28 September 2020

18 Books; Or What I've Read This Month

Time for another round of my thoughts on the books I've read over last few weeks. I discuss them here in the order in which I read them. See my GoodReads shelf for longer reviews of some of these titles.

18 Books to Read Right Now
  • Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press, Aug. 2020). Macdonald's new collection of essays interweaves everyday issues (allergies, migraines, Brexit) with her experiences with and in nature -- especially birds. You don't have to read these pieces in order, but I urge you to read them all; I didn't find any weak links. For Macdonald's performance of this book, see AFM.
  • Death of an Honest Man by M. C. Beaton (Grand Central Publishing; Feb. 2018). Sob! This was the last entry in the Hamish Macbeth cozy mystery series, which ended on Beaton's death. Fortunately, the book concludes on a satisfying note, and I'd like to think Hamish is still solving mysteries in his beloved Highlands countryside. Graeme Malcolm finished out the series in style (Hachette Audio; 5 hr, 23 min).
  • Unvarnished by Eric Alperin with Deborah Stoll (Harper Wave; June 2020). I listened to this because it was billed as the Kitchen Confidential of the bar world. While it does give us a peak behind the scenes, it wasn't quite as eye-opening. Still, it kept my interest and I loved the fact that the audiobook came with a PDF of recipes and information. If you're hesitant to listen to an author-read book, don't be in this case (HarperAudio; 6 hr, 29 min). Alperin has a theater background, which served him well here. He has an expressive and engaging delivery. (copied from my GoodReads review)
18 Books to Read Right Now
  • Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Tor, Aug. 4). This is the second entry in the Locked Tomb trilogy, and doesn't work as a standalone. Although the book started out a little confusing, the dual time-period narrative and Harrow's challenges soon came together and sucked me right in. The books are a kind of mashup of sci-fi, fantasy, and light horror and introduce a unique world, giving God or a god a voice. Moria Quirk's performance of the audiobook (Recorded Books; 19 hr, 51 min) is terrific, especially her pacing. I hope she's on board for the final book in the trilogy.
  • The Guest List by Lucy Foley (William Morrow; June 2020). I picked this up because I loved Foley's The Hunting Party. Although I liked this mystery -- set on an island off the coast of Ireland -- it didn't have the fresh feel of her earlier book. The story is told from multiple view points and involves a murder that takes place during a high-profile wedding reception. The plotting was well done, with several possible villains and motives. The audiobook (Harper Audio; 10 hr, 22 min) was read by Jot Davies, Chloe Massey, Olivia Dowd, Aoife McMahon, Sarah Ovens, and Rich Keeble. The cast blended well, with no poor performances.
  • Deadly Education by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Sept. 29). This first in the Scholomance series is set in a school for the magically gifted. Graduation has nothing to do with grades all to do with staying alive, difficult thanks to the deadly monsters that permeate the institution. Our hero is El, a loner who realizes she'll need allies if she's to live to see graduation day. World building, secrets, mysteries, and tentative friendships and romances offset the action and danger. The book ends on a delicious cliff-hanger. Audiobook narrator Anisha Dadia captures El's personality and did a good job with timing (Random House Audio; 10 hr, 59 min). I noticed a few awkward pauses, but nothing that would prevent me from listening to the next book.
18 Books to Read Right Now
  • The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Little, Brown BYR; Sept. 1). This was a fun mystery, thriller, romance mash-up about how high schooler Avery goes from sleeping in her car one day to inheriting billions from a stranger the next. The catch to the inheritance? She must live in the dead man's rambling mansion (along with the shafted relatives) for a solid year, solving puzzles along the way. Good characters and interactions between characters. Action, puzzles, mean girls, paparazzi, and a cliff-hanger ending have me wanting the next book now! Audiobook narrator Christie Moreau tapped into Avery's emotional journey (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 45 min).
  • The Shooting at Chateau Rock by Martin Walker (Knopf; May 2020). I listened to this 13th in a series set in the French countryside and featuring Chief of Police Bruno. The book was a pleasant blend of police procedural and cozy, with its many reference to French culture, food, and wine. I liked this well enough to consider starting the series from the beginning. See AFM for my audiobook thoughts.
  • Troubles in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown; Oct. 6). This book finishes Hilderbrand's fall-release St. John trilogy, which is all about how the Steele family copes with learning that their father/husband led a double life. I loved the twists and surprises in this installment and am happy Hilderbrand left a few plot points open to our imagination. Narrator Erin Bennett is the perfect match to Hilderbrand's style and pacing (Hachette Audio; 11 hr, 29 min).
18 Books to Read Right Now
