Friday, June 9, 2023

May Books

 Hi everyone. I hope you have had a great week. I can’t believe it is already Friday and already June 9th. That’s what happens when you’re away and in traveling mode. Time just slips by and before you know it is time to head home.

It is time once again  for my monthly book post. I managed to get through more books than I thought I might because May was a busy month overall. This past month there was more good reading  including the history of some foods, a book that ended as a cliffhanger,  a book I read a lot of but didn't finish (yet), as well as some other interesting volumes.

I’ve scheduled this post as we’re on our way home today from our Iceland travels, and since I write my book post as I finished each book I thought today would be a good day to share this one. 

My first book for May is one  I actually started in very late April, but at over a 15 hour listen, I decided to include it in my May books because that is when I finished it. 

It is 1348, and the bubonic plague has arrived to Dorset in England. It arrives at Develish  Manor while the master is out trying to secure a husband for his 14 year old daughter Eleanor. While he's gone news arrives of this horrible disease, and the lord's wife, Lady Anne, tries to control the spread of the disease within the "manor". She has, over the years, gotten all the local serfs on her side by teaching them to read and  by giving them good healthcare for the time. Even if she is a mere woman and the marriage she's in is not a happy one. You might be able to guess that there are men who aren't too happy with that arrangement. 

There is a whole cast of other characters including the spoiled brat daughter to the drunken priest. And there's a murder, lies and people trying to do good. This is an entertaining novel, and it  made a nice listen.  This was my first Minette Walters' novel, so I don't know if this book is her usual or not, but I enjoyed the historical setting.  She could have included more historical details , but  it's obvious early on that this book was not meant to be a treatise on the time period but more good reading/listening set with the bubonic plague and life in 1348  in the background. I  liked how the author included some quotes from the time of the Black Death, and how she showed the fear much of the general population had, even if for a while the Black Death seemed to disappear from the story. I also think it had to disappear because of the way the story is set up.

This book ends with a "To Be Continued". Who does that rather than making a book longer? There is a second book to this one that wraps up this story. I am putting book 2 on my list as I want to know what happens, because this one ended as a cliffhanger. This novel was not as good as Connie Willis' Dooms Day Book when it comes to plague stories, but it was still a good story.  I can tell you more when I listen to the rest of it.

My next book is actually a cookbook. Tasting History by Max Miller takes you from the ancient Egyptians through time with recipes and lots of info about each recipe and its time frame in history. It's fascinating how food has changed over the millennia. Of course that makes sense when you think about how civilization  and human culture have changed over that time also. 

Although I love reading cookbooks, this is one that I actually read like a reading book because the background history is as interesting, and in some cases is more interesting, than the recipes themselves. 

I am always also amazed by how many ingredients I am not familiar with. These include things such as spikenard (a dried root), jaggery (a form of cane or palm sugar) , and  passum (a raisin wine) - just to name a few. I am curious to try some of these ingredients and recipes.   Miller also has a youtube channel also called Tasting History where he goes through various recipes, and I had to also check  a few (well more than a few) of those out. I discovered those 15-20 minute videos after I discovered this book, and I also recommend them if you're interested in food and historical context.

My only negative about the book is its size. It is perfect cookbook size, but not perfect reading size. How you would fix that, I don't know, because it is actually a cookbook. It was just a little hard to read it in bed  at night without sitting full up, but then again, it was worth that sacrifice (smile-grin) because I really enjoyed this book. It was a nice surprise discovery.

This Maggie Hope mystery series is one I discovered this year (Thanks Jeanie) that I am really enjoying.  This is book 3. 

We're back to World War 2. Maggie Hope has gone through some more spy training and is now being assigned to parachute into Germany and to infiltrate into high German Society in Berlin.  With a big twist too, as Maggie has only been learning about her parents whom she had always been told were dead. She was brought up in the US by an aunt who has been living state side, but her family is British. After she inherited her grandmother's home in London, Maggie has gone back and become involved in the British War effort. And by this book, she is working as a spy with her first trip out of the country.

This book was definitely suspenseful. At times it had me wanting to tell Maggie (the main character) to go home. Not just Maggie. The other character who has a large part in this book is Elise. I hope she shows up in more of the books from this series. The author, Susan Elia MacNeal writes a great story, and here in book 3 this series is not slowing down at all. As the author writes in her notes, this is a work of fiction, but there are some historical bits incorporated within the story. I highly recommend this series if you like some mystery and some fictional takes on history. 

