Saturday, April 10, 2021

March Books

Hi everyone. 

Hope your weekend is going well. It is time for me to write my latest book post, so for those of you who like to read about books, it is time for my March book list.  As I always write, this is my way of keeping a reading list. If you're interested in books, please feel free to read on.

March was a good month for books for me. I read  and listened to more than I usually do in a month. It helped we had quite a bit of beautiful spring weather.  I could put my chair on the back deck and enjoy reading for a few hours in the sun on many more afternoons than one expects during March in New Hampshire.

My first read was to finish the second half of The Thorn Birds, which I enjoyed very much. (I mentioned more about the book in last month's book post.) Even thought it had been at least 40 years since I had previously read it, it was still a wonderful and well written story. 

My first listen of March was this dark murder mystery. One of my school friends recommended it, and I am glad she did. The story is set in London during a killer bird flu pandemic and has a bit of a post apocalyptic style (which is not one of my favorite reads).  However the story is actually a murder mystery where the bones of a girl are found at a building site. There are lots of twists and turns in the discovery of what happened to her.
The darkness and the post apocalyptic feel adds to this suspenseful mystery story, and the 2 styles work together well.

I found it interesting in the author's notes that he wrote this book in 2005, but no one would  publish it until the 2020 and our present Covid pandemic. 
I like Peter May books.  I have read his Lewis trilogy (The Black House, Chess Men and Lewis Man) , and I really enjoyed those books. Those should be read in order and are set on the Isle of Lewis off of Scotland. Lockdown is not a series but a stand alone novel. It is not a cozy style mystery, but I highly recommend it

Audible was having a 2 books for 1 credit sale in March, and this Monty Don book was one of the selections I chose. I really enjoy his gardening  shows on Netflix, and as I'm doing some spring garden planning, I decided to get it as one of my 2 selections. 

I enjoyed Don's view of a garden as a constantly changing, almost living organism in itself.  He has good ecological  ideas and doesn't believe in perfect lawns or using poisons to kill off anything and everything. 
I also enjoyed this book because it made me look at my own garden a little differently than I had been. There are some very general "rules" to make a good garden, all of which (according to Don) can be broken, but if you follow them I would think you could improve what you grow. 
I'm glad I listened to this book, and I learned a lot, but I think I would like a paper copy to use as reference. It's a lot harder to bookmark the specific tips you want to in an audio book.
This book was written for a British audience, and the plants and actual months might not apply to where you live, or even where I live in New England, but it was still a worthwhile read. I also enjoyed that Monty Don read it himself.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold  is the story of a 2 teenage children who are orphaned during the California Gold Rush. They also happen to be of Chinese origin, which adds a different spin on the tale. The cover art could be a little confusing as it might make you think the story is set in Asia, but tigers do play a big role in the tale.
The writing in this book is poetic. C. Pam Zhang is a very talented author. I enjoyed the story, but I had a little trouble with some of the violence in the beginning of this story. It seemed like there was a lot  in the first few chapters. I almost didn't continued, but I'm glad I did as I wanted to know more about these children and their parents. The story took me in some directions I didn't expect, and it also gave a view of what it was like to be a Chinese born American back in the mid-1800's.  The direct prejudice and the overtones of prejudice  were stark and sad, but I would imagine in that time these were common. That doesn't excuse them, and also made me think of some of the terrible violence against Asians going on now in the U.S. If you can handle some tough love and a look at life in the gold rush California, then I highly recommend this book.

I read this story, The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits,  by Elizabeth Peters. It is one of her earlier stand alone books, published before her Amelia Peabody  or Vicky Bliss mystery series. The main character is very much like Peter's other women characters; independent and strong as well as being very curious. 
This story is set in Mexico City, and the main characters, Carol and Danny, are college students who run into some mystery and mayhem while there.  In fact, they travel to Mexico because of a mystery. It's a light, enjoyable read, with (depending on your views either good or bad) a lot of early 1970's drug references. They all have to do with the story though.
I didn't realize Elizabeth Peters wrote so many stand alone novels. I have a couple of others to read as I bought a set of 11 used, various Elizabeth Peters books for cheap off of eBay. I was mainly interested in some of the later Amelia Peabody books in this set. I'm not sure I would have bought this book before I read it,  but I enjoyed it. I'm now curious about her other stand alone novels.

If you are interested in science or medical reads, The Moth in the Iron Lung is a  fascinating account of polio. Polio is an endemic disease that started to cause large outbreaks, as well as paralysis, in the late 1800's. I didn't realize the polio outbreaks from this time up until there was a vaccine in the mid-twentieth centuries were not the usual course of the disease. I had thought they had always been major polio outbreaks throughout history. 

Also interesting to me, was the connection of polio to the gypsy moth caterpillars. There is a strong tie to Massachusetts and New England in this book, as this is where the gypsy moth caterpillars, an invasive species, were first released. (I remember a bad gypsy month caterpillar year from my late teens when I was growing up in Massachusetts). 

 According the author Forrest Maready,  a lot of what was diagnosed as polio was actually poisoning from insecticides that came into being starting with the gypsy moth caterpillars in the late 1800's. Because of this insect and a few others also, insecticides were used more and more (and also strengthened) as time went on. 

This book isn't particulary long and is definitely written for the non-medical person. It is a fascinating look at poliomyeltis' history.  It is also interesting how certain poisons that were used to kill insects on food can give symptoms that mimic severe cases of polio. I'm curious how physicians and epidemiologists would look on this conclusion. I did find several journal articles about this topic online, and after reading through those as second opinions, it does seem to make sense.  However, I am having a hard time putting what I do know about polio aside to totally buy this theory.  I guess there is more for me to discover before I can draw a more conclusion.

I learned a lot about both polio and also insecticides. I knew from other sources how horrible insecticides can be, but I didn't know some of information and some of the side effects people can get from these chemicals mentioned in this book. This book is well written and the author's logic is sound. If you find this interesting, then I definitely recommend this book. 

Winston Churchill's Painting as a Pastime is a wonderful little book and a short read. In this book Churchill talks about himself as a painter, including how he got started and why travel (of any distance, even just down the road) is in his opinion so important for artists.  He talks about how art changes how you see the world. 
I found it interesting that he didn't start to paint until in his early 40's, yet he writes very eloquently about painting. He also was a pretty decent painter too, although I wish they would publish (and maybe they do and I don't know about it) an illustrated version of this book with some of Churchill's paintings. I enjoyed the read. 

Many of you out there in the blogosphere have mentioned Donna Leon and her Commissario Brunetti mysteries. I decided it was time to try one. I found her first book used for a decent price on Amazon.

I agree with all of you who have mentioned this series that it is a good one. I really enjoyed the style of writing, the scenes  and customs from Venice, and also the story. In this one a famous conductor was killed when someone slipped cyanide into his coffee. The story concluded in a way I didn't expect also. 
I will definitely be reading more of this mystery series. In fact I ordered a used book 2  of this series off of Amazon just before I wrote this.
And I definitely recommend this book if you like mysteries and haven't read any of this Donna Leon series.

Something That Cannot Die is a short audio novella that was offered as a freebie for Audible members. This story is about how Georgia O'Keeffe, a famous American painter, came to find herself and find her place in New Mexico. It was a good story, and I learned about how she came to buy Ghost Ranch, her home in New Mexico. I am glad I listened to it, but I am also glad it was a freebie. I would have liked more details about Georgia O'Keeffe as the story was not very complex. Although I don't feel I wasted the 95 minutes I listened to it, I think this would be a better story for someone who has just been introduced to the woman.

I really enjoy these Auntie Poldi mystery novels. This one, Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio, is book 3 in the series. Auntie Poldi is a 60-ish year old women who goes to live in Sicily when she retires. These mysteries are told through the eyes of her younger nephew, who comes to stay with her in order to write his family saga. Auntie Poldi has an eye for handsome men, wine, and dressing like a modern movie star, complete with a wig. She has taken up sleuthing and has some adventures along the way.  
Like the other Auntie Poldi mysteries, this story is a light fun read with some Italian scenery , food, and atmosphere thrown in.  I laughed a lot during the story. You can't read this one in too serious of a mood. And this time, the mystery is all about what appears to be an African gang killing and the surprising Handsome Antonio.

Children of the Land is a biography  about living undocumented in the US. The author lived in the U.S. under the DACA program. For those of you who aren't familiar with DACA, this program is where young adults who are not US citizens but  who came to the U.S. as  children  can remain and work. DACA does not guarantee a permanent situation however, and these people must still work with US immigration officials. 

Children of the Land talks about what is it like to be that person. It talks about being someone who does not know, understand or feel a part of the country of their birth, which in this case was Mexico, and yet is not be a full fledged member of the society where they have lived almost all of their life and where they have been educated.  It is a sad story in many ways, as a family is separated. This story  shows the flaws in the system from someone who has to live within that system. It gives a face to people who are in a country that often doesn't want them, but at the same time wants them for things like jobs its own citizens do not want to do. 

The author, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo,  is a well educated man and  award winning poet.  Children of the Land was well written, interesting, and used lots of wonderful metaphors. His prose style is not as poetic as I expected it might be. This is a recommended read, but I must say I was glad to finish it. It is, in many ways,  a story of fear and worry that puts you in the shoes of being undocumented in the U.S. At times throughout my read, I did feel the book needed to end, not because of the book itself, but because I needed something happy to occur.  I do recommend this book as it is a worthwhile read.

I personally have a lot of mixed views about immigration, and I knew a couple of undocumented students back when I was teaching. I enjoyed working with kids from around the world and learning about other places. They enriched my classroom and who I am too. I had students from many places in my classroom-Korea, Japan, China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, England, the Philippines, Iraq, Morocco, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, and those are just the places I can think of off the top of my head. 

