Thursday, February 20, 2014

January Reading

Though my print reading in the long-awaited reads month wasn’t successful, my Kindle reading was some of the best of my life. If I gave grades four would get an A+, two would get an A, and two would get an A-. Just for fun, I’ve put the grades next to the titles.

1. A (also seen as The) Lighthearted Quest - book 1 in the Julia Probyn series A  
by Ann Bridge
fiction 1956
finished 1/5/14

I tried a book of Ann Bridge's years ago which people had been raving about called Peking Picnic, and I just couldn't get through it. But I loved this one. I was reminded of a younger Mrs. Pollifax, the senior citizen heroine of Dorothy Gilman's series who travels around the world as a spy. Julia is asked to find her missing cousin who is heir to a Scottish estate. He hasn't been heard from in a few months, and he is desperately needed to keep the place going. Her travels take her to 1950s Casablanca, Marrakech, and Fez, and the modern reader learns of the political and social situations in these places. The descriptions are terrific, and the characters really come alive. I've already bought the second in this 8-part series. She's a wonderful character, a bit like the plucky young women we find in Agatha Christie's books. 

2. Mr. Lynch's Holiday A+
by Catherine O'Flynn
fiction 2013
finished 1/8/14

I just loved this book. It is a father and son story. It is an ex-patriate story. It is a financial collapse story. It is a wonderful story. A widower from Birmingham makes a surprise visit to his son who lives in Spain. This book is refreshingly different from anything you might expect. It was a pure pleasure to read. I read her first book, What Was Lost and wrote about it here a few years ago.

3. Last Night at the Lobster A+
by Stewart O'Nan
fiction 2007
library book
finished 1/11/14

Of all the books this month, this is the one that means the most to me.

I had a friend in high school with whom I shared a great love of music - but not the same music. If I loved a band, he invariably didn’t, and the music he loved, I hated. Well, now, in my bookish life I have a similar relationship. Les and I both love to read. However, not only do we read different kinds of books, but also, when we do happen to read the same one, we almost always disagree. It is very rare indeed that we both love (or hate) the same title. Almost six years ago, Les wrote a wonderful review of this book, which was mostly about her work experiences years ago at a restaurant. I thought her memories were worthy of being published. She did not care for the book at all. Yet when I read about it, I was sure I would love it, and (no surprise) I did. And as soon as I finished, I ordered the paperback version. It is perfect from the cover to the last page inside. Tom read it and loved it as well. 

Stewart O’Nan has been called the ‘bard of the working class.’ And as a reader, working class people are the ones I want to read about. One of my favorite poems is It’s The Little Towns I Like by Thomas Lux. You may read it here.  I loved all of Rick Bragg’s books. When We Were the Kennedys, and Stuck were two of my top favorite books of last year, and I loved Candacy A. Taylor’s book Counter Culture about waitresses. Just after I finished Last Night at the Lobster, I happened to read this is a local paper.
America’s restaurant and food service industry provides jobs and careers for 13 million people – 10 percent of our nation’s workforce. While restaurants serve as a stepping stone for many – one in three Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant – it’s also an industry of tremendous opportunity, where individuals of all backgrounds are given the opportunity to move up the ladder and succeed. In fact, 80 percent of restaurant owners began their careers as hourly workers in the industry.
As fewer people cook at home, as the restaurant becomes our dining room, doing a good job of managing, serving, and of course, cooking is ever more important. Stewart O’Nan shines his writerly spotlight on the people who do this work, in this case at a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut on its last night in business. Cooperate headquarters have decided that it 'wasn't meeting expectations and, effective December 20th, it would be closing permanently.'

I felt like O'Nan was the proverbial 'fly on the wall' taking note of these restaurant workers. He doesn't just bring them to life, he notices them. He pays attention to what they do and how they think and who they are. After reading the book, you may view your restaurant experiences in a different way. 

I loved this book beyond words. I thought it a little masterpiece of writing, and of caring. You may listen to Maureen Corrigan in a five-minute review of the book here. And there's a beautiful, touching New York Times piece here.

4. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon - book 14 in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series A+
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction 2013
finished 1/13/14

I can't really say that these books get better and better because honestly every single one of them in this long series is perfect to me. The author's compassion and caring for the people and their land of Botswana shines through in each book. It is ostensibly a mystery series, and there are always cases that Mma Ramotswe must solve, but really it is a fictional oasis for this reader. 

5. Cold Poison - book 15 in the Hildegarde Withers series A-
by Stuart Palmer
mystery 1954
finished 1/17/14

I'm frankly not wild about Hollywood stories, but since Mr. Palmer worked there for some of his life, his settings ring true. I'm coming on to the end of the Hildegarde Withers books so am spreading out my reading. I do so love her character, and policeman, Oscar Piper. 

6. The Springs of Affection 
Stories of Dublin A+
by Maeve Brennan
short stories (autobiographical and fictional)
published posthumously 1997 from two out-of-print collections:
Christmas Eve 1974 and In and Out of Never-Never Land 1969
finished 1/22/14

This is a book that I could write songs of praise for. I've never read anything like it. It is quite, quite wonderful. Part of the book is true - her stories of growing up in a suburb of Dublin. And the fictional ones are set in practically the same place and feel just as real. If you don't like short stories, you still might want to give them a chance because honestly, they read like chapters in the lives of various characters. I have Brennan's nonfiction pieces for The New Yorker, and a biography of her on the shelf just waiting. She led a remarkable life which ended sadly. But oh, the work she left behind. She is up there with any great writer you care to name. Really.

7. I'll Never Marry a Farmer 
On Life, Learning & Vegetable Gardening A-
by Lois Hole
nonfiction 1998
finished 1/27/14

I wrote about this one here.

8. The Mysterious Mr. Quin A
by Agatha Christie
short stories 1930
finished 1/28/14

The star of this book is Mr. Harley Quin. A play on words. From the dictionary:
a mute character in traditional pantomime, typically masked and dressed in a diamond-patterned costume.
The name Harlequin is taken from that of a mischievous "devil" or "demon" character in popular French passion plays.
The main character is Mr Satterthwaite, who gets involved in various situations, and Mr. Quin always shows up to help him out. He doesn't necessarily do things, but he facilitates others to do them. 

My beloved reference book 

has this to say:
The detection work was usually carried out by Mr Satterthwaite, 'a little bent dried-up man with a peering face oddly elf-like, and an intense and inordinate interest in other people's lives,' but only after he had been inspired by the appearance of the mysterious Harley Quin, a self-appointed patron saint of lovers, who showed himself to his alter ego when a crime was committed which threatened to destroy the happiness of lovers. Satterthwaite without Quin seems a rather pathetic figure who lives life vicariously, but inspired by Quin the magician he is able to solve problems in a dramatic fashion that contrasts vividly with Poirot's application of his little grey cells.
I know I've said it before but Agatha is a marvel. Those who haven't read her think she's all about little Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, which would have been plenty for this reader, but she also writes about unique characters like Quin and Satterthwaite, and spy novels, and adventure novels, and serious fiction, and on and on. 

So there you have it - my marvelous month of reading. I zoomed through these books in the late hours as I wondered and worried about my new granddaughter Hazel Nina, and waited for her to come home. You may check in the blog archive to the right under December, January, and this month if you haven't heard about her.


  1. You have a great month and some books that I wouldn't mind trying myself. Stewart O'Nan is always a treat.

    1. I've read three now and loved each one. Couldn't read The Odds though - too depressing, I thought.

  2. You had a great month, Nan! I'm a huge fan of Stewart O'Nan and think Last Night at the Lobster may just be his best.

    1. This and Emily, Alone are two of the best books I've ever read.

    2. Now, see I loved Emily, Alone! Maybe I should give Last Night at the Lobster another read... :)

  3. More great titles (and covers) to consider. I'm adding Last Night at the Lobster for sure!

    1. And so far, the great books have continued into Feb!

  4. Gosh you had fun and read a lot!
    I love the Harlequin stories and often reread them :0)

    1. they are a little on the supernatural side, aren't they? That woman could write in so many different ways.

