Saturday, January 8, 2022

December Books and 2021 Reading Wrap Up

Hi everyone. It's a cold Saturday morning here and that seems the perfect setting to do a book post. 

It's time for me to wrap up 2021's books with my December book post. I can tell it was the holiday season by the choices of books I read. Some of them had holiday themes, and some of them were just easy reads.

 Although I enjoyed all the books I read or listened to last month, I found it hard to  pick up an actual book and sit down to read for awhile.  My focus was there for listening, but for reading a book, not so much.  I'm not sure if it was because many of the  books I picked  weren't grabbing my attention, or if I was just busy and going through a reading slump month. If I listed all the actual books I had started to read last month and then put down, this would be a much longer post. 

So here's what I did read and also listened to for those of you enjoy reading book posts.

 This month started off with some Agatha Christie stories.

This first  book I found in my attic while taking out my holiday decorations.  Many years back, at a suggestion of a friend, I had stored some of my book overflow in boxes in the attic.

That worked OK until I didn't know what was boxed up in the attic because I had too many boxes. I did a big cleaning a few years back, and now, every time I go up in the attic to get something or to return something whose season is over, I bring down a pile of books that didn't get cleaned out.  Somehow this Agatha Christie non-fiction volume must have been mistakenly put up there.  Rather than put it in a donation pile or on my actual bookshelf, I decided to read it as it was a new story to me.

Agatha Christie's second husband was Max Mallowan. He was an archaeologist who went on many digs in the Middle East. This book is Agatha's story from some of her time spent in that part of the world during these digs, and it is also the story of that part of her life with Max. This book was first published in 1946, but it is more of a memoir and refers  back to 2 separate archaeological digs before the Second World War.

This book was a really a charming and an interesting read. It was fun to see the author as a person in her own words. Agatha must have had a really warm and loving relationship with her husband.  Their adventures in Syria and even aboard the Orient Express  were, although definitely dated, fascinating. And a little challenging at times too. They lived in tents and drove around in an old car fitted out for desert trips called Queen Mary, later painted blue and called Blue Mary.  I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and it you are looking for  the romance ( and hardships) of some vintage style travel, then I recommend this book.

My next Agatha Christie was my first listen for the month. It was time for a holiday classic.

Simeon Lee is getting old and his health isn't very good, so he decides he wants the whole family together for Christmas. Lee made a lot of money digging diamonds in South Africa, and he isn't the sweetest of old men either. His four sons and his granddaughter (from his daughter who is no longer living) gather at his stately home, and of course, there is murder afoot. Christie's famous detective Hercule Poirot arrives to solve the case.

This book is classic Christie, and I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this story also. 

My next listen was a light "cozy" style mystery, book 2 in the Witch City Mysteries by Carol J. Perry. It just so happened, quite unplanned by me, to also have the beginning of the book  set at Christmas.

Lee Barrett has moved back to her home in  Salem, Massachusetts after several years of living in Florida and a too early in life widowhood. Along with her cat and her detective boyfriend (both whom she met in book one), Lee  investigates a murder of a family friend that happened in the building where her new job is located. She is now teaching at a performing arts academy in what was the city's oldest department store. There is lots of talk about the family who  built and owned that store, and those "stories" include many gold pieces. Lee's aunt, (Aunt Ebby), is a retired city librarian, and she "researches" lots of details in case also, especially about the connection between the family who owned the store and the gold. So how  does the gold connect to the murder?  That's one of the questions that carries through this multi layered story.

The cover of the book makes this story look like it is a comedy, which is isn't, but it is an easy to follow and enjoyable read or listen.  I hope Aunt Ebby gets a bigger role in some later books. Unlike book one where the murderer was pretty obvious, in this story the author has you thinking that there are a couple of people who could have been the murderers, right until the actual murderer is announced.  

I'm not sure the Camelot Capers by Elizabeth Peters was exactly what I felt like reading when I grabbed this book off the shelf, but it did grab my attention right on page one. Jessica is being chased by 2 men, perhaps for the heirloom ring she has or perhaps there is another more sinister reason. It is not the trip to England that she planned and hoped for.

The only way to escape the small village where she has gone to hide  (after she has given the men the slip and before they can find her again),  is to travel with her new friend David in his car first to London, and then to a few other places in England.  No matter where she goes however, those men are there, and the nastiness of their activity just keeps escalating.

This book was a fast read and an adventurous romp. I actually ended up quite enoying it, and I didn't expect what these men stalking Jessica were really up to.  This book is one of Peters stand alone mysteries and not part of any series she wrote. It was originally published in 1969. I'm finding that the variety of stories Peters wrote in her stand alone mysteries is very diverse and makes some enjoyable mysteries. No wonder why her later written Amelia Peabody mysteries are so good. 

My next listen was Jack Whitehall's new book, How To Survive Family Holidays.  I don't know what it is like to read this in book format (as it is not available here in the US until February), but I can  recommend this book to listen to if you're a fan of Whitehall's comedy. I laughed a lot.

If you aren't familiar with Jack Whitehall, he is a British actor/comedian. He has a few seasons of the show "Travels with My Father" on Netflix. In this show, Jack actually travels with his dad to various places across the globe and in some obviously set up situations, tries to modernize his father. His mom pops in on occasion too. I don't know if it is because they are family, but they have fantastic comedic timing with each other. Jack's Dad, Michael Whitehall, had been an agent who worked with actors and his mother is ( or maybe she also is retired) the actress Hilary Gish.

Also be aware that if you are American or a  citizen of another country where the word holiday can have different meanings, the holiday in the title of this book is about vacations, not strictly holidays such as Christmas, (although there is a section about spending holidays like Christmas with your family).  I listened to the Audible version, and I really enjoyed how Jack, Dad Michael and Mom Hilary all narrated the story. I'm not sure this book is for everyone, but I had a  good time listening to it. 

Another book I listened to is this novella by the queen of mysteries set in Victorian times, Anne Perry. At just over 3 1/2 hours, it was a quick but well written, serious story. A group of people have gathered at an estate called Applecross for some holiday festivities. One of the guests, a young woman, dies.  Another young woman named Gwendolen,  although she didn't physically murder the dead woman, is being held responsible for her death. 

Vespasia Cumming-Gould, a character from Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery series, travels with Gwendolen north to inform the dead women's mother of her daughter's death.  Vespasia is interested in unraveling why the young woman died, and as the novella unwinds, she uncovers that story.  Things are never quite what they seem in this excellent mystery. 

Reading an Anne Perry books always makes me glad I didn't live during Victorian times, but she still makes them fascinating to read about. I very much enjoyed this holiday story, and I think it would be a good read even when it isn't December.

After listening to the Anne Perry novella, I decided it was time for some more historical fiction. This book was a recommendation from Alison (Craftytrog) who mentioned how she really enjoyed it. 

This is the story of Mary Bennett, the middle of Jane's Austen's Bennett sisters from her novel Pride and Prejudice. 

It took me a bit to get into the swing of this novel. I started listening to it on my drive home from visiting my mother (which is over a 2 hour drive), and I was wondering if it was the right book for me. Then, as I was driving,  I suddenly realized I was quite enjoying Mary's story, and that the author had done a clever job of not only portraying the family Jane Austen created, but she also did a good job in how she retold Pride and Prejudice in the first part of the book.  

The author then continues the story beyond what Jane Austen wrote, but she keeps it quite appropriate for the time period and Austen's general style. Except Mary! The ending may have been dragged out a bit, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable story.  Thanks Alison for the recommendation. 

Moonflower Murders was my last book for 2021. I picked up this book on a trip to Costco. I didn't realize when I bought the book that it was book 2 in a series, but since book 1 (Magpie Murders)  and this author had been recommended to me by several people, I thought should give Moonflower Murders a try. Plus reading the first 8-10 pages in the store caught my attention.

