Dispatches from the Distancing – Days 195-197

Well, Happy New Year! I hope that 2021 is treating you well! I have to say that, so far, it has been a mixed bag for me. On the upside, 2 out of the 3 days have been nice weather and I’ve been able to take some walks. The third day was the type of stormy weather that brings up all the hygge vibes, so I can’t complain about that.

On the downside, we’re dealing with a grave robbery. Yesterday, the cemetery where my mother’s ashes are interred called my dad to say that someone broke into her niche and took her gold cross necklace, which my father laid on the box of her ashes. The necklace itself is not worth much at all–maybe only $50 at the most–but the act of the crime is much worse. My niece, who is down in Salem, has been a rock star contacting the cemetery and coordinating social media, so I’m hoping that something comes of that. So far, we’ve had one person saying they’d give us information if we gave him a reward (um, no) and another saying she thought she knew one of the people in the security photos, but that person was actually in jail when the crime occurred, so we’re still working on it. Unfortunately, the police are taxed with Proud Boys riots down in Salem right now, so their resources are especially limited at the moment.

Anyway, even with the grave robbery, I’m still glad that we are into 2021. I’ve always loved New Year’s and this one was especially meaningful.

Now, onto my reading! As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn at Book Date and her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? hop.

Honestly, I’m not good at coming up with a best books list for the year. I’ve done it a few times in the past, but it just isn’t something that I feel that I can do accurately. I have done a summary of my reading, which you can find here. That’s about as much of a 2020 summary that I can do.

I spent the first part of this week finishing up my 2020 reading (except for Middlemarch, which I will finish in February). I didn’t allow myself to start anything new until January 1, so I can’t say I’ve yet finished a book this year!

Last week, I finished reading:

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
(4.25 stars; Goodreads review)

William Kent Krueger is an author I’ve read previously, but I hadn’t read any of his mystery novels. I picked up the 20th anniversary reissue of this book on a whim and my husband pulled it off my TBR shelf and wrapped it up for my Jolabokaflod gift this year. I was sucked into the the world of Cork O’Connor from the moment I opened this book on Christmas Eve.

I think the best way to describe this book is that it is American Nordic Noir. With that in mind, I guess it makes sense that this book takes place in the frozen Boundary Waters area of Minnesota. Cork O’Connor is at a low point in his life–his marriage is ending and while he finds himself in love with another woman, he worries about his kids. He has also lost his job as the town sheriff, although he questions the abilities of his successor. Into all this a local judge is found dead and a teenaged boy is missing and Cork finds himself in the middle of it.

There are two worlds in this book. There is the world of Aurora, Minnesota–a very true to life Minnesota small town where everyone knows everyone and the slightest indiscretion will brand someone from life. But Cork straddles both this and the other world–the Native people who live on the reservation, who recognize that the laws of the white population do not work to their benefit and they need to watch over themselves.

I’m not going to go any farther into the plot as I don’t want to spoil anything, but this book was very hard to put down. Krueger skillfully paces it so that every time you think you are at a good stopping point, something else comes up. There is also quite a bit of plot here–this is far more involved than your usual whodunnit and I appreciated that.

Before I even finished this book, I put the second book in the series on hold. This was a fantastic introduction to Cork O’Connor and I look forward to reading on.

Among Other Things, I’ve Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney
(3 stars; No Goodreads Review)

This was the last book of the year for my postal book club. I really love this club as I get such a great variety of titles from them. I had never heard of this book before it showed up in my mailbox.

There were things that I loved about this book. The language is just beautiful and I think that Sweeney has quite a future as a novelist. She brought both coastal Maine and New York City to life for me in a way that few authors can. She also created a fascinating main character. Most leads of coming of age novels seem kind of clueless until the world opens their eyes. Miranda is not like that–she is naive to be sure, but you can also see the pieces of the world fall into place in her mind as she experiences the events of the novel.

