My Latest Literary Education Sessions

A typical haul from the library

There are so many advantages to reading. If you are a reader you know what I mean. Vocabulary, ideas, history, escape. I love mysteries because they usually end with all the pieces in place – nice and orderly. I’ve been doing a LOT of reading lately. I “stumbled on” several stories that were not by my usual authors. I’m not always good at trying new authors. Often I want the characters I know already, I don’t want to put the effort into “meeting new people”. 🙂 The books below not only provided good mysteries and stories but provided one of my favorite benefits of reading: the necessity to do research. I LOVE when I am forced to look up a new word or when I realize I am totally ignorant of either the geography or the world events in which the story takes place. The books below all had me searching terms and events all through my reading.

Let’s do this chronologically. A confession – I’ve been reading Lindsey Davis for years. I started with the Marcus Didius Falco and when he ‘retired’ I kept on going with his daughter Flavia Albia. So this is not a “stumbled on” recently – we are old friends. 🙂 I’d fallen behind on my reading for a bit when Covid closed the libraries. Years ago I soothed my reading itch by browsing book stores and buying tons of books. Now here we are trying to get rid of clutter and items that we don’t NEEEEEEEED. Buying physical books must be curtailed, and given the cost of my latest renovation, inflation, the unhappy stock markets, and trying to save money, even buying ebooks needs judicious consideration. Kindle Unlimited and the daily “deals” get me through most days. 🙂 Which is how I got this latest Flavia Albia – A Comedy of Terrors. My Kindle Book Deal for the Day made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The time frame is 89 CE, Domitian is terrorizing ruling Rome. Flavia is an ‘informer’, which in current terms would be a private detective. Why does this book meet this list? Because of all the details about Roman buildings, streets, bridges, etc. My undergraduate degree was in history, with an emphasis on ancient Rome & Jews. My son and I spent 8 action-packed days in Italy in 2014, walking the streets we’d both studied (yes, he too was a history major focused on Rome). I love reading the details and flipping to the map and verifying that yes, indeed, I WAS there. And of course it’s always a good story with such interesting tidbits as Domitian’s Black Banquet.

The Last Goddess by Kateřina Tučková, comes next. Although the narrator lives in modern times her research stretches back to the 17th century, and even earlier. This book is interesting and, in a way, unsettling. Quoting from Wikipedia: “The Goddesses of Žítková) … focuses on female natural healers from Bílé Karpaty mountain range who are traditionally called „bohyně“ (goddesses). Tučková narrates their complicated history because persecutions by the inquisition in the 17th century, and the later Priests’ Initiative in the 19th century were finally suppressed by communist government.” I knew nothing about the Carpathian region, nothing about the Czech Republic and Slovakia, nothing about the persecutions, nothing about the communist takeover there (although I WAS in Prague in the summer of 1973, so I did a little bit of reading then). I think I must have spent as much time researching as I did reading this book. I recommend it even though parts of it are a little disturbing (what was done to these women).

Still hanging about in the 17th century we get to Stuart Turton’s “The Devil and The Dark Water“. I LOVED his first book, “The 7 1/2 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle“. As soon as I finished that I went back and reread it. 🙂 I’d read it the first time to find out the mystery. Then I went back to figure out all the clues. I’m VERY lucky because I own a paperback version of it. I can go back and back and back. I bought the ebook for The Devil. I devoured that one as well. I knew very little about 1634 and what was happening in the world at that time. Think United East India Company, spices, trading, the wreck of the Batavia. Although I was still in the 17th century this research took me down fewer side roads. Loved this book too and can’t wait for the next one.

Making our way up to 1892 when India is still a British colony brings us to Nev March’s “Murder in Old Bombay”. I’ve definitely encountered other stories set in similar time and place but I don’t recall being spurred to research the events. This time enough detail was provided about the time period and the geography that it made me curious to look at maps and place the story within the patchwork time frame in my mind. The details on how people lived, accepted behavioral norms, attitudes – a very interesting read with an interesting mystery. This one came to me via Kindle Unlimited. I try to understand what catches my eye about a title. 🙂 I think in this case it was the phrase “Old Bombay”.

We haven’t made it to the 21st century yet. My next book for this post is set in 1950, Vaseem Khan’s “Midnight at Malabar House“. It was another daily deal and the cover and title were intriguing enough for me to click it. I started reading the first few chapters and decided that for the price it was worth trying. Definitely worth more than what I paid for it. This is another case of spending as much if not more time researching history than reading the story. The timeline for the story is New Year’s Eve December 31, 1949 through January 26, 1950. This is after the partition of the British colony of India into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. The story is full of references to the events preceding the decision to partition, the people leading the drive to independence, the ensuing hostilities that remain today. Again a case of knowing nothing when I started and realizing how much I need to learn and absorb.

