where the interviewer might have read the one book the guest is promoting, but isn’t deeply familiar with either the genre or the subject matter of the book.

    There’s a great discussion in the interview about why it is that readers whose primary genre is romance are gobbling up the science fiction Murderbot Diaries.

    1. I think the interviewer is Sarah Wendell, the founder of the site and a terrific critic and interviewer and all round good person. She and Mollie are pals, so I get updates every now and then.

  7. Loving the Andy Carpenter mysteries by David Rosenfelt. Lots of dogs, good mysteries, sarcastic lawyer – a lot of fun.

    Favorite Mary Stewart book is The Moonspinners.

    Love the Nero Wolf books and the A&E series.

  8. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks unzipping my wallet and sending all my money to KJ Charles. I’m sure I discovered her here on Argh and I thank you good people 🙂

    I’ve read the three main Magpie books, all the Society of Gentlemen books and just finished the first Sin City book.

    I think the attraction is how utterly human and decent the heroes are and how, when they screw up with each other, they confront it and try to get it right. The books are all shot through with maturity and forgiveness and have lovers who stand up for each other and I had no idea how much I needed that right now.

    1. And you still have « Think of England » to read. Before I read that one I thought « a fashionable indulgence » and the Magpie lord books were my favourite but when I finished « Think of England », I went right back to the start again.
      Now that’s a book where the sex scenes build up the story. One of my new yardsticks for judging a romance since Jenny pointed it out a while back.

    2. One of the things I like so much about KJ Charles is, even when her MCs are kind of objectively awful (criminals, etc) they still do their best with the people they love. They are so complex, and their conflicts are so non-trivial (both in and out of relationships), and the ways they work through to HEA are such realistic compromises.


  9. Re-read ‘Dead Men’s Hearts’ by Aaron Elkins (getting my mystery fix).

    Two books by a new-to-me writing team, Jodi Payne & Ba Tortuga: SYNCOPATION and REFRACTION. Both are about artists, art, the bad choices and behaviors that artists sometimes resort to, and finding a way to be together. I liked that the effort involved in a creative career isn’t glossed over. The mental, emotional, and physical fatigue that contribute to poor communication. Also cultural disconnect: in both books, one MC is a New Yorker and the other is from the South. Both slightly hasty on the ending but would recommend.

    Re-read two Mary Jo Putney things, her novella ‘A Holiday Fling’ and my all-time-fave-of-hers contemporary ‘The Spiral Path.’ Two really strong MCs, just enough of their found family, and a well-earned resolution.

    Then re-read Jay Hogan’s ‘Up Close and Personal,’ and two of my own things because needing to solidify the mental landscape for my WIPs.

  10. This week I am very happily reading The Happy Ever After Playlist. I’m sure I’d enjoy it even more if I knew any of the songs on the playlist, but even without them, I’m having a good time. I’m only halfway through, but so far these are people I really like. And the fact that the MP is from Minnesota is a big plus. Of course he’s almost too good to be true,so I imagine he’s about to do something really stupid. We’ll see if I like him as much once I see how he handles it.

  11. Currently reading Peace Talks by Jim Butcher. So far very good, but it’s been so long since I read the last book that I am going “Huh, I didn’t remember that X, Y and Z happened.”

  12. I’ve decided to read books that are pre-2000’s this week. I’m currently reading Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. I don’t know if I like it. I finished Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, and I loved it.

  13. I just finished listening to Aaronovitch’s last novel, False Values, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for the second time, and loved it even more than the first. The Rivers of London series gripped my attention last year as I read them for the first time. But then I listened to them and Holdbrook-Smith voice enraptured me.

    One thing I really appreciate about Aaronovitch is that the default isn’t “white”: he describes skin colour as just one of his characters’ facets.

    I also listened to Travels With My Aunt (Graham Greene), which I had read years ago in my “Greene” phase. The story has some unsettling aspects, but overall I enjoyed it (the narrator is Tim Piggott-Smith, who I will always associate with he extraordinarily sinister performance in The Jewel In The Crown).