My main problem with this book is that it was very light on plot. That may have been Sweeney’s intent, but for me I wanted more meat. I wanted Miranda’s world to change as she changed within it, and I just didn’t see it.

It was not a perfect book, but it was a nice introduction to a promising author.

The Secret, Book, and Scone Society by Ellery James
(3.25 stars; no Goodreads review)

This was a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” There is much to recommend this book–a complex mystery, interesting characters, a well-formed world. Among cozy mysteries, it’s probably one of the best.

But I don’t really like cozy mysteries.

This is me, and I own it. I think it is because I’m a Bronte fan, not an Austen fan. I like the dark and twisty, not the prim and proper. This book is very…prim and proper. I’m sorry, but I would much prefer to spend my time with a tortured ex-sherriff than a group made up of the town bookseller, the town baker, the town hair stylist, and the town spa attendant. I actually did better with the non-mystery parts of the book than with the actual mystery.

If you like cozies, read this. If you like to indulge your dark side, read William Kent Krueger.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (audiobook)
(3.5 stars, no Goodreads review)

This was a step outside of my comfort zone, but it was a good step to take. The best way I can describe this book is a diverse, feminist Harry Potter-inspired fantasy. I quite enjoyed the story of this one and it kept me guessing (trigger warning, there is a rather disgusting element that is revealed towards the end of the book). It’s the first in what I think will be a trilogy and the second book is out with the third to be released soon.

My mistake with this book was listening to it on audio. The narrator here was just terrible. It was an older woman, which is an odd choice for a book with younger characters and the main character is male. I’m sure the voice actress would be excellent at any number of books, but this was a mismatch.

Those Were the Days by Jenny Bravo
(2 stars, no Goodreads review)

This is a prequel to a New Adult novel I read several years ago, which I remember enjoying but don’t remember much else about. However, I don’t think that having read the first book (or remembering the first book) is at all necessary for reading this.

So, this novella needed two things: a copy editor and a content editor. There were enough typos here to lead me to believe that no editor was used here. I get that it is self-published, but that doesn’t excuse the number of dumb grammar and punctuation mistakes here. It needed a content editor because I had no clue what Bravo was trying to say here. Bravo can be a good writer, but this felt like I was reading a rough draft. There were things there she probably could have developed into something great, and many other things that didn’t need to be there at all.

I can’t say anything else about this other than it was quick and it was one more title to take off the backlog on my kindle.

Last week, I started:

A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2) by Sherry Thomas

I’ve become a bit of a slave to my library holds list when it comes to my mystery reader. Every book in every series I’m reading has several holds! So, it just so happened that this was the next book that came up. So far, I’m quite enjoying this one. I’m not far enough into it for the mystery to be fully developed, but there has been a surprising amount of effective character building so far, which I do enjoy. At this point, and I expect this to be the case, I’m enjoying the second book more than the first. There were things in the book that I excused because it was the first book in a series. However, I was worried that they would continue in later books and it doesn’t look like that is the case (phew!)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

This is the first 2021 book for one of my IRL book clubs, and it is the book I suggested. I loved The Vanishing Half and thought this would be as discussable (and at least nearly as good). So far, I am enjoying it–but my enjoyment is a bit tempered, though no fault of the book.

In 2020, I read Saving Ruby King, which I liked but not as much as some readers did. Reading this book, I realized how derivative Saving Ruby King is of The Mothers. It’s a different stories, but there is much in common and, coupled with some similar storytelling conventions, I can’t help but think it isn’t coincidental. Of course, this book was published long before Ruby King, so there is something unfair with the fact that I’m reading this one second and having to read it with my suspicions out there. We’ll see how the book goes, but I really wish I had read this before reading Saving Ruby King.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan (audiobook)

I’ve been listening to this on on my walks and, for that purpose, it fits the bill. It’s brainless and easy to follow and the narrator is quite good. However, if I think too much about it, I like it less. It’s very much in the same world as Crazy Rich Asians. While I did like the Crazy Rich Asians series, I wish Kwan had stepped a bit more out of the box with this one.

