From time to time, instead of talking about our writing, our books, or our Maine lives, we like to talk about books-other people’s books. That’s our group post theme for today: a book we’ve read and loved. Feel free to chime in with books you’ve loved.
Kate Flora: I was at an outdoor solstice party back in December, under an open tent in the rain, when I heard someone in another conversation mention This is Happiness by Niall Williams. I had to join that conversation to hear that reader’s thoughts, because it is my favorite book of the last year. A lot of the time I read mysteries, or I read nonfiction, especially natural history, forensics, or gardening and cook books. This book, handed to me by a friend who accidentally bought two copies, is a quiet book. A coming of age story in Ireland in the 1950’s, when electricity is just coming to a small town. The narrator lives with his grandparents and simply tells the story of himself, his family, his first love, and his country town. What makes the book stand out is the writing. Not splashy or overwrought but sentence-by-sentence lovely. Writing that makes you sigh, again quietly, and think “I wish I could write like that.” Not violent. Not dramatic. Just beautifully pleasing. It leaves you with a gentle sense of pleasure and having been well entertained.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: My problem is that I’ve loved too many books in too many genres to pick just one as either a “favorite” or an influence. To make matters worse, in these waning (I hope) days of Covid, I’ve been rereading many old favorite series, as in series with lots of books in them. I’ve reread all of J. D. Robb’s In Death books (54, I think, including the most recent). I went back and read Mary Jo Putney’s Regency “Fallen Angels” romance series (7 books) and then realized that her Bride trilogy revisits some of the characters from the earlier books. It had been about 20 years since the last time I read any of those titles. One of the the Bride books, The Wild Child, has several harrowing scenes in a madhouse of the period, where uppity women not infrequently found themselves confined for being troublesome to their families. That made me remember a novel I read back in the 1990s, another historical romance, this one concerning a nobleman who had a stroke and was deemed mad when he could no longer speak or move his right hand. He’s rescued from a madhouse by a Quaker woman who’s there as a nurse. It took me a while to remember the title and author, but I finally did and I’m now happily rereading Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm. It’s just as compelling a read as I remembered. I’d highly recommend any of the above titles. Great escapism, but also very well-written novels.
Susan Vaughan: A favorite book of recent memory is Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, “12th century medical forensics…what could be cooler?” Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, a forensics expert educated in Salerno, is hired by King Henry II of England to solve the (gruesome) murders of Christian children in the small town of Cambridge. He wants the suspects freed, prominent Jews who pay him taxes. Adelia examines the bodies and becomes involved with the community while assembling her own suspect list. The writing beautifully blends the times and characters with the taut plot. Plot twists and a bit of romance and humor add to the brew. I’ve read the second book and am eager to begin book three. Alas, Franklin passed away before completing book five, but her daughter finished it for her. Highly recommended.
John Clark: Ya want one book?!? That’d be like eating one chip, or M&M. Still, I’ve read three dandy YA books recently, two of which would be perfect for using in a high school course called ‘Teaching History Through Young Adult Fiction.’ Mirror Girls and You Truly Assumed address racism and Islamophobia in ways teens affected by both issues can strongly relate to, and Blood Scion, while dark fantasy, made me realize how horrific an experience being a child soldier in Africa, or eastern Europe must be.
Maggie Robinson: When we travel to the UK, we love watching the game shows in the late afternoon. They are wildly different from what you’d see on American TV, have much, much smaller prizes and much, much more general weirdness. Very little glitz, and a whole lot of geekiness.
A favorite program has been Pointless (a great name for almost anything nowadays), and one of the presenters, Richard Osman, has written a mystery series set in a posh retirement community in the English countryside. The four protagonists led very interesting lives in the past, and are keen to continue to keep their minds sharp.
I rarely “cast” a book as I’m reading, but I kept seeing Helen Mirren, Judy Dench (or maybe Celia Imrie), Albert Finney, and Ben Kingsley in the main roles.
To my delight, The Thursday Murder Club, is going to be a movie, but even though the lead characters are supposed to be in their seventies, younger actors will be hired so they don’t die off before the franchise is shot!!! So, no Dame Helen, I guess, although I hope she lives forever.
The second book, The Man Who Died Twice, was an even better read, and a third, The Bullet That Missed, comes out this fall. Can’t wait!
Dick Cass: Not sure anyone wants to relive 2020 into 2021 at this point, but Charles Finch’s What Just Happened struck a major chord with me. It’s essentially a diary of his experiences during the year and muses very intelligently on everything that happened: COVID-19, the weak Presidential responses to seemingly every crisis, the protests for racial justice, and the Presidential election. Not a murder mystery, but certainly contains characters you might want to murder . . (Finch’s grandmother was Anne Truitt, whose Daybook is a particular inspiration for me.)
Maureen Milliken: I read Liane Moriarty’s Apples Never Fall, 472 pages in the hardcover version, in 24 hours a few months ago. While she sometimes is dismissed as “chick lit,” her books are deceptively well-written. By “deceptively,” I mean that they may seem light to those who dismiss family drama and women’s point of view, but they are incredibly layered. Apples Never Fall is the closest to a perfect book I’ve read in a long time — in narrative construction, character development, writing style — everything. One thing I like about Moriarty’s books is she writes characters readers can like, and never pulls the lousy trick of taking a character we’ve grown to like and pulling the rug out from under us by having them do something unforgiveable. She also has the rare ability to switch between character voices in a way that makes the reader see every character with empathy, even ones viewed by others in the book as annoying or jerks. The whole time I was reading it, I kept telling myself I should be working on my own book.l I rationalized it that I was learning from her. Who am I kidding? She does it so seemlessly, I”m lost in the story and forget to look at what she’s doing.
Currently I’m reading Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky. I bought it in hardcover when it came out three years ago as a treat to read when I’ve finished the book I’m still working on. I finally broke down a few days ago and picked it up to read. I’m not finished with my book (don’t ask me how far along I am or how much I have left to go, that’s not an aswerable question), but I figure I can learn from her, too. Ha ha. Big Sky is a long-awaited sequel to her last Jackson Brodie book, 2010’s Started Early, Took My Dog. Atkinson is like Moriarty in that she’s a genre of her own. Beautiful writing, great characters. I always say she never would’ve gotten published in the U.S. (she’s Scottish), because her books aren’t easy to classify. Not quite who-done-its, not really domestic dispense. Funny without being overdone or slapstick. Insightful. Characters who are quirky, but not gratuitