Wednesday, September 22, 2021

July Books: Fiction and Short Stories

 I read some great fiction and short stories in July.

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
This book was originally published serially in 8 parts in 1871 ans 1872. The story is set in the fictional town of Middlemarch between 1829 and 1832 and runs roughly on two tracks, although they intersect frequently. The novel begins with Dorothea Brooke, a very young woman who, with her sister, Celia, has been raised by an uncle on the death of her parents. She is pretty uninterested in the expectations put upon her as a woman and instead is more interested in intellectual pursuits and improving the lives of the poor and exploited. She makes a very big mistake and learns from it as the consequences gradually become clear to her. This part began as a long story revolving around the character of Dorothea and those who are in her orbit.

The second storyline revolves around a young doctor, Tertius Lydgate, who is new in Middlemarch. He has some newfangled ideas that the older generation of doctors does not like, which creates tension. He befriends the Vincy family. He also makes a big mistake that causes him suffering. This part of the book was meant to be the novel Middlemarch until Eliot realized she should intertwine both storylines into one book.

When I read classics, and particularly Victorian classics, I am always struck by how many things sound exactly like what is going on today. The technology and channels of communication are different, so these things happen in different ways today, but it’s still the same stuff. For example, virtually everyone in the novel, no matter their class situation or occupation, was always focused on keeping up appearances and hiding things that would cause people to look down on them. They didn’t have social media influencers, but there were influencers of another kind in the form of gossip. Word (whether true or not) didn’t get around as quickly as it does today, but it did get around and changed people’s lives in profound ways.

I really enjoyed this book. I could relate to some of the feelings expressed by Dorothea in particular.  There were some funny bits, too, which made me laugh.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
We were in the charity shop one day, dropping off a couple of books when I saw this on the shelf. I'd been looking at it for months in e-audiobook and e-book on the library site, but it's too long for me to want to read/listen in those formats, so I never borrowed it. But there it was, so I bought it, figuring I could read it right away and donate it back so I wouldn't have to move it. As it happens, since there's no wee free library in Dungloe, we ended up sort of creating on on a shelf in between the sets of doors that make up the entrance to the old church where the library is housed. We would put books on an empty shelf with a 'free books' sign on top and they got taken, so we added more. This book ended up on one of those piles. It's a good book.

Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor
This is an epistolary novel which consists of letters between friends and business partners. One is a Jewish person who runs an art gallery in the US and the other is his partner who goes back to Germany as Hitler is coming to power and falls under his spell. It’s a chilling but important work, particularly now.

The Last Resort by Jan Carson
This is a collection of linked short stories, each told from the perspective of a different person. All of them are set in a caravan park in Northern Ireland, located on the edge of a crumbling cliff. This is a new addition to the library’s e-book collection. I loved it!

Learning to Talk by Hilary Mantel
This is a collection of short stories I picked up in a charity shop a couple years ago. The last story is an excerpt from her autobiography, which was published shortly before this. It was clear from that how biographical the previous stories were. They all revolved around childhood experiences. This is a good collection and well worth reading.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

July Books: Nonfiction, Folktales, and Poetry

 In addition to all the (mostly) classic detective fiction, there was some fascinating nonfiction in the book pile in July.
In Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman
When I came across this title in the e-book section of the library website, I was eager to read it. It did not disappoint.
‘We have apps, smart watches and calendars that constantly remind us to be productive and stop wasting time. We have created a frenzied lifestyle in which time is money, with not a minute to be wasted, and the twenty-four hours of each day are carved up, dissected, and reduced down to small units of efficiency.  

Professor Alan Lightman documents the rush and heave of the modern world, and examines the many values of ‘wasting time’ – for replenishing the mind, for creative thought, for finding and solidifying the inner self and letting the mind lie fallow without attempting to accomplish anything and without any assigned tasks.

Carl Jung did his most creative thinking and writing when he took time off from his frenzied practice in Zurich to go to his country house. Gustav Mahler routinely took three or four-hour walks after lunch, stopping to jot down ideas in his notebook. Albert Einstein described letting his mind ‘roam’ to make connections between concepts that were previously unconnected.