  5. I've read several of the books you review here and can see how they would have been perfect to keep you company on sleepless nights.....

    Your words on reading about the 'working class' resonated. I did love '..Lobster'. By the way, I assume you've read Stewart O'Nan's Emily series (so rare to find a book about someone my age these days).

    Of course as always with your posts I found a couple more to add to my list. In fact I might just go directly to Kindle and add them there right the middle step.

    Loving the sidebar photo and quote with your darling girls.

    1. I read Emily, Alone but wasn't as interested in the earlier one. There seem to be more books about older people - I'll email you when I come across them.
      Which ones are you getting??
      Isn't that the best quote? Oh, I love it, and found it just perfect. Now to add a picture of my son and his son in a few weeks!

    2. Thank you Nan. I bought LIghthearted Quest and added both books by Catherine O"Flynn to my TBR. I'm still reading the Hildegarde Withers series ... it will seem as if a friend has moved away when you finish all of those! I wondered how your son and dil were doing with their baby.

  6. You're inspiring me to read some Agatha Christie for my Vintage Crime challenge, Nan. Which I hadn't really planned to do... LOL!

    1. If you'd like more thoughts on her work, you could click the authors tab and scroll down to her name. Then click any title. I so like her books.

  7. You had quite a month of reading, Nan. I enjoy Stewart O'Nan - I have Songs for the Missing on my shelf, and love his The Night Country, one of the best ghost stories ever - so will be looking for this one to read. I have to catch up in the Precious Ramotswe series, I've read the first four or five and was delighted with them. I really like the sound of the Maeve Brennan. I hope my library has this one you read. Good reads, Nan! And you enjoyed them all, even better :-)

    1. I just made note of those two titles, and will look into them. His book on the Circus Fire in Connecticut is excellent, too. I wrote about it here -
      Maeve Brennan is just amazing. I can't understand why I don't hear more about her.

  8. I picked up a pen to write some of these down (well, actually, all of the them) and then just bookmarked you entire posting today, Nan. I want to read them all.

  9. Another wonderful post of great appetizers for the books you have read, Nan!
    I have now started to read your "reading" posts with my Amazon account open in the next browser tab, and type in every author's name in the kindle shop search bar, to see what is available over here and at what prices.

    1. I love what you wrote!! 'appetizers' that's just great. And I'm so pleased that you go searching for the titles. Thanks for telling me.

  10. I'm going to look for that Catherine O'Flynn book - I loved her other 2 books. She had a really interesting style.

    I think I was listening to Late Night at the Lobster when you were reading it. Lovely book. I want to read his nonfiction with Stephen King about the Red Sox.
    I really liked how Precious and Grace's relationship subtly changed in this book as Precious began to miss Grace. Always delightful, and rather zen-feeling with these books.
    I saw the Maeve book and thought Binchy, as a friend gave me a book her husband has had published; her articles and essays from a newspaper. I havent' got to it yet, but I love that Maeve's Ireland too.
    Great month of reading - I like these recap posts.

    1. From what I've read, this one is a bit different from her others. Definitely an uplifting story in many ways.
      Tom read the RS book and liked it a lot.
      I know what you mean about P and G. I liked seeing Grace with the baby. Zen-feeling - that's good.
      Maeve Brennan should be as famous as Maeve Binchy. She is really a good writer. I look forward to her New Yorker essays.
      Oh, I'm so glad you do. Sometimes I fear they are too long, and yet don't say enough about each individual book, but for me they work a lot better than book reports on every book.

  11. What a banner Kindle reading month! I'll have to look into these - the first two in particular strike my fancy.


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