My last listen for the month was this Charlaine Harris book.

After listening to Children of the Land, I needed something lighter and more predictable.  I've read all 13 of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series in the past, and last year I listened to the first 7. I figured that moving onto the next volume would be just the right listen.  Plus I could continue to work my way through the series as I eventually want to finish all 13 books. This is book 8,  From Dead to Worse, and it was just the listen I needed. I hadn't quite finished this one at the end of March, but thought I would include it as I was well into the story and have since finished it.
This time, no surprise, Sookie is involved with vampires, were-animals, and some other fantasy beings. I like Sookie. She is everything right in a world that's a little crazy, and even though bad things happen, Sookie carries on. I think this is one of the better books in the series, even if in many ways it is setting up for the rest of the books. The vampire and were-animal wars are starting.

Looking back at the books I read/listened to during March, I have to say it was quite a varied month  for me, everything from light and fluffy  to thought provoking stories. Hope you enjoyed this month's book post. 

I have one more book to share. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but thanks Jeanie for sending me this book along to me. 

I am fascinated with archaeology, and this book is sitting on my next to the bed in to be read book pile. 

And if you have any book recommendations, I'd love to read about them.

Enjoy your weekend.


Tanza Erlambang said...

I read The Thorn Bird....great novel.

Have a wonderful day

CJ Kennedy said...

We certainly had a lot of nice days during March and you put them to good use. Today looks like another perfect day to sit on the deck and read.

Valerie-Jael said...

You have chosen some great books again, I think we like lots of similar things. I never go anywhere without my Kindle, and will be taking it into the clinic next week. Have a great weekend, hugs, Valerie

kathyinozarks said...

Thank you for sharing your booklist with us- I have started reading mysteries so will check out Donna Leon-she must be popular as her hardcovers are very expensive-will check around online That last one sounds really interesting to me too Happy Saturday

Iris Flavia said...

Wow, you read a lot! I´m so slack with this atm!
And I have way too many books already, so I admit: I just marveled over your choice but did not dig in, way too dangerous!

Anne (cornucopia) said...

Interesting assortment of books, and I like a lot of the cover artworks for them.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I'd love to read Lockdown. It sounds a lot like what I've lived through (except for the murder, of course).

I've never heard of Monty Don, but I would love to read any book on gardening that could help my gardening skills.

Although I've never heard if Elizabeth Peters, the book sounds good. I always love a good mystery.

I would also love to read the book on polio. It was eradicated when I was young and possibly vulnerable.

I saw a PBS special on Churchill's paintings. He painted lots of landscapes
at his own home/estate.

I am going to try to find the Donna Leon series once it's safe to return to my Library.

That Auntie Poldie series sounds wonderful.

I really love your choice of mysteries. I'm still wading through These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore. Although it's interesting, at 960 pages, I can only take it in small doses.

Jeanie said...

Churchill's painting, mysteries, polio and more. You've given me plenty of new titles to add to the list. I really appreciate the style of how you write your book reviews. It gives me a very good feeling for them. (I'm glad you like Donna Leon -- I think you'll get hooked on them like I am!)

Carola Bartz said...

These are a lot of new titles for me and the only book in this list I have read is "the Thornbirds (decades ago). Children of the Land would interest me. We have quite some DACA kids at our schools and was able to witness the change in their behavior when this program was endangered - some of these students didn't even dare to come to school anymore. It was heartbreaking. As an immigrant myself this is a topic that always interests me.

R's Rue said...

These look good.

Stevenson Q said...

Dearest Erika these are all very interesting books but one that I would love so much to read is Children of the Land because I have always been amazed by social documentaries especially lately that I watch a lot of them on youTube and based on your caption, this will be a very interesting subject for me and understand undocumented citizens from their own perspective.

hugs to you dearest Erika! To more books!

craftytrog said...

A great selection of books Erika!
I've always been fascinated by King Arthur and Camelot, so I'd be interested to read that final book.
I have the set of Sookie books, I've only read the first one, and that was quite a while ago, so it may be time to re-read it, and read the rest too.
Churchill's house, Chartwell, is not far from us. We've been inside his studio and seen some of his paintings, and I love going there. It's a wonderful estate with beautiful gardens.
And I'm a fan of Monty Don too. I love the gentle way that he gardens, with his faithful hound following him around.
Happy reading,
Alison xx

nwilliams6 said...

Great selection of books. I think I may get the one on Churchill and the one on undocumented children. I love your book posts! Hugz

Divers and Sundry said...

I remember The Thorn Birds from way back. It made quite an impression on me. I've read several by Peter May but not this one. I'll have to look up Monty Don's Netflix shows. Thanks for that suggestion. The Elizabeth Peters book looks interesting. Sometimes good stand-alones are hard to find, so I'll see if I can find this one. I'm so glad you liked the Donna Leon book! Most of the others you've read are new to me. You've been busy!