In this timely and essential book, Professor Alan Lightman investigates the creativity born from allowing our minds to freely roam. In Praise of Wasting Time teaches us all that sometimes, the best thing to do is to do nothing at all.’ Here's a quote:

Queen of Whale Cay: The Extraordinary Story of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, the Fastest Woman on Earth by Kate Summerscale
I found this in a charity shop years ago, but as it was a small paperback, I always set it aside to read larger books that I didn’t want to haul with me during a move. This time it came to the new place, but I read it and brought it back to be donated to the charity shop. It’s the biography of ‘Joe’ Carstairs, a woman born into a wealthy family who lived as a man and broke speed boat racing records before buying an island and declaring herself queen. Cay is pronounced ‘key.’

Dorothy L. Sayers: A Careless Rage for Life by David Coomes
This is a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels. She was one of the Queens of Crime during the Golden Age of detective fiction, but her output in the genre was not as extensive as some of the others. She also did a lot of theological writing. This author, who worked for BBC Radio in the religion department, is primarily interested in the latter. He skims over parts of her life, but quotes extensively from her letters and other writings that pertain to her religious views. I found this mildly interesting, but had it been a longer book, I probably would not have finished it. 

Why the Moon Travels by Oein deBhairduin
This is a collection of folktales from the Traveller culture. 

Quiet Enough by John Stevenson
This was a book of the week in an email from the Haiku Foundation. These haiku and senryu bring many images to mind, some of them sad as he writes about experiences and feelings leading up to, during, and after a break-up/divorce. But others made me smile and created a feeling of peace, like this one:
autumn wind
the leaves are going
where I’m going

I look forward to that autumn wind! 

Monday, September 20, 2021

July Books: Mystery

 Because we were in the process of moving and only had wifi for short bursts of time, I never posted my July and August books. I'll start with July and try to get to August at some point in future.

Death of a Bean Counter by Sandra Balzo
I was in the mood for a cozy, so clicked over to the e-book section of the library website. I found this and it was available, so I borrowed it. It’s part of a series and not an early title, so a lot came before, but it can be read as  a standalone. It provided me with what I wanted. If I saw another book in the series at the library or a charity shop, I’d probably pick it up but for now I don’t feel inclined to seek them out.
‘Amy Caprese is the star barista at Maggy Thorsen’s coffeehouse, Uncommon Grounds. But her new beau Kip Fargo has been shot dead in his bed – and Amy is the prime suspect. Determined to prove her barista’s innocence, Maggy soon makes a number of disturbing discoveries. Can she untangle a web of lies in time to avert the disaster that’s brewing?’

Death of a Glutton by MC Beaton (audiobook read by David Monteith)
I borrowed this at the same time I borrowed an e-book when I was in the mood for a cozy mystery. This is a Hamish Macbeth novel and I took it because it was available at the time. In this one, a marriage agency has booked a local hotel for their matchmaking getaway. The co-owner of the agency, who organized the whole thing, did this deliberately because her partner was on holiday. To the dismay of everyone, the holiday was cancelled and this woman shows up. She is a glutton and turns everyone off with the way and amount of food that she eats. She inserts herself into outings where she is not wanted. People try to steer clear until one night she gets a message from her accountant and announces that she is worth 3 million pounds. After that, the men in the group decide maybe they can put up with her after all. This popularity doesn’t last long, because she is soon found dead with an apple stuffed in her mouth.
I found this book problematic. The way she describes the victim is pretty over the top. For instance, at one point, she says she ate a 12-egg omelette with sides. I am not sure whether I will ever listen to any more of these, but if I do, it won’t be for a long while.