Monument by Natasha Trethewey (no picture…thanks to formatting problems)

I hate to admit this, but I like to read poetry in the bathroom. It probably isn’t fitting, but there you go. A while ago, I purchased a number of award winning poetry collections, including this one. I chose this one to read now simply because it was at the top of the pile, but it is working out. I quite like the poems I’ve read so far and, as this is a collection of previously published and new poems, I think it is a good introduction to Trethewey.

So, that is how my 2021 reading year is starting out! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else is starting 2021 with!

13 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Distancing – Days 195-197

  1. Happy New Year to you! I’m so sorry tohear about the grave robbery though. that shocks me that anyone could be so heartless. I hope they are caught and the item returned.

    I love the sound of American Nordic Noir. As someone from Michigan there are similarities to Minnesota and that whole environment appeals to me. Also I’ve read some of Ellery Adams’ stuff- so I was curious- but I tend to like the slightly darker reads too. Every once in a while I go in for a cozy though.

    I hope you have a great week.


  2. I’m sorry about the theft, such a disrespectful act.
    I find putting together a favourites list too stressful so I’m just not any more.
    I do crosswords in the bathroom 😉

    Wishing you a great reading week, and a happy new year 🥳


  3. I am saddened to hear about the desecration of your mother’s grave.

    Hopefully 2021 will be a much better year for us all, with lots of great books too. I’m looking to read outside my “comfort zone genres”, wo I’m going to add Iron Lake to my TBR for 2021.


  4. Happy New Year! I haven’t been posting about favorite books of the year in a while, mostly because my life has been so crazy. Moving, settling in, Pandemic…like everyone else, with that last one.

    I want to read my copy of The Vanishing Half soon. Right now I’m reading and enjoying my First Book…should be finished today.

    Enjoy your week, and I cringe as I think of those grave robbers! Thanks for visiting my blog.


  5. That’s crazy about the grave robbery! People are so desperate. I am sorry about your mom’s necklace. Even if it isn’t worth a huge amount, it’s the act itself that makes it so bad. I heard about the Proud Boys in Salem. Ugh.

    It looks like you had a good reading week last week. I haven’t read any of those, but several are on my TBR shelves. I hope you continue to enjoy your current reads! Have a great week!


  6. Grave robbing! Really? Who would have thought that was even a thing. Nice assortment of books. I like the Sherry Thomas series. Come see my week here. Happy reading!


  7. I am sorry about the grave robbery, that is such an awful thing. Looks like you got through a lot of books. I hope your year gets better.


  8. I loved this wrap-up post — such a mix of books and other tidbits! So sorry about the robbery items, though! I had to look up Jolabokaflod and now I want us to do that next year. The site I looked it up on said the tradition is not just to give books on Christmas Eve but to then sit down and read them for the rest of the evening! haha I love that idea! But unless we have another pandemic next year, I don’t think I’ll get the family to agree to it! I read Iron Lake with my library mystery book club many years ago, and remember thinking it was very good and wanted to go on with the series but I never did. I’m not much of a mystery reader, in general. Hope your reading in 2021 goes as well as it has started!


  9. I am so sorry to hear about the theft of the necklace. How awful.

    The Secret, Book, and Scone Society sounds right up my alley. I love cozies. A Conspiracy in Belgravia sounds fabulous.

    Thanks for sharing and for visiting my blog today.


  10. I hope you get the necklace back. Unbelievable that someone would do that!

    My husband is a big fan of WKK’s O’Conner series. I love his stand alone novels, Ordinary Grace, and especially This Tender Land. You should check those out. He’s from the next state over so I have been lucky enough to have met him at various book functions in the state. What a great guy!

    Have a great weekend and happy reading. BTW, I learned a new word from your post today – hygge. I had to look it up. I love it!!


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About Melinda