  • The Guards by Ken Bruen (Minotaur; 2004). Since finishing the Hamish Macbeth books, I was looking for another series that consisted of engaging but short audiobooks and thought of Bruen's Jack Taylor series set in Galway. I've read several of the books, but not all and not in order, but liked them all. The books are dark, but not without humor and feature a dismissed cop turned private detective. In his first case, Jack is tasked with determining the truth about a young woman's death by supposed suicide. Along the way, he confronts his own demons. Narrator Gerry O'Brien creates an Irish atmosphere and nails the tone of the series (ISIS Audio; 4 hr, 37 min) Personal collection.
  • The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant (Berkley; Sept. 8). A light romance for foodies. I'm not much of a romance reader, but I enjoyed the family themes and Sophie Valroux's journey to trusting her talents. When Sophie is fired from her job in a high-profile New York City restaurant she returns to France to help out her grandmother. Drama in the kitchen she is tasked to run and a reconnection with a childhood sweetheart drive the plot. The book includes Sophie's recipes. (copied from my GoodReads review)
  • One by One by Ruth Ware (Gallery; Sept. 8). I'm not sure if it was the book itself or the fact that I've listened to several closed-room-type mysteries lately, but this wasn't Ware at her strongest. The mystery is set in the French Alps at an exclusive chalet rented out by tech company for a staff retreat. The story is told from two viewpoints (the chalet host and one of the guests), and is meant to keep us guessing. Unfortunately, I had the general idea (but not the details) figured out very early on. Narrator Imogen Church's performance, with good pacing and emotional depth, kept me invested in the thriller (Simon & Schuster Audio; 13 hr, 8 min).
18 Books to Read Right Now
  • National Geographic Kids U.S. Atlas 2020 (Sept. 8). This colorful atlas presents each U.S. state and territory in map form, accompanied by fabulous photographs, straightforward statistics, and some little-known or eye-opening facts. National Geographic includes several pages of national information as well. Perfect for homeschooling and supplementing distance learning as well for any curious child or adult.
  • National Geographic Kids Almanac 2021 (May 2020). Thanks to National Geographic, your curious kids will find hours of enjoyment between the covers of their 2021 almanac. Colorful graphics and National Geographic's signature awesome photographs make this book pop. Besides fun facts and useful information divided into 11 broad categories (space, technology, history, geography, and so on), the almanac includes games, quizzes, and experiments. Perfect for gift-giving and to have on hand for supplementing home and distant learning. (copied from my GoodReads review)
  • How to Astronaut by Terry Virts (Workman, Sept. 15). I loved this collection of short pieces of what it's like to become and be an astronaut. Virt covers just about everything from training to spacewalking, including space-time food and entertainment. He also address those topics that you've always wanted to know about but were afraid to ask, like bathroom issues and sex. The essays are entertaining, fun, and informative.
18 Books to Read Right Now
  • Smash It! by Francina Simone (Inkyard; Sept. 22). This first in a new series is about Liv, a Black teenager who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Liv decides it's time to stop living life in the shadow of her two best friends (both male) and form some new friendships and pursue romance. Liv is a likeable character who has diverse friends and sometimes makes poor choices. Although I didn't think the consequences of all of Liv's actions were realistic, the general theme of the book was solid. See AFM for my audiobook review.
  • Skyhunter by Marie Lu (Roaring Brook Press; Sept. 29). Lu's newest series is a mix of fantasy and dystopian and deals with a variety of issues besides just good verus evil, such as genetic engineering, reanimating the dead, loyalty, friendship, and family. Our hero is a refugee who is a soldier fighting to keep her new country free from a hostile invasion. Lots of action and great characters. The unabridged audiobook is read by Natalie Naudus (Macmillian Audiop 11 hr, 58 min), who does a terrific job differentiating among characters, using both vocal variations and emphasizing personality quirks. Her pacing was spot on. Don't miss the author and narrator conversation at the end of the audiobook.
  • Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price (Basic; Aug. 2020). My favorite way to read history is to alternate between print and audio, which is what I did with this well-researched and entirely accessible history of the Vikings. Using the archaeological record, literature, and firsthand accounts, Price tells the story of the rise and fall of the Vikings, who have captured our imaginations for centuries. This book tackles all aspects of Viking life: sexuality, family, religion, food, exploration, politics, raiding, and more. This is an excellent summary of what we know about the Viking world. The print book includes photos and maps. The audiobook was brilliantly read by Samuel Roukin, who is expressive and engaged in the material; I was especially impressed with his pronunciations of Old Norse and other languages.
Note: Thanks to the publishers for the review copies (digital, print, and/or audio). Special thanks to Libro.fm for several of the audio listening copies. "AFM" means you can find my audiobook review over on the AudioFile magazine website or in the print copy of the magazine.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 9/28/20, 7:41 AM  