Grave Mistake by Ngaio Marsh
This is the 30th book in the author’s Roderick Alleyn series and the last to be considered an English cosy mystery. It takes place in the fictional village of Upper Quintern, with the quirky characters you’d expect in such a novel, both old-timers and newcomers. The Hon Sybil Foster and her childhood friend, Verity Preston are neighbours, each living in homes they inherited. Sybil decides to make yet another visit to a health spa/hotel called Greengages, which turns out to be her last. At first it seems like a clear case of suicide, but then it becomes clear that some things just don;t add up. Why did Sybil make a new will just before she died? Where is the rare and valuable postage stamp hidden away by her first husband before he was killed in the war? Where is her stepson? Alleyn and his sidekick, Fox proceed to find out.

I enjoyed this book as I have all the previous ones in the series. I have only two left before I’ve read them all, but there I’ve requested the collection of her short stories from the library. I also discovered that she had written the first few chapters of another novel before she passed away. This was completed by someone else. I’ve requested that one, too.

Black Coffee by Agatha Christie
Christie originally wrote this as a play and it was later turned into a novel by Charles Osborne. Poirot is summoned to the home of a well know scientist who is working on a formula that is quite valuable to the government that gets it. Just before Poirot and Hastings arrive, Sir Claud Amory is murdered, so they jump right into the case.

Death on the Air and Other Stories by Ngaio Marsh
Almost at the end of the Roderick Alleyn series by Marsh and as I was looking to see what book came next, I was reminded of this collection of short stories. I requested it from the library. 

Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy
This book was completed after Marsh’s death. She had left part of it and Stella Duffy completed it. She did a good job. This book takes place during WWII, so it was not published in chronological order. Roderick Alleyn is in New Zealand in an undercover capacity—incognito at a hospital run by nuns. He is drawn into an investigation that he is afraid will blow his cover when some money and the head of the institution go missing.

Trent’s Last Case by E.C. Bentley
A classic mystery that I had on my e-reader. It was published as The Woman in Black in the US. Philip Trent is a freelance journalist who is commissioned to go to a country estate where a wealthy man has been found dead and report on the case. He investigates. He is no Miss Marple as his conclusions lead him in the wrong direction, but of course, the case is solved in the end. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Beauty All Around

 I've been grooving on colours and shapes lately as we walk and I stop to look at the gorgeous flowers still in bloom. Still so many to observe and enjoy!
still hydrangeas in bloom

even as some begin to dry out with a beauty all their own


more blooms to come

I don't know how long flowers will bloom or what the weather will bring as we head into autumn (yay!), but there is always something beautiful to notice when we're out and about, no matter what the season.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Park Here!

 When we got to the end of the long lane we walked to get to the library the other day, we took a left turn and then another a few steps later. We spotted the park.

The top of the sign (public park) indicates that it's a project of Údarás na Gaeltachta, which is a regional authority promoting social, economic, and cultural development of the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas). Note the wee walker at the bottom of the sign. We'd seen a trail behind some greenery and a fence when we were nearing the end of the lane, so now we knew what it was. On the way back, we veered off and strolled along the short looped trail. It was quite lovely, surrounded by green and with lots of benches. It would be a beautiful spot to sit with some tea and a book or some stitching. 

I always notice the lichens and mosses on the trees. Such beautiful abstract artwork my Mother Earth.
What a great find this wee park was for us--we'll enjoy meandering along the trail again.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Dew Hang Around

 Even though it was mid-afternoon when we walked to the library yesterday, there was still some dew (or maybe mizzle from the night before) on some of the plants. Gorgeous!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Let's Go This Way

 Today we decided to take an alternate route to the library. It's about a kilometre longer than the way google maps recommends, which is the way we've gone before, but that's OK. We headed out and started down one lane, then took the second left onto the long lane that would take us there, coming at the library from the opposite side.
It was a lovely walk.

on our way home

It takes us longer to get to the library when we go this way, but that's OK. We can go the other way if we want to get there quicker (15-20 minutes each way). We can go this way if we want more of a stroll. Or we can go one way and come back the other--it'll just depend on what kind of mood we're in on a given day. It's all good and with the library as the destination, there's no way to go wrong! 😀