When I got home that I realized Moonflower Murders was book 2 in a series. I did some online research to see if I should actually continue reading it. I found that it is a stand alone story, but the main characters continue from book 1. I decide to live dangerously and read this book without reading book 1.

I definitely could follow the story without reading book 1. In fact, I really enjoyed the story. The story starts with a murder and a missing person, and then there is a novel within the murder. It was cleverly done and not a difficult read. I was a little curious at the premise as to why a former book publisher should be asked to come and investigate a murder and a missing person, but sometimes in fiction I think you just have to go with the story.

Now I need to get a copy of book 1 to read where it all began.

My analysis and  recap of my reading for 2021:

And finally for this post, I did a recap of all the books I read during the year, just to see where those books had taken me. You're welcome to read on if you are curious.

2021 ended up being a good year for books.  March  was the month I read the most books (11) ; November was the month I read the least (4 with 2 of those were already half read in October).  I did do a count of the books I read in 2021, and it came in at  96 books, not including cookbooks and arts or crafts  books.

The breakdown by genre was:

1 classic (no wonder why I'm ready to read another one) fictional/non-mystery story
11 nature, gardening, natural history books
1 children's literature book (also a classic in that genre)
4 science books (which include biographies but are not straight biographies)
1 biography
1 history (nonfiction) book
7 sci-fi or fantasy books
7 historical fiction books*
12 general fiction books*
7 nonfiction books (not included in the science, nature or history above)
44 mysteries-including mystery classics

*explanation note how I separated by genre
historical fiction and fiction could be combined, but I put a book into the historical area  if it referred to an actual person or actual events or if the main focus of the story focused on a time period

 And here's a few notes on those 96 books. 
-book I was most surprised to really enjoy: Andy Weir,  Project Hail Mary (since I don't usually like out in space fiction)

-book(s) I would most likely reread: Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog (because it was funny and has enough depth that I probably missed something, and now I want to read 3 Men in a Boat.  To Say Nothing of the  Dog was inspired  by this story)

-longest book I read: Ken Follett: The Evening and The Morning 

-shortest book I read:Winston S. Churchill, Painting as a Pastime

-books I had read or listened to in the past and reread this past year:   Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders, Colleen McCullough: The Thorn Birds,  Dorothy L Sawyers: Whose Body, Robert James Waller: The Bridges of Madison County, Charlaine Harris: From Dead to Worse, Elizabeth Peters: The Curse of the Pharaohs, Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle in Time 

-book that inspired me to read some other books it mentioned: Peter Swanson, Eight Perfect Murders (Of those 8 perfect murder mysteries, I had only read 2, and since reading this book I have read 3 others. That leaves me 3 to find and read.)

-my least favorite book of the year: Marcello Hernandez Castillo, Children of the Land  (This book was actually a very good book, but quite heavy and depressing at many points. I don't regret listening to it; it was eye opening and made to see the plight of so many immigrants, and I wanted to finish it. In the end, it was the least favorite of all the books I completed.  However I guess I could say my actual least favorite books were all the ones I started and then put aside as they weren't exciting me enough to continue.)

-memorable fiction: although they were all enjoyable or I wouldn't have kept reading: Elizabeth Gilbert: The Signature of All Things, Ariel Lawhon: Code Name Helene, Ken Follett: The Evening and the Morning, Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog, Toshikazu Kawaguchi: Before the Coffee Gets Cold; Jane Smiley: Perestroika in Paris, Ian Mortimer: The Outcasts of Time, Richard Osman: Thursday Murder Club, Marie Benedict: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Mary Stewart: The Hollow Hills (note to self: the last 2 books on my December list were not finished when I did this analysis so I did not include them.)