  14. I have been bingeing for the past few months, and the current target of my gluttonous consumption is G.A. Aiken’s Dragonkin series (I had read several but not all, previously, and bought 2 bundles to indulge). Not quite in the same realm as my recent previous inhalation of the works of Loretta Chase and Jenny Crusie – fun in a highly individual way (and not for everyone: I listened to a Learning the Tropes podcast in which the discussants found nothing to enjoy in one of the author’s Crow novels, written as Shelly Laurenston).

    And I was recently reminded (in a Zoom call with some CherryBombs) of Sarah Caudwell’s wonderful mysteries with Hilary Tamar, so that may come next, although, sadly, there aren’t enough of them for a solid binge.

    1. OTOH Sarah Caudwell’s books are not a fast read or be skimmed (or you will totally lose the plot) so they take was long to read as much longer series. I love her too.d

  15. I finished listening to Fast Women. I listen while I paint the playhouse of many colours. Yesterday I was painting the front door and surrounding panels for the last 3 chapters. Loved revisiting the characters and who did the big bads.

    Noodling around the Nook, nothing new.

      1. Love Riley! The first time I read it, I kept seeing Scott Caan; the Danno-McGarrett arguing on Hawaii Five-O got old, but he can do snark and then turn around and be completely charming. The dog- napping scene where he charms Margie and annoys Suze comes to mind.

  16. I had a good reading week this week, although not much sleeping.

    First up, thanks for the recces for The Left Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. Loved it. It’s a fast paced ride, contemporary (ish) urban fantasy set in London, drawing on English mythology and the author’s imagination. An 18 year old moves from the country to London, where strange things start happening. Booksellers save the world, really no angst. Romance sub-plot, engaging characters. The world building is great, the details are perfect, and the whole thing is fun.

    Also read a novella called Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma. In the venn diagram of my interests, this is the weird rare intersection of politics, romance, and climate change action. It’s another low-ish angst romance set in a ministerial office in the UK, as the staffers try and get legislation through parliament’s upper house, in a near-future post-Brexit context. Quite $$ for what it was, but I enjoyed it.

    AND (it’s been a fantasy rich week) I also had a win with Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope. I struggled initially with the worldbuilding until it clicked in my head. Book one of an ‘across the magical rift’ fantasy, it has a slightly steampunk world and a lovely developing romance sub-plot. Main character is 18 here too, but it’s not a coming-of-age story at all. Added to this, she is of mixed blood and is shunned from the society she lives in, so there’s quite a lot on racism, refugees etc. It was good.

    I recommend all three, but for happy escapism, go with the Left Handed Booksellers.

    1. Update. Just remembered The Left-handed Booksellers is set in 1983 (but with an adjusted political history) which my kids would think makes it historical, not contemporary-ish.

  17. I enjoyed Annie Darling’s ‘True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop’ to start with, although I was puzzled to see I’d borrowed it from the library last summer (we check books out via machine now, so I write the due date in by hand). I thought I must have baulked at the number of characters – who this time round I was familiar with from the first book. But I felt the story went off the rails as it went on, which was a pity.

    I’m now reading Sarah Cauldwell’s ‘Thus Was Adonis Murdered’, which is fun.

  18. After last weeks discussion of the Steve Hockensmith’s Tarot mysteries, starting with The White Magic Five and Dime, and my discovering the first two books were now available on Kindle, and purchasing I naturally re-read all three of them. And they were just as good as I remembered. I love how the main character was raised by a mother who was sociopathic con-artist, and inherits the store from her when she dies, keeps trying to make up for some of the harm her mother has done but no one believes her.

    Sadly I discovered that of the Sarah Caudwell mysteries I seconded the recommendation for last week only the third and fourth books are available in ebook form. Otherwise I definitely would have repurchased all of them as ebooks also.

    And finally, one of my favorite books has finally been re-released by the author as an ebook on kindle for only $1.99. Nameless Magery by Delia Marshall Turner is about a 17 year old girl, Lisane, which means Nameless who has been hiding, and slowing starving, in the forest for a year after escaping her kidnappers, when she is caught by a passing mage who sees her do something magical and mistakes her for a boy, because there are no women mages, and drags her off to a school for miscreant mages. But Lisane was raised to be the future High Priestess in her own land and has an entirely different relationship with magic than they do.

