Sunday, May 7, 2023

April's Books

Hi everyone. I hope you're having a wonderful weekend.

I'm back today with my monthly post where I share the books I've read. 

April was another good reading month. I didn't finish quite as many books as I  hoped to get through, but I still read a lot. I don't know why but I was feeling that my reading  habits fit that quote "So many books, so little time".  I was just in a reading mood and had a lot of other things going on so I didn't read quite as much as I'd hoped. I do have quite the pile next to my bed that I hope to get to soon.

My first listen for April was this novel by Laurie Lico Albanese. It's the fictional story with an explanation about why Nathaniel Hawthorne, when he wrote The Scarlet Letter,  created the character Hester Prynne. From what I've read and learned, The Scarlet Letter  is Hawthorne's only novel that does not have a direct autobiographical connection to his life. This book (Hester) is the author's idea of one way to show a connection.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne, he is an early American fiction writer whose books are considered classics. 

This book, Hester, was recommended to me quite a while back by a friend, and after my day trip to Salem, Massachusetts in early  April (where The Scarlet Letter is set), this seemed like the perfect book choice.

Isobel Gamble is a young Scottish woman who came to Salem, Massachusetts in the early 1800's. She travels to Salem  after her husband becomes an opium addict and runs up so much debt the couple is forced to lose just about everything they have. Isobel has synesthesia, meaning she sees things like written letters in colors. It was also something she shares with relatives in her mother's side, including one who had been murdered as a witch years earlier. 

In Salem Isobel meets Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose ancestors prosecuted witches in the late 1600’s. In this novel, Hawthorn is a young man in his twenties, and not yet an accomplished author. This sets up the story.

I very much enjoyed this book; however,  I wish it was a little more literary. The author has Hawthorne speaking about how good writing needs to be unexpected, and yet, this book was in some ways predictable. The author also makes small forays into runaway slaves and prejudices towards newcomers to America. These parts were really interesting so I wish those topics  and the characters involved there were bigger parts of the book. The author does succeed in showing how Hawthorne could have come up with The Scarlet Letter.  But even though I think this story had a lot of potential to be more of a book, I'm still glad I listened to it. Overall this is a fairly easy read/listen that was very entertaining.

My first book for April was one that I read while reading some other books, and therefore it took me all month (plus some)  to read. It was this book, Frida in America by Celia Stahr.  The reason it took me a while to get through is because it was not the kind of book that worked for me before bed, first thing in the morning if I couldn't sleep, or even when I was a little drowsy in the late afternoon. It was a  well written book, very interesting to read, but it wasn't a fluffy, you can be winding down the day type of book. It wasn't even  a hard read, but with all the  painting references I needed to do some internet searching as the author wrote about the art. I don't recognize all of Kahlo's art, nor do I know individual paintings by name.

Although now I am definitely more familiar with them. Smile.

Paintings aside, it was a very interesting read. The author states no one has written a biography of Frida Kahlo during the time she spent in the United States, mostly with her husband Diego was painting murals.  The late 1920's and 1930's were an interesting time for art, and Frida is an interesting painter. The author does a great job setting the stage and describing some of the scenes from Frida's life, including some before she married Diego Rivera and came to the US. I have read her journal and a couple of other "lighter" books about her in the past, but this was my first well annotated biography of this artist. 

I need to thank Aimeslee for suggesting this next book, Heidegger’s Glasses, by Thaisa Frank and published in 2010. This book is a World War 2 novel with a twist as it is a story told from the German perspective.  It  is the end of the war, and the German war machine is falling apart. People’s sympathies with the Nazis are disappearing. Goebbels, yes the infamous number 2 to Hitler Goebbels, is becoming lost in the occult.  He establishes a barracks in an old mine, underground, where he has some "prisoners".  These people were pulled out at concentration camps because they could speak and write multiple languages, and it is their job to answer letters from the dead. Luckily the people running this letter writing facility are actually trying to save people so this isn't really a sad story, although it's not exactly a joyful one either. 

When the famed philosopher Heidegger wants a response to a letter he wrote to his friend and optician (as well as his wanting  his new glasses), a high command request arrives that this letter is be answered to specifically sound like the optician. The German military wants to be sure Heidegger believes his good friend hasn't perished in a concentration camp. And when the letter gets answered in a way that shows that it was not written by Heidegger's friend, things get interesting.

This concept of this book was really unique. It also made this book thought provoking, and it made me think about the fear war brings, as well as the absurdity of much of it. I'm not sure I ever warmed up to any of the characters, but I did want to find out what happened to all of them. The author did a great job of building up suspense along the way. At one point, when I thought the author was getting a bit sidetracked, I thought maybe the book was going to go downhill. Luckily the story picked right back up again. 

I’ve been  trying to listen to some books sitting in my Audible account, and this book, The Reading List, by Sara Nisha Adams was my next listen. If you are looking for something that's not mushy but is  heartwarming, then read on because this might be the book for you.

