17 December 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: Escape Reading at Its Best

5 books to read in DecemberI can't tell you how happy I am that we got ready for Christmas early, because this last week needed every bit of energy and attention I had.

We had sad things and happy things to deal with plus my clients had lots of last-minute (preholiday) jobs for me. In between I kept my house in order, did a little cooking, and tried to have a life. Hahaha.

Once again, I wonder how I'd survive if I didn't have audiobooks. They are truly blessings when I'm overwhelmed with the world and with life.

In case you missed it, I posted my favorite books of the year on Friday. And here's what I read last week.

Review of The Blackhouse by Peter MayThe Blackhouse by Peter May (Quercus, 2014). I've read and loved several of May's books, so I'm not sure why I've never read his Lewis Trilogy, which is set in the Outer Hebrides. The print book has been on my shelf for a few years, so I did a sort of read plus listen, depending on what was going on. Detective Fin Macleod escaped his native Isle of Lewis almost the moment he graduated high school, heading off for university. Instead of graduating he joined the Edinburgh police force, where he investigated murders. When a childhood acquaintance is murdered under unusual circumstances back home, Fin's superiors send him up north to investigate. While there, Fin discovers much more than just who the killer is; he must confront the past he was so eager to leave behind forever. I loved the atmosphere of the book and the descriptions of the people and the landscape. I felt so bad for Fin and the issues he contended with both in his youth and as an adult. I'll probably read or listen to the next book before the year is out. Note that this book is as much about Fin as it is about the crime. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 12 hr, 20 min) was brilliantly read by Peter Forbes. Not only did he keep me on track with the characters, but his pronunciation of the Gaelic words and names enhanced my enjoyment of the mystery. I'm thrilled that he comes back to perform the other books in the series. (print and audio copies provided by the publisher)

Review of Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann HoodKitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood (Norton, December 2018): I wasn't sure whether to write about Hood's memoir here or for a Weekend Cooking post because these essays are very much tied to cooking and eating and each piece in the book ends with a recipe or two. Hood writes about her Italian grandmother's cooking for a large family in a small kitchen in Rhode Island, she remembers the year she learned about dieting, she shares her Midwest relatives' best fried chicken, and all the while she muses about families, marriage, friends, motherhood, loss, and love. Her current (and presumably last) husband is none other than Michael Ruhlman, a writer and most notably a cook and cookbook author. Hood's food memories include comfort food and cooking for and with her children (ramen, anyone?) as well summer pesto and tomato pie. I loved the stories of the first dinner parties Hood hosted and of how she learned to use a backyard smoker with her son. Some incidents (the death of her daughter, for example) are retold in several essays, but I think that's because this collection includes some previously published pieces. Regardless, I can recommend Ann Hood's memoir without reservation. Although I listened to it for a freelance assignment (see AudioFile magazine for my review), I had a copy to read as well. I can't wait to try her mother's meatballs with her grandmother's Sunday sauce. Lovely in audio, but probably a better read in print because of the recipes. (eGalley provided by the publisher; audiobook for freelance assignment)

Review of Counting Sheep: Reflections and Observations of a Swedish Shepherd by Axel LindénCounting Sheep: Reflections and Observations of a Swedish Shepherd by Axel Lindén (Atria, November 2018). I picked up this little gem of a book because I like personal essays, I love Scandinavia, and I have a growing interest in books in translation. This short memoir is a series of diary entries about Lindén's experiences of leaving academia to settle on his parents' farm, when they decided to leave the land. He writes about the difference between what he thought farming would be like (part boring hard work and part wonderful to be self-sufficient) and what it eventually became (a way of life, a means of subsistence). Some of the diary entries are only one sentence long, and they all apply to his relationship to his sheep, though we see glimpses of his children and other people. Much of his attention is focused on literally counting sheep: have they survived the night and are they all in the pasture? Does he have too many rams for his herd? How many lambs were born and how many survived? This is a quiet little book that is full of charm but is (frankly) probably not for everybody. The print book includes lovely black and white drawings of sheep that I intend to revisit. I listened to the audiobook (Simon & Schuster; 1 hr, 53 min) read by Peter Nobel, who captured Lindén's intent and moods very well. I decided to listen to the book over the weekend, when I had some household chores because the length and timing were just right. Unfortunately, I feel as if I didn't give the audiobook enough attention (totally my fault), so I plan to skim it in print again, looking at the drawings and rereading some of the more poignant entries. This is a quiet memoir that would appeal to those of you who like to connect to the natural world. (eGalley and audiobook copies provided by the publisher)

Review of Death of a Bore by M. C. BeatonDeath of a Bore by M. C. Beaton (Grand Central, 2006). I listened to the 20th entry in the Hamish Macbeth cozy mystery series, which takes place in northern Scotland and stars a lovable, smart, but ultimately unambitious village copper. I've written about this series many times over the years, and it's near impossible not to spoil the earlier books at this point. Every series has its ups and downs, but so far Beaton has let me down only once, and that was a few books ago. In this entry, Hamish meets the new schoolteacher, sets local gossips a-talking, solves a mystery, reconnects with some old flames, and has to work with some new superior officers in the city. Of course, Hamish manages to get the killer plus help a few villagers past some of life's bumps. These mysteries are pure fun and pure escape, and I urge you to start at the beginning if you're going to read them. The books are short and will take you just an afternoon or so. But if you're an audiobook fan, I strongly encourage you to listen instead of read. Graeme Malcolm is the narrator for the series (Blackstone; 5, hr, 17 min). He took over from Davina Porter (and in fact re-recorded the earlier books). Although I was a little taken aback at first, Malcolm has totally grown on me, and I can't wait to hear him perform the next books in the series. (personal collection)

Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell (Orbit, September 2018). This is the third entry in the Spellslinger series, and I was as taken in by this book as I was by the first two. As I've said before, the world and its rules are fresh and unique, though the familiar fantasy elements shine through. There will no spoilers for this book, but I can't help a few subtle ones from previous books in the series. In this installment, Kellen, our hero, is still struggling to come to terms with the fate life has given him. He was born into one of the strongest families of his region and clan, but was denied entry into the elite world he grew up to expect. As an outlaw, he has had to make a new family, find his strengths, and overcome his weaknesses. This entry was a major turning point in the story. Kellen discovers things about his companions and his estranged sister and father that solidify his worldview. He is maturing and becoming more confident, but he is not perfect and still makes mistakes and doubts himself. I love being on his journey with him. The book doesn't end on a cliff-hanger, but new things will be happening in the next story. As I said before, the series is a great mix of action, character study, and magic mixed with humor and a Wild West feel. If you're a fantasy fan, you should be reading these books. Or better yet, listen to the unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 11 hr, 42 min) read by Joe Jameson, who is fantastic. His characterizations perfectly project the characters' personalities and his comedic timing is spot on. I love the way he keeps the dialogue moving and pulls us completely into the action. Stay tuned for book four. (audiobook provided by the publisher).


Mae Travels 12/17/18, 7:27 AM  

Your interest in books in translation has a lot of potential -- I've been doing something like that too. I realized that most popular books about France, especially about French food, are written by Americans or English writers, not by French people. (I mean popular here in the US. You know, nostalgia for Paris in the 20s or the countryside where Julia Child lived, the love of a French village where the inhabitants finally accept the writer, the discovery of whatever.) So I started looking for what French people write about food for themselves. It's not really the same!

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Daryl 12/17/18, 8:06 AM  

for me the De Castell series sounds most promising ...

bermudaonion 12/17/18, 8:15 AM  

I know last week was a tough one for you and I hope this week is better.

I really need to get my hands on Kitchen Yarns - it sounds terrific.

Laurel-Rain Snow 12/17/18, 11:04 AM  

I love Ann Hood's books...so I may read this one, although I'm not sure about a book of foodie talk, with recipes. But it does sound like she has some interesting stories to tell. Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

Tina 12/17/18, 11:08 AM  

I just picked up Kitchen Yarns and it's a great book, Lots of recipes and I love the writing style. Peter May has been on my list a while, I need to get to him in 2019.

Lisa notes... 12/17/18, 11:38 AM  

I thought I had gotten ready for Christmas early, but I've discovered that I still have a lot left to do. :) But it's all good. Thanks for sharing your books. I'm going now to look at your favorite books of the year! I published my list today.

Kathy Martin 12/17/18, 12:44 PM  

Great assortment of books and so much variety. I'm glad you are enjoying them all. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

sherry fundin 12/17/18, 2:56 PM  

The Peter May book looks especially ominous...love it.
sherry @ fundinmental

Yvonne 12/17/18, 3:41 PM  

I haven't read the Hamish Macbeth series yet, but I do enjoy M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin. I never read anything by Peter May, but The Black House looks good. Have a great week!

Sue Jackson 12/17/18, 5:00 PM  

Wow, so many great book ideas in today's post! I enjoyed one of Ann Hood's novels, and her memoir sounds wonderful.

I just sent a note to one of the bookseller's in my local bookstore who runs an international mystery/thriller book group to tell her about your review of the Peter May book.

And my son is currently reading book 1 of the Riyria Chronicles & loving it! We gave it to him for Easter and he finally finished all 13 books in the Wheel of Time series and started it. Thanks for the recommendation! And I just added the Spellslinger series to my list for him!

Thanks & enjoy your books this week - I was so sorry to hear of your loss.


Book By Book

Les in Oregon 12/17/18, 5:12 PM  

I'm excited about the new Ann Hood book and hope to get it with some birthday/Christmas money, as well as a few others that keep popping up on my friends' favorite lists. Hope you have a calmer week and a very merry Christmas, Candace.

pussreboots 12/17/18, 7:03 PM  

Kitchen Yarns sounds like my kind of book. My weekly updates.

Susan Schleicher 12/18/18, 9:45 AM  

I looked at your fav books of the year post. I have The Great Alone on my shelf and I have heard such good things about it. I really need to read it. The cover of The Black House looks intriguing. Have a great week and happy reading, or listening.

Greg 12/18/18, 5:27 PM  

I love Scotland as a setting so The Black House (and the Hamish books too, which I've never read) definitely appeal to me. The Black House sounds really atmospheric, with the remote Outer Hebrides setting, and the native son having to go back to the town he escaped from. Sounds good! :)

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