    1. I’ve just bought the first Sarah Caudwell for 99p from the Amazon UK Kindle store, and am pretty sure they’re all available here – so hopefully this is just a snafu and they’ll reappear at your end.

  19. Finally got around to reading Elizabeth Peters “The Painteed Queen”. It was a great distraction (and now no longer on my ‘to be read’ pile).

    1. I did not finish reading it. I thought the author who finished it, mixed up how the characters spoke and acted. For example she had Emerson talking the way Amelia would and vice versa. That annoyed me enough that I got rid of it and donated it to a library.

      1. Rouan, I had the same problem. Every time there was a clunky bit I’d start wondering if it was Peters or the new writer who’d done it, and it completely distracted me from the story. I’ve noticed this with other writers who have died and had their last work completed by someone else. The new person so often seems to take up the writing quirks as a sort of flag – look at me, I’m writing just like she did! But they don’t get the heart of the story.

  20. I’ve been reading Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen. Although I found myself rushing through to find the parts featuring my favorite characters (Thuan and Asmodeus). Probably because I started with the novella that comes at the end of the series and focuses on those 2 characters, so I was invested in learning how they came to be together.
    The story can get gruesome so maybe not for everyone.

  21. I read The Nonesuch, which was one of the few Georgette Heyers I hadn’t read. I really liked it. There was a sensible young male cousin in it instead of the usual wasters – though there was also a waster to balance him out. Lovely heroine.

    Now I’m reading Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White. My word she can tell a good story. I am totally gripped.

    1. ‘The Nonesuch’ is one of my favourites; the hero and heroine are real grown-ups, and I enjoy the Yorkshire setting.

  22. I read The Lost Man by Melbourne (Australia) author Jane Harper. She captures the essence of remote country life, the dysfunction of families with the landscape being a major character in the book.

  23. Current events have me reading THE BLACK DEATH IN LONDON, by Barney Sloane, straight history and very readable.

    MASQUERADE IN LODI, the newest in the Penric series, just out today, available at Amazon.

    And I have started Jodi Picoult’s new book, THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS. I haven’t read anything else of hers, so I don’t know what they’re usually like, but apparently this one has had some input from her son, currently doing grad work in Egyptology. So far he seems to have been an excellent proofreader. Its reviews on Amazon are stuffed with complaints about Long Names, Excruciating Egyptian History, and I Don’t Want to Learn to Read Hieroglyphs. I am looking forward to All Those Things! I may or may not absorb much of the Official Plot; we’ll have to see.

    1. Jodi Picoult is very …. thought provoking. There has only been one of her books I did not care for. But I really end up wondering when I finish one of her books. “What if?” “I never thought of the situation like that.” I do enjoy her books.

      1. Oh, Jodi Picoult. She writes very well, but I cannot read any more of her books. Too many tragic things happen to children. Too much tragedy altogether. I’ve had enough of that shit in my own life, don’t need to read about it.

        Excellent, well-written tragedy but I really can’t take the heartbreak.

    2. I bought the new Penric and Desdemona novella and just finished reading. I love Lois Bujold. Earlier that day, I re-read the middle of Knife Children. Earlier in the week, Goodlett and Huff’s Wingship trilogy (so far).

  24. Still re-reading, this week going WAY back to a book I remembered from high school, Mary Stoltz’s ‘The Seagulls Woke Me.” Much I missed–the elite education of the characters in this coming-of-age story. The 16-year-old, Jean, goes to an all-girls school; the college kids go to Yale, Princeton, Amherst. They’re all incredibly bright, which makes them both fun and hard to believe, except I do think we’re all getting less educated in the arts especially, so nobody is making up verse on the spot any more. Jenny has ruined me; I kept thinking, Start with the action, the conflict, which doesn’t occur for more than 20 pages. It was published in 1951, intended for adolescents, but I doubt many adolescents would have the patience for it, or the vocabulary level, now.

    1. My grandmother (1885-1985, UCBerkeley Class of 1905) was once interviewed and commented that in her time, most people had an 8th grade education; if you graduated high school, you were EDUCATED. A few went on to college to learn a profession.