The 2 main characters in this novel are Aleisha, a young woman with some home "issues" who is working during her summer  holiday at a local library near London. The other main character is the elderly Mukesh. His wife died and after discovering one of her library books hidden in their cluttered home, he actually reads it. This brings him closer to his much missed wife, and because of this connection, he decides to go to the library to borrow books. This leads Mukesh and Aleisha to meet.

Then there is a Reading List that keeps appearing on pieces of paper. Some of these lists show up in the library. Some show up  in other places. The books on the list are always these 8 : To Kill A Mockingbird, Rebecca, The Kite Runner, The Life of Pi, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women,  Beloved,  and A Suitable Boy.  The story introduces this list early, and it, as well as these novels,  are woven  through the book. 

This is the reading list that not only brings Mukesh and Aleisha together, but also gives both of these people some purpose in their lives.  As a reader, I couldn't wait to find out the story behind the list. I like how the author kept bringing the list back up and showing how other people besides these 2 main characters found it.  

I enjoyed this novel very much.  I really liked the characters, especially Mukesh,  and I now want to read those books on the reading list that I haven't yet read. 

I was ready to get back to some mystery reading at this point. My first mystery for April was this classic style novel, Murder on Mustique, written by Anne Glenconner.

Having read this author's biography (Lady In Waiting)  last month, I immediately recognized bits of her personal life woven into the novel. Lady Vee owns a home on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean. It's where her "foster" daughter Lily is living and running a non-profit to help save coral reefs. Lily's friend and helper at the nonprofit, Amanda, has suddenly gone missing. On a very small island where you need to be invited ashore, this is a very unusual situation.

The lone police officer on the island, DS Solomon Nile, is called onto the case. He doesn't have it easy, even though you might think living on a tiny island filled mostly with just a few ultra rich people would make it easy. 

I like how this book tells the story through both Lady Vee's eyes as well as Nile's eyes. There's some interesting action, lots of fancy villas, and a lush tropical background. The characters are all slightly flawed so you have trouble deciding who is causing all the trouble. I suspected the murderer, but it wasn't in any way  obvious. This  was not only a very enjoyable mystery, but also a well written one. 

I went back to this 10 mystery set for my next listen. I wanted something entertaining but not too complicated to listen to while I did some yard work. 

Albert Smith is a widower and retired police detective.   This is the second cozy  mystery in the series Albert's Smith's Culinary Capers, and Smith is back on his travels around England taking cooking classes. With him is his dog, Rex Harrison. I like how the author calls each book a recipe, so this is recipe 2. This time it's all about Bakewell tarts, or more correctly, Bakewell puddings. I didn't know exactly what a Bakewell tart was, even though I had heard of it. And I definitely didn't know what a Bakewell pudding was. Now I do, and I'm tempted to try making one or both of them.

 (If you're curious, I wrote about book 1 here: March Books.) 

This time Albert is traveling with his son, since his children have decided he is too old to be  traveling alone. Of course Smith shakes his head and thinks how foolish his children are. And when murder and trouble show up, Smith's son becomes disabled, and it is up to "the old man" and his trusty canine companion to figure it all all. Oh yes,  there's also one very likable young man, Asim, who drives a customized car very fast and speaks in street language. He really adds a lot to the story also.

This is another enjoyable book in this series, and I'm glad I still have 8 more to go on the set I picked up from Audible.

After reading Murder on Mustique, I decided to stay in the Caribbean and reread one of my Agatha Christie mysteries,  A Caribbean Mystery. I hadn't read  this book in decades. Instead of using a cover image off the internet, I thought I'd take a photo of my actual book because I love how this paperback only cost $2.95 when I bought it. Decades sound like a long time ago, and by looking at this price, it really was. 

Miss Marple (one of Christie's detectives) had been sent to a Caribbean resort by her nephew Raymond. She's not on the island very long when  one of the guests named Major Palgrave dies, supposedly from natural causes. If you read mysteries you know what that really means; Major Palgrave didn't die from natural causes. Shortly later one of the resort's staff members also dies. Miss Marple, being an older woman, uses her curiosity and knowledge of people to help solve the big question of who the killer is. Along the way there's a few twists and turns, and Christie throws suspicion on a few people so as a reader you don't exactly know who or what Miss Marple is getting at.

This book is classic Christie with a whole cast of characters and lots of motives. I've reread a lot of Poirot mysteries in the last few years, so it was good to read another Miss Marple one. You can't go wrong with most Agatha stories. 

The new Elly Griffith's Dr. Ruth Galloway book (#15) was released at the end of April, and I decided to listen to book 14 before I started the new one. (Even if I did just read this book last June. Here's the link it you want a full review: June Books)

This book is set in 2020, right at the start of the pandemic. There is a series of deaths that look like suicides, an ancient body discovered by a construction crew, and a surprise relative discovery for Ruth Galloway. Ruth is an archeologist, so she works with the police when these bodies are found. Plus everyone has gone into lockdown. What surprised me the most is how things have changed for us since March of 2020, and this book really did bring me back that time. Griffiths' did a great job with that.