For my last selection I give you Dr. Siri Paiboun, a coroner in Laos in 1978. I love this series by Colin Cotterill. It starts with The Coroner’s Lunch and is up to 15 books. Yes, I’d even spend money to read these books. 🙂 I also love his Jimm Juree series which is set in Thailand. I spend a GREAT deal of looking at maps and researching history when I read both series. They are a great deal of fun and, as I said, I learn a lot. 🙂

Not Quite A Book Review

a man with one of those facesOne of the bloggers that I follow often reviews books that he’s read. I love this idea, both from a reading point of view and a writing pov. That said, I don’t know that I would be an especially insightful reviewer. I am reading a book at the moment that got very good reviews. I’m not “getting it”. I think it might be satire. I have a feeling I’m very bad at satire. 🙂 If I know the topic well, I can recognize satire and enjoy it (or not, depending on the quality of the writing). If I don’t know the topic, and I’m not familiar with the author, I’m often quite lost as to how I’m ‘supposed’ to react. Many years ago a friend gave me one of Carl Hiassen‘s books, telling me that I would LOVE it because not only was it a mystery but it was funny. I don’t remember the book (it was YEARS ago) but I do remember wondering when the humor would happen. Given Hiassen’s success, I am apparently out of step with the reading public on this. I wonder if now that I’m older (much older) I’d better appreciate it.

I’m not always very good with irony, either, although that one might have definitely been because I was too young to appreciate it. I believe I might be the only living soul who didn’t love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I have an acquaintance who has read it something like 10 times (seriously? aren’t there any other books you want to read????? the girl with all the giftswho has the TIME to read something 10 times??). Obviously this is also something that needs another attempt. I KNOW I had almost no sense of humor when I was younger. As I look at the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice now, the humor is completely clear.

There was another author I discovered many years ago and I really loved the writing, the characters and the plots. But she never allowed her recurring characters any happiness. Whenever she wrote them in a bit of joy, she made sure to destroy it in the next book. I really can’t keep reading that. I understand that no one has a perfect life. But most of us do find some sort of peace, even if not major joy. Our lives are not an unending stream of betrayals, loss, misery and guilt. Or maybe they are, but I don’t need to read it. I felt the same way about the TV series “Once Upon A Time“. I loved the premise, it started out great, and then no one ever got to be happy. Ever. That doesn’t work for me.

I read to relax and escape – I rarely read to better myself. I do a lot of things in my day-to-day living that better myself. *grin* Or so *I* think. *laughing* Feel free to disagree. Reading gives me a vacation and escape. I really enjoy mysteries, because that genre has the tradition of closure – we get to know “who did it” even if that person isn’t always brought to formal justice. 14 peter clinesI do like a good romance novel periodically because I know exactly what I’m getting and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll feel upbeat at the end of the book. Yes, it is better when it also includes good writing, believable characters and a good story, but if I can’t escape to a warm tropical beach sometimes escaping into the romance genre is a great escape. 🙂 I love historical novels too. Ask the folks who know my family about us and our dinner conversations (especially Hannibal and the elephants) and they will laugh and roll their eyes and say – oh yeah, them and history!

So what authors have I been reading in the last year or so and enjoying? Louise Penny (LOVE), Michael Connelly, Elly Griffiths, Faith Martin, Robert Galbraith (yes, I know who that is REALLY), Peter Grainger, and Charles Todd. There were 2 books I read digitally that I found so intriguing, and that I thought my son would enjoy, that I bought them in paperback for him as well: ‘The Girl With All the Gifts‘ by M.R. Carey and ‘14‘ by Peter Clines. I also enjoyed ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel‘ by Robin Sloan. uprootedIt occurs to me that my brother-in-law might enjoy those 3 as well. I think they are all probably classified as science fiction or fantasy, but I don’t really think of them that way. There are aspects in all that step out of what we’d call ‘reality’, but the plots and characters are what capture my interest. I also recommend Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted” and “Spinning Silver“. Those 2 are classed as fantasy but again what makes them so interesting is not the fantasy part, but the people and relationships. I’d also recommend Caimh McDonnell‘s Bunny McGarry books. How can you NOT love a series that begins: “The first time somebody tried to kill him was an accident. The second time was deliberate.” It is a very funny series with strong characters.

As I said, this is not really a book review, but I do enjoy seeing what Donald has to say about what he is reading. I thought I’d toss out my opinions as well. Happy reading!