      1. Yes, my great-uncles, with eighth grade educations prior to 1910, started work at fourteen as bookkeepers. Not supervised by older bookkeepers, but the sole bookkeeper at a small business (each one of the three.)

        1. My grandmother (1892-1979) completed the standard 8th-grade education in Salem, Oregon. That, and her family, meant that she was prepared to be a lifelong reader of a book-a-day sort and of course the morning and evening newspapers, knew civics, and avidly looked up anything she didn’t know in the dictionary or encyclopedia. I think education was very different a century ago and the US was a place I wouldn’t comprehend if I could time travel back to it. I am not criticizing the past nor the present.

  25. No books read this week, only excerpts. But I discovered that The Return of the Thieves is out by now and one of my prefered online-sellers has it on offer for a better deal than amazon, so I was swift to order a copy (less than 13 Euro for a bound copy!). So now I’m looking forward to reading the last and final book in the series hopefully by next week.

    Plus – thank you whoever mentioned the newest Penric by Bujold!! I’d have totally missed it and I love Penric 🙂

    1. Dodo, would that be Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner? Just wondering as I received my copy last week and happily devoured it!

  26. I am almost finished with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. by Alan Bradley. I don’t know why this was in my audible account – The protagonist is a ten-year-old girl. But the narrator is doing an excellent job and I’m am enjoying it immensely. Maybe someone here recommended it?

    1. I think several people here recommended it. I certainly would have had not several other people beat me to it. Flavia is fabulous! The first four books are fabulous and vary in quality after that.

  27. I just read the first chapters of Anna and am LOVING IT. I did not plan to read all of it but the momentum just kept me going. Excellent conflict driving the plot, surprises (like Anna shooting the Russian in the stomach, and sexual tension. This book is going to be great!

  28. I went to a local Thrift Store and bought 3 books for $1.75

    ‘A Town Like Alice’ by Nevile Shute
    ‘In the Woods’ by Tara French
    ‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody

    The last one for the title alone !!!

    1. I’ve read A Town Like Alice a couple times. Years ago there was a good adaptation on Masterpiece Theatre with Bryan Brown. I just checked YouTube and found it there.

      1. I started watching A Town Like Alice–it contains racial slurs, so beware. The book was published in 1950 and the adaptation made in 1981.

  29. A friend recommended The Meaning of Mariah Carey, specifically the audio book as she recorded it and sings and speaks the story. I had no idea her life had been so difficult and found the book to be enlightening and, eventually, fun. Having been through so much, she is able to clearly view actual debacles (childhood trauma, bad marriage) from small, temporary ones (Glitter). Definitely worth a listen if you’ve enjoyed her music over the years.

  30. By the way, if you are a Phryne Fisher addict and don’t want to wait for DEATH AT DAYLESFORD to be released in North America in mid-2021, it can be ordered at Book Depository. You have to look carefully for the version being release November 1, but it’s there.

  31. Jenny, feel free to delete this if it’s inappropriately commercial. Target is having a buy 2 get 1 free sale on media including books and DVDs. Including preorders. I just got a bunch of Kerry Greenwood. Sale goes till midnight Saturday.

  32. Good, because Amazon is doing something similar. I cleaned up on books for Christmas gifts, as well as a nice stack for me.

    And BookBub had an article, charming books about fake romances (from July, but new to me) which recommends The Cinderella Deal. I cheered at my desk!

  33. Yes re Mary Stewart being dated now – but can’t help thinking that The Ivy Tree was the best big reveal I’ve ever read.

    And I couldn’t agree more with the reader above who says Georgette Heyer know how to characterize the creation of a relationship – The Grand Sophy is one of my fave rom-coms ever.

    1. That’s a lovely relationship arc. And Freddy and Kitty in Cotillion. And The Talisman Ring. She was so so so good.

      1. Ah the Talisman Ring! I tried to make my husband promise to ride ventre a terre to any future deathbed scenes I might have …but, no dice.

  34. I have been reading a series of food essays edited by edited by Holly Hughes. I can’t really eat, love to cook so this is going to hold me over for the duration.

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