Although there was a  part of me that wanted to finish the bubonic plague story that I started this post with, I was also a little miffed that it required me to use a credit to get part 2.  It would also mean that I had to  listen for another 12 hours to know how the story wraps up. (As I said, why not make it one longer book to start with?) For my next listen I decided that I'd listen something different, so I went on to this book, Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World by  William Alexander instead of the second half of the Minette Walters  book.

Do you ever look at food and think about how it came to be part of someone's diet? For example, how did people decide it was OK to eat rhubarb stalks? Did they do experiments with one person trying the stalks and one person trying the leaves to see what was edible and if it was even tasty? I sometimes contemplate that when I eat something new to me, and so this book, Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World, seemed like it would be an interesting listen.

And it was.

I eat tomatoes several times a week, and I knew at one point Europeans considered them poisonous, but I didn't know much else about their history. It all started with a fruit that looked more like a miniature acorn squash (shape wise) that the Aztecs enjoyed in many different ways including as a salsa. Plus I learned about tomato plants and their genetics, why Italy is associated with the fruit, and even  how it took the supreme court of the US to confirm that it is a fruit for business purposes.  Plus I  learned about  pizza and several other yummy tomato used foods. This book is a fun look at history  (and other info) from a different perspective.   If the title doesn't get you, then this book is probably not for you, but I really enjoyed it and now want to check out the author's other food books.

This next read is a book my daughter told me about and that caught my attention because much of it was set in Lagos, Nigeria. I've never read a book set here, and so this was one reason  I wanted to read this book. The other was that this story was a suspenseful mystery, and it also sounded like it would make great  plane reading on my way to North Carolina and back home.  

A Nigerwife is a woman who is not Nigerian but who is married to a wealthy Nigerian man and lives in that country. I saw an interview by the author, and she said she had been a Nigerwife, so I'm assuming many of the details  about their culture and lifestyle are spot on. 

This book has 2 main characters. First there is Nicole, a Nigerwife who is originally from London. When she goes missing, no one in her  married family seems to care. Yet one of her aunts, Claudine, (who also brought her up) does care, and she comes to Nigeria to try to figure out what's happened. 

This story is told through Nicole's perspective in the Before titled chapters, and then in Claudine's voice in the After titled chapters. I found the cultural aspect of this book fascinating, and I really enjoyed that part of the story.  The mystery was good and well tied in with culture.  Although it could have been a tad bit stronger mystery,  the ending, well, I didn't see that one coming. The ending made up for any slight weakness in the mystery, and I did very much enjoy reading this novel.

And then it was time to listen to the end of the plague story that I started  this post writing about. The Turn of Midnight is the second part of Minette Walter's plague story. I didn't want to go too long without finishing this 2 book series because if I did, I'd probably have forgotten a lot of the characters and details introduced in book 1.

1348 ends and the story moves into the winter  and spring of 1349. The bubonic plague seems to be taking a bit of a break, although people are still nervous and worried. Just like what happened with covid, some things in the world have changed (besides so many deaths brought on by the plague). The author  really stresses in this volume about how the plague disrupted the feudal system, and I think that made an interesting read.

Another  thing I liked about this book is that the author didn't have to introduce the characters to get the story rolling. She just picked up where she left off.  

 Lady Anne is a woman far before her time, and she is my favorite character. In fact, I actually liked this volume better than volume one, even if in some ways it is just more of the same. I think the effects of the Black Death were stronger in this volume. In this part 2 book you get to visit other manor homes and glimpse the complex hierarchy of people living in them.  The author also tells the story showing the perspectives of most people at that time. I'm certainly glad I didn't live then. Smile.

This was enjoyable series; the ending was a good wrap up although perhaps it could have been a bit more dramatic and a bit less happily ever after. I think the  author was leaving it open for a third book-perhaps? 

For my final book  this month I picked up another Andrew Morton royal related biography. This time it was about the woman who caused King Edward VIII to abdicate, Bessie Wallis Warfield, an American socialite.

I enjoy reading this author because he seems to get to the heart of his stories without going on for 1,000 pages. If you're really knowledgeable about someone, you may not find a lot of new information, but I can't say I knew much of anything about this infamous woman. And I don't know if I was influenced by my reading or not, but I can say I didn’t like Wallis Simpson very much either.  