my favorite science read: Howard Markel: The Secret of Life

-series on the top of my 2022 list I need to read more of: (many the mysteries I read including but not only)   Elly Griffiths: The Magic Men, Susan Hill: Simon Serrailer, Elizabeth Peters: Amelia Peabody series, Dorothy L Sayers: all her mysteries, Connie Willis: the rest of her Oxford Time Travel books, Richard Osman: book 2 of his Thursday Murder Club, Anthony Horowitz: the Magpie Murders, Charlaine Harris: books 9-13 of her True Blood fantasies.  Some  series I would read anyhow because I love them and so did not mention those here.

memorable non-fiction books (including biography, nature, and history) : Elizabeth Tova Bailey: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Thomas D. Seeley: The Lives of Bees, The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild,  Bonnie Tsui: Why We Swim, Patrick Swevsson: The Book of Eels.

book I'm still reading but haven't yet finished: David Starkey: Six Wives

Memorable mysteries/suspense books including but not only: Nevada Barr: Firestorm and A Superior Death, Kim Taylor Blakemore: After Alice Fell, Elly Griffiths: The Nighthawks and the Zig Zag Girl, Donna Leon: Death in a Strange Country and Death at La Fenice , Anne Hillerman: Stargazer, Peter May: Lockdown, Arnaldur Indridason:  The Shadow District, Louise Penny: All The Devils Are Here, Peter Swanson: Eight Perfect Murders

Sorry for the extra long book post today.
And please, I love recommendations, so share if you have any. I can only read so many books, so even if you recommend a book and you don't see me reading it right away, it doesn't mean it isn't on my to read list.  
Happy reading in 2022 to you!


CJ Kennedy said...

You definitely deserve a prize for all those books read. I don't seem to read as much as I used to. Maybe a resolution for me should be to make some time for reading.

Valerie-Jael said...

You've read a lot of good books n the course of the last year. Reading is a wonderful hobby. I have my Kindle with me in the clinic , so it's a large library at my disposal. Have a great weekend, hugs, Valerie

Anne (cornucopia) said...

I keep meaning to get back to reading books, which I used to enjoy very much, but so far, I still haven't.

How did you fare with the snow? As CJ put it, the consistency of the snowfall here was pasty (not the usual heavy wet cement, and certainly not the fluffy light stuff). I am counting down the days until Spring. :-)

Divers and Sundry said...

You've chosen a variety! I tend to read the same old, same old...

kathyinozarks said...

Great list of books Erika, I do not usually grab a mystery book I think I usually lean towards historical fiction and some time travel thrown in. I have not read an Agatha Christi book yet I should though. I picked up a couple of Follett's hardcover books a couple years ago because the reviews were so good-Have not gotten to them yet.
thanks for sharing your books. Happy Saturday and stay warm-we are finally a little bit warmer today-we have been in the low teens and lower most of the week. hugs Kathy

DVArtist said...

I am very impressed at how much you read. All the books look wonderful too. Stay warm over there.

Jeanie said...

I loved this post (as you no doubt knew I would)! Wow -- I'm impressed. A complex, large and diverse reading list and I am putting a number of these on my TBR list. I almost picked up "Come Tell Me How You Live" again -- I read it years ago and have it at the lake. I've thought about re-reading some Christie, too and have heard Hercule Poirot's Christmas should be on anyone's list. I loved the Magpie Murders and Moonflower is on my list, too, as is the next Thursday Club. The Eight Perfect Murders recommendation was a good one! LOVE your categories at the end!

What a great reading year. Consider this post saved!

Lowcarb team member said...

You certainly had a good read during 2021, many thanks for this look back and review.
I'm currently reading a book by Kate Morton.
Here's to more good reads in 2022.

All the best Jan

Mae Travels said...

I agree with you on quite a few of those books and authors. I think we read quite a bit of the same things. Good reading in 2022!

best... mae at

craftytrog said...

Glad you enjoyed The Other Bennet Sister Erika. I thought it was well written, and had a good ending.
I'm currently reading Ken Follett's The Evening & The Morning. Hubby read it before me, in a matter of days. I think it was you that gave me the heads up, so thanks!