Weekly Reads – September 4, 2022

Well, hello everyone!

I didn’t mean to take August off, but there were some things that just made posting difficult. We were on vacation a bit. Also, Pat was on sabbatical this month, which means there was no such things as any kind of schedule in our house for the month.

The good news (for me!) is that all ends on Tuesday! Chris goes back to school (Lillie goes back on Wednesday) and Pat goes back to work. So life might actually be normal-ish for me!

Our trip this month was a repeat of a previous trip (and one we may do again, depending on Lillie’s camp choices in the future). Again, Lillie went to Girl Scout camp at Camp Cleawox, in Florence, Oregon. Florence is a 3 hour drive from our house. It’s doable to go down there and return in one day, but that’s a long trip. Plus. the southern coast is it’s own animal and we do most of our day trips to the northern coast. Because of all this, once we drop Lillie off at camp, the rest of us hang around the area–from Coos Bay down to the California border–while she’s doing her thing. We had beach time, hiking time, and even California time (for about 30 seconds, but now Chris can say he’s been to California).

Here are a couple of slideshows…of course WordPress isn’t letting me put them all in one slide show!

I have a month’s worth of books to cover, so I won’t go into detail about our month. Besides, I should have back to school news next week.

I’m not doing an August recap here, but I will have on up on this coming Wednesday. That being said, this list has everything I read in August (plus a couple I finished in the early days of September).

And now, onto the books!

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

Since my last update, I finished reading:

Even As We Breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle
Date finished: August 3, 2022
Star rating: 2.5 stars (C+)

This book was a collection of contradictions for me. It’s a short book, but it felt like a long book. I honestly think it could have been shorter. The writing was beautiful but, at times, dull. This is a WWII-era book that is far more concerned with WWI.

My favorite part of this book was the world that Clapsaddle created between Asheville and Cherokee, North Carolina. It jumped to life off the page, and I felt that it was the saving grace of this book.

I won’t say that this was a “bad” book. I just felt like it was an early work that shows a lot of promise but isn’t quite there yet. I was having difficulty staying engaged for the book’s first half. Things picked up at about 50%, but I still felt that the general story was unfocused. I liked Cowney as a character, but he seemed lacking in any kind of flaws that made him realistic.

None of this negates the fact that Clapsaddle’s writing is beautiful. This book had its issues, but in it I saw the seeds of what could grow into a phenomenal novelist.

Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
Date finished: August 6, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars (A)

I’ve recently begun a quest to read all of Agatha Christie’s oeuvre, including her short stories. As Hercule Poirot was the Christie character I knew best before actually reading anything by Christie, I figured tackling this omnibus of his short stories was a good thing to tackle early on.

It is sometimes hard to rate short story collections, especially ones as massive as this one. I liked most of the stories, but a few fell flat. I did appreciate that the stories were arranged in the order they were written, allowing me to see the development of Christie’s writing in the first 20 years or so of her career. I had previously read 10 of these stories in Poirot Investigates, but the rest were new to me. I especially enjoyed the “Labours of Hercules” collection towards the end of the collection.

This is a great choice if you are looking for a short story collection that is not too heavy but very propulsive. It’s also one that works well to put down and pick up when time permits. It took me almost 8 months to work through this one (I only read it when I wasn’t reading a novel by Christie), but it was a very enjoyable 8 months.

Tamarack County (Cork O’Connor #13) by William Kent Krueger
Date finished: August 9, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars (B+)

Sometimes you have to separate your feelings about a book (or character) from the quality of the book.

As usual, William Kent Krueger has crafted an excellent mystery/thriller. This one keeps the adrenaline going from the first page. Again, the world of Northwoods Minnesota comes to life in a chilling (both in temperament and temperature). For the first time in quite a few novels, Cork is reunited with all of his children, which I loved seeing. Annie has been one of my favorite characters since the series began, and she has been mostly absent from the series of late, and it has been even longer since she has had a storyline of her own.

So, all this amounts to checks in the “win” column for me. But here’s the thing: this is the first book where I had issues with Cork. As a private detective with close ties to local law enforcement, he has played an interesting role. I think it has worked because he is such a principled character. In this one, though, I question his principles. A few decisions he makes don’t sit well with me. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can see how at least one of those decisions plays a role in the overall story, but it doesn’t change the fact that it almost made me uncomfortable to read it.

In short, while there were many things about this book that I enjoyed, and one big thing that I didn’t. Overall, it is still a winner for me, but maybe just not quite the champion as the other recent books in this series.

Through the Evil Days (The Rev. Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne #8) by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Date finished: August 16, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars (B+)

Wow, this book is an adrenaline rush! I have felt like a sense of urgency was starting to wane from the previous books in this series, but Spencer-Fleming comes into this one with all engines blazing.

The mystery in this book is solid and well-executed. I could not put this book down once I hit the last third. We not only get to be a fly on the wall of Clare and Russ’s tense honeymoon, but we also witness a new chapter in Hadley and Flynn’s relationship. On top of all this, a missing child needs medical interventions, or she will die.

While all this was fascinating, the sum of it may have been too much. I was ping=ponging between so many crises that I couldn’t focus completely on any of them. I think some of the minor subplots–Clare and Russ’s professional futures, for example–could have been excised to the story’s benefit.

I ultimately enjoyed this book, but I do felt that it was overly wrought at times. However, it also injected some energy into this series.

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
Date finished: August 16, 2022
Star rating: 4.5 stars (A+)

Early on, I knew this book: Encanto for grown-ups. As a continued through the book, I was convinced of the accuracy of that assessment, but would also add some tidbits of light horror. Oh, and it is all absolutely bonkers.

I say all that with great affection because I thoroughly enjoyed this book and all the bonkers-ness worked for me. The characters are vibrant, and I loved getting to know them, especially Marimar and, in her younger years, Marimar’s grandmother Orquídea. Córdova crafts an amazing sense of space. I felt like I was with Marimar and the Montoyas in Four Rivers and Orquídea in Ecuador.

The only warning I will give is that readers need to be aware that this book will take them to unexpected and bizarre places. You will need to be willing to go where this narrative takes you and to accept the magic that it offers. If you can do that, you will be richly rewarded.

Murder on the Red River (Cash Blackbear #1) by Marcie R. Rendon
Date finished: August 19, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars (B+)

This was an impulse buy for me. I enjoy Native American literature, and I enjoy mysteries. So, a mystery written by a Native American author seemed right up my alley.

And it was.

As a mystery, this book is fairly vanilla. There isn’t any real tension in who committed the crime. However, I realized this book shouldn’t be read as a mystery. While the whodunnit element is there, this is a book about a young Native American woman who is dealing with the trauma of her youth and is at a crossroads of what she wants her future to be.

Cash is a fantastic character. She is both damaged and invincible, and you will cheer for her. I especially loved her relationship with the Sherriff, who first came into her life when she was a toddler.

Rendon does an excellent job of showing the challenges faced by the Native community. She also sets this story in a specific point in time–the 1970s–, and she brings that world to life. It isn’t just mentioning current events, but every small detail screams 1970 in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

If you are looking for a mystery, this probably won’t meet that need. But this may be the book for you if you want a strong character in a vivid world.

Windigo Island (Cork O’Connor #14) by William Kent Krueger
Date finished: August 21, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars (A)

What a ride!

I think this is the first book in the series that I would call a true thriller instead of a mystery/thriller or mystery. Even though it has a genre shift, it still fits well in the series, and it wasn’t until after I had finished that I realized I hadn’t read a mystery.

This is also an incredibly dark book. Of course, the previous novels hadn’t been walks through meadows of wildflowers, but this one goes farther than any previous book. Yet again, though, this still fits in well with the series. I didn’t put this down and felt shocked at its direction.

The interesting part of this one is that about 1/3 of the narration is from Jenny’s point of view. Of all of Cork’s children, Jenny is the one who always seemed the most one-dimensional. While I won’t say that this book put Jenny at the top of my favorite O’Connor kid list, I do feel like she has more flesh on her bones.

I can only repeat what I’ve said in all of my reviews of these books–this is an excellent series and one that improves as it goes on. While I recommend this book, I recommend reading the series from the start.

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #5) by Agatha Christie
Date finished: August 23, 2022
Star rating: 3.5 stars (B+)

This was a unique Agatha Christie experience for me because I had already read the short story that was the origin of this mystery. But, even though I went into this one knowing the general story, I still enjoyed this one.

Like the short story, the mystery is reasonably strong, although not groundbreaking. Because some of the names were changed, I wasn’t completely sure of the culprit, but I did figure it out fairly easily. However, that ease may have been more due to my familiarity with the short story than how Christie wrote the novel.

As an expansion of the story, I think it works most of the time. There are two sides to this crime–a murder and a jewel heist and it is questioned if the two are separate or make up one crime. Part of the jewel side of things was sometimes convoluted. There was also a love triangle that just didn’t quite work for me.

This was an entertaining read, but not a perfect one. I don’t think it will be near the top of Christie’s books as I go along, but I have read worse.

Moonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland #2) by Anthony Horowitz (narrated by Lesley Manville and Allan Corduner)
Date finished: August 27, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars (A)

If you are looking for something like Agatha Christie, but twistier, more intricate, and far more sordid, this is for you.

I enjoyed the first book in this series and was looking forward to this one. On nearly every count, this lives up to the hype. The mystery here is incredibly smart, and the clues are so well hidden that I was left in awe of Horowitz’s skill. I like Susan as a character; her voice is relatable and believable. The fact that she’s the one to solve this mystery is maybe less believable–on that particular point, the previous book was more successful. The supporting cast is a chorus of characters that would make Agatha Christie proud.

I will say that I preferred the structure of the previous novel with the book-within-a-book spread through the main novel. In this one, the secondary book is presented in whole in the middle of the main narrative. Both narratives have rather large casts, and I found it hard to remember the main characters after spending so long with the shadow cast.

However, part of my issue with this may have been because I “ear-read” instead of “eye-read” this book. The narration was excellent, but I wished I had a paper copy to flip back and forth as I tried to line up the two books in this narrative.

This was a fun one, even with my few issues. I don’t know if we will see more of Susan Ryeland and I feel like her sleuthing days may be over. But they were fun while they lasted.

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
Date finished: August 30, 2022
Star rating: 3 stars (B)

This is one of those books that I liked, but I also felt it could have been much better. While the story was interesting, the writing was beautiful, and the characters were well-rounded and believable, I felt that it was like a house built on a weak foundation.

The biggest problem is that the first 2/3 of this book seemed like an intro to the “real” story that took up the last 1/3. While I learned about Chinese history during World War II and the Revolution, I don’t feel the story started to take off until Meilin and Renshu arrived in Taipei. Then, once the narrative focuses on Renshu/Henry and his daughter, I was completely sucked in.

The narrative is chronological, and I almost feel like it might have been more successful if Fu had instead written this in dual timelines. As much as I enjoyed Henry and Lily’s story, I wanted it to go deeper, and I think that changing up the structure would have allowed Fu to do that.

I did enjoy Fu’s writing and I will gladly read future books. There was enough in this book to recommend it, although it rests firmly in the B range for me, thanks to the structural issues. However, given Fu’s talent with language, I am confident that she will continue to improve as a writer.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal, narrated by Natasha Soudek
Date finished: September 1, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars (A)

What a delightful little book!

It’s hard to describe this book–it’s almost a short story collection, but not quite. The pieces aren’t exactly stories. It is most accurately described as a series of vignettes about a young girl and her grandmother.

Sophia spends her summers with her paternal grandmother, which is a timeless (as in not chronological, but rather a random) account of their experiences together. There isn’t any grand plot in any individual vignette or over the entire collection. That is something that a reader needs to accept to enjoy the narrative. I admit that I found this book additionally endearing because it reminded me of my grandmother, with whom I spent time during the summers growing up. Our relationship wasn’t identical to the one in the book, but my grandmother was also a Scandinavian woman, and I found her in this literary grandmother.

I “ear-read” this one, and it worked quite well. The narrator, Natasha Soudek, does an excellent job of capturing the essence of Sophia and her grandmother. She also has a whiff of wonder in her narrative voice, which sets the mood perfectly.

This is the perfect book for a light summer read and, if you are lucky, it will bring you back to your own summers with your grandmother.

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Date finished: September 2, 2022
Star rating: 4 stars (A)

Shockingly, I had never heard of the Mirabal sisters until about a year ago when their story was featured on a podcast. Why I had never heard of them is beyond me, but there you go. When one of my book clubs offered this book as a selection, I jumped on it.

Alvarez points out in her author’s note that the characters in this book are her fictional creations of who she thinks the Mirabal sisters were. I’ve done some further reading, and I think that Alvarez is fairly close to the real Mirabel sisters. I appreciated that Dede is included in this as a co-main character with her martyred sisters. Not only does her presence provide a good frame for the story, but it emphasizes the family side of these iconic women.

I loved Alvarez’s writing and getting to know her version of the Mirabal sisters. However, the one thing I was missing was the more public side of the sisters. If I knew nothing about the sisters beyond what was in this book, I’d be completely confused about why these women were so famous in the Dominican Republic. That side of their lives is muted, which is so important to their history.

This book was almost, but not quite, exactly what I wanted in a novel about the Mirabal sisters. Even though it didn’t quite hit the heights I was hoping for, it was still a rewarding read.

I’m currently reading:

  • Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
  • Manitou Canyon (Cork O’Connor #15) by William Kent Krueger
  • Witches by Brenda Lozano (narrated by Kyla Garcia)
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet by Shauna Neiquist
  • Alone in Wonderland by Christine Reed
  • Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

(I’m not sure how I ended up having so many “in progress” books, but I need to whittle this down a bit!)

10 thoughts on “Weekly Reads – September 4, 2022

  1. Love the pics! The Oregon coast has always looked beautiful to me with all the offshore islands/ outcroppings (not sure what they call them there). And you have a nice mix of reads awell. I love dipping into short story collections, and Blue Train looks fun.

    Like

  2. Looks like a great trip. I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest. It looks gorgeous. Great looking assortment of books too. Despite being a native and life-long Minnesotan, I’ve only read the first Cork O’Connor book. I’ll have to add them to my list. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

    Like

  3. Your photos make me long to travel the coastal route from California to Washington. Remembering times I loved in the past. I haven’t even been on the California Coast since 2017! I almost went up north to visit my youngest son in Crescent City, but I was too worried about the train ride. Maybe soon!

    Your books look good. I am now eager to read something by William Kent Krueger. Enjoy your week. Here are my WEEKLY UPDATES

    Like

  4. Thanks for reminding me I have Peach Blossom Spring to read! Re Krueger book that you questioned re the main character and his questionable actions – I often give the character the benefit of the doubt and if all ends well, then I remember that it’s fiction and don’t take it too seriously.

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About Melinda