I don't always reread the last book of a series before reading the latest release, but I am glad I reread this one. 

You can probably guess what my next book was.

This book (my last for April)  is from the same series that I wrote in my last book review.  The Last Remains is book 15 in the Dr. Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths.

This time  there is a more recently dead body found behind a bricked wall in an empty, under construction building. The series' gang is all back in this volume also: Ruth, Nelson, Kate, Cathbad, Tony, Tonya, Judy, Shona, etc. One thing is if you decide read this series, you really need to read them in order as time passes and the characters evolve and move on with their lives. 

The initial stage of the pandemic is over, and now lives are slowly getting back to normal. Ruth (Dr. Galloway) has been told  her archeology department is being cut from the university's budget. What will happen  to Ruth and her daughter Kate if they can't win the fight to keep it? Will she need to move from Norfolk and sell her much loved home? She will also need to settle her situation with Nelson, and then there's her dear friend Cathbad who's gone missing.

Plus there's the investigation of the murder of the young woman found behind the brick wall.

I don't want to say much because I know some of you  who read this series might have yet to read this particular  book. I don't want to spoil it for you. All I can say is that it is more of the same great mystery reading, and I did wonder all through the book how this particular story (book 15)  was going to wrap up. That wrap up was quite satisfactory too.

And that's my book list for April. I did start a couple of more reads and listens, but since I finished them in May, you'll have to wait a month before I write about them. 
Happy reading- and please send along any suggestions you might have. I may not get to them right away, but I always check them out. 




Hels said...

Thank you for the list. Frida in America by Celia Stahr is the first book I would like to read. I am well familiar with Frido Kahlo's art, but I have no idea why she married Diego Rivera (twice!) and why she stayed with such a difficult husband.

Iris Flavia said...

Oh! Books!
How we chased Frida in Perth you can guess - there was a special mural and with the help of a professor of Curtain University we found it (OK he is retired and a friend).

The next I will not read. Many.. most? Germans.. German men were to follow the ugly, tiny, Austrian man - other their families were in danger. I think it´s the same with the Russians now, also.
My Dad´s father did not join the war due to being an optometrist.

You read a lot.
I am honest. I scrolled through as the danger is too high I buy them (so easy these days!) and never find the time to read them!!!
I have so many books in line but often after work am too tired to concentrate, so I have the TV running and sketch or.. read blogs! Hugs...

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Looks to me that you had a great month of reading, Erika, and you wrote some great reviews too. I think there will always to too many books and too little time, but we do what we can! Hugs - David

Tom said...

...Murder on Mustique reminds me of the BBC series, Death in Paradise.

Christine said...

You are inspiring with your love of books, thanks for the excellent reviews.

Divers and Sundry said...

I'm impressed with your consistency! I miss reading. I wonder if I'll ever get back into it.

CJ Kennedy said...

I don’t read nearly as much as I used to, but Hester sounds like something I would really enjoy. I loved the Scarlet Letter and Hester Prynne is my hero.

Cloudia said...

Thank you for sharing your interesting books. I attended Franconia college in 1971. The old man of the mountain was still showing his profile. Course. Now the old Forest hills hotel that was the main building of the college is going. I have so many fun memories of living in the white mountains. Many Franconia people remained in the area after and have been there for decades. Of course, as you can tell from my blog, I am in Hawaii. Best wishes to you for a beautiful spring

Valerie-Jael said...

You have read lots of great books again, thanks for sharing, hugs, Valerie

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I have NO idea how you read and listen to so many books, yet also make time for art. My No Name, No Photos group has been meeting every two months and we all have a book to read each time. We are now starting to meet every month, so we'll have a book a month, which will be about all I can muster. Mae also did a review of the Elly Griffiths last book.

I have always like Miss Marple over Poirot. I would LOVE to read the mysteries. You always have such impressive ones. Thanks for sharing your reading list, dear.

Aimeslee Winans said...

Hi Erika! I've been ailing with my hip and neck but feeling better enough to sit at the computer and catch up reading blogs. I almost passed on reading this post to catch up quicker but so glad I didn't! Concerning H's Glasses: I was struck by the strong sense after reading it that I'd just read a Gen X author but she was born in the 40's! I kept hoping Elie and Asher would get together at the end, so that was really a bummer for me, lol. Oh, Frida. I've been down that worm hole analyzing her paintings. They are very interesting as to all the symbolism, but I've no desire to actually own even a print. She sure did know how to paint portraits, though. My dad would have loved reading this post for all the mysteries you read. We are getting dumped on with rain so I hope your weather is better! XOX

Jeanie said...

I haven't read the Last Remains yet so thank you for not spoiling! Must read the Glenconner and glad you liked the Reading List. I did too. There are lots of good ones this month but then you and I often like the same. And Miss Marple is definitely my fave!