What a fantastic month for audios. I was disappointed by One By One as well and figured it out early on. Looking forward to Trouble in Paradise as I've been into this series. Thanks for so ,any others for me to consider. Since the pandemic, about 50% of my reading has been audios. (It helps me fall asleep some nights but, then of course I need to reset my bookmark in the morning LOL

Susie | Novel Visits 9/28/20, 9:35 AM  

My goodness! You have read/listened a lot of books in the last few weeks. I need to listen to the Elin Hilderbrand book. I love Erin Bennett narrating her books. Trouble in Paradise is the end of a series though, right?

Kathy Martin 9/28/20, 9:57 AM  

Great assortment of books. I'm curious about Marie Lu's new one and have a copy of The Inheritance Games on my Kindle. I usually like to read the print version before giving the audio version a try. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Daryl 9/28/20, 11:16 AM  

i really really loved Gideon the Ninth so i quickly bought/started Harrow ... i admit for a few early chapters i was confused .. then i 'got' it but i am now taking a break 14 chapters in because its .. not moving fast enough? i am not sure but i am putting it down for a bit .. have you read any of the Mick Herron 'slow horses' series? quite good and the narrator is Gerard Doyle a smooth talker

Kay 9/28/20, 2:42 PM  

You've been reading some good books! I think our opinions of One By One are very similar. I did like the narrator. She's done a good job with all of Ruth Ware's books. I'm going to wait to read The Guest List because it seems a little similar to other books I've read. Maybe later over the winter. It's nice to see a post from you regarding your reading. Take care!

Yvonne 9/28/20, 3:27 PM  

So many interesting books on your list. I want to read the Hamish MacBeth series, but first I must get through the Agatha Raisin series. I hope you have a great week.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 9/28/20, 4:25 PM  

You have been busy reading. And thank you for sharing your thoughts about these books. I've now added Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price to my wish list. I love history books but I like readable history not textbook history, and I think this book will work well for me.

The kids at my school always loved the almanacs I would purchase for the library. The National Geographic Almanac for Kids was always a favorite.

I also found The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant and The Shooting at Chateau Rock by Martin Walker to add to my wish list of set-in-France books.

You have been very helpful!

Girl Who Reads 9/28/20, 4:36 PM  

I"m glad I just discovered MC Beaton a couple of years ago so I have a number of Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth books to still read.

Kathryn T 9/28/20, 7:29 PM  

What an amazing amount of books you read this one and look so good. I think I need to go look to see if I can access that E. Hilderbrand series on audio.

JoAnn 9/28/20, 9:06 PM  

So many great books! I read The Guest List in print last month and really enjoyed it. Later learned it had an excellent multi-narrator audio production. Want to read The Hunting Party soon, but will try it on audio. Need to catch up on Hilderbrand's St' John's books, too.

Laurie C 9/28/20, 9:19 PM  

Wow! That's an impressive list for a few weeks! I've listened to several of Ruth Ware's books and the main reason I keep going back for more is Imogene Church's narration. She's great! The Death of Mrs. Westaway was my most recent one. I find that mysteries on audio are often easier to figure out. The telling details can't be slipped by the reader as easily on audio as on the printed page, maybe.

Jen at Introverted Reader 9/28/20, 9:51 PM  

You had an impressive reading month! And thanks for all the audio recommendations!

Deadly Education, The Inheritance Games, and How to Astronaut in particular jump out at me. I just received a notification that it's my turn to check out The Hunting Party. I requested it after you and Heather at Random Redheaded Ramblings recommended it practically back-to-back. I've got some hefty nonfiction on my plate at the moment so I had to skip my turn for now. Oh well.

Enjoy your week!

Greg 9/29/20, 1:11 AM  

I've been curious about The Guest List for a bit. I keep seeing it pop up and the premise appeals. I've always been kinda curious about the Hamish mysteries too, they sound fun!

Susan @ The Book Bag 10/3/20, 6:31 PM  

Great books here on your list. I especially want to read Troubles in Paradise and One by One.

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