Still she did make interesting reading. And based on the author's explanation, she was in many ways  misunderstood by the public.  I found it interesting how popular a person she was, and how she had so many friends who were always inviting her to live with them, at least before the abdication. For someone who didn't personally have a huge fortune, she saw a lot of the world and enjoyed a lot of  the good life.  And it seems men were always taking her places, but there were claims that she remained a virgin and even had a  “twist” of being genetically male but not actually
becoming male due to developmental issues before birth.  True or not? I’m not sure there is a definite answer. 

And then the story of the abdication itself was  interesting. Did Edward really leave the throne for love or did he not want the job to start with?

This was an interesting read, not just about the woman, but also about  the time she lived in. And I learned a lot too, including how biographers and historians (such as the author) fill in the gaps based on many people's writings from the time. 

And lastly, I started reading this book, Independent People,  about life on a rural farm  in Iceland during the early 20th century by Halldor  Laxness. It's not a fast read, but Laxness is a very very good writer. He even won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this book in 1955. This book was published in 1946.

I had read about 100 pages into this book, and I was feeling that this book was a little more "work" reading than I wanted at a time when I was busy working in my gardens, traveling and also everything else that was going on. I have put it aside with every intention to read it because it is a very good story. I thought I would mention it in this post however because hopefully that will get me to pick it up and finish it sooner rather than later. 

I'm actually hoping when I get home from Iceland, I will be motivated from my trip to finish it. 

Those are my books for May. I can't wait until my screen porch is set up,  summer brings on its lazy days, and I can enjoy long afternoons on my hammock with a good book. I am looking forward to the slow quiet days of summer.

Thanks for reading this far into my post, and if you have any books to recommend, please do. I may not get to them immediately, but I do add them to my list. 


Tom said...

...I wish that I were a reader. Independent People looks intriguing.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

It’s always interesting to know what you are reading, Erika. Hope you are having great time in Iceland. Hugs - David

Angie's Recipes said...

I am going to add a couple of them to my kindle! Thank you for taking time to do the review, Erika.

kathyinozarks said...

Good morning and safe travels home.
I enjoy your book list as it introduces me to new authors. I do not like that when an author just ends the story to be continued. I had read a novel a few years ago-it was headed towards a happy ending and she just abruptly changed the story line and said to be continued in an upcoming book-I wrote the author that I wasn't happy and would not be reading any more of her books
the recipe book looks really interesting-thanks Erika

Valerie-Jael said...

I love Minette Walters, so would like to read those books. I have been listening to Obama, but his voice is so soothing I keep falling asleep! Have a good flight and a good return! Hugs, Valerie

CJ Kennedy said...

You always have such an eclectic reading list

kathyinozarks said...

I am looking into the that last book about Iceland-thats on my list now for sure

Christine said...

Thanks for sharing you are so wonderfully well read.

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, help me Ronda!!!
Tasting History sounds SO tempting!the book in the street).
When walking here you find all the Stolpersteine reminding us Jewish people lived in those houses and likely... were not so lucky to be on the list.
Seeing that symbol always makes me "gag".
Food sure is a very interesting subject.
I have too many books still. And too little time... But I read 3 Braunschweig books lately! And am at Schroedinger, Mandelbrot & Co. :-)

Hope for pics and stories from Iceland...!

craftytrog said...

A great list Erika! I haven't read a Minette Walters in a while. I shall check my library app for those two. Independent People looks interesting too.
Happy reading.

Carola Bartz said...

I always enjoy your book reviews because you read such a variety of books and write about them in a way that I'd like to read each of them myself. I put "Nigerwife" on my list because that is something I definitely want to read. I'm always interested reading books that are set in other countries, especially those I don't know much about.

Jeanie said...

I know what you mean about a book being a little too much work. Been there, done that. I'd like to read the Wallis book. I like Andrew Morton's writing. He usually doesn't have any revelations if one has read a lot about the people but he writes them in such a good way. The Minette Walters and the food books both sound interesting!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I want to read Andrew Morton's take on Simpson. I read somewhere and not sure it's true, that she was the one who introduced Edward to Hitler. It sounds like a good read, at least.

I think I'll pass on the plague. Your mysteries sound great, though, especially His Majesty's Hope.

Neet said...

Interesting reading.
I am tempted by the first one although i do not know the author. It sounds the kind of story i would enjoy. Actually she has been very clever, rather than write the one book she has got you to buy another - maybe the first could be described as a 'loss leader'.
Not taking much in over the past few weeks I have been reading the "Cat Who" books in my collection - and having to buy more to follow Qwill's move to Moose Country.
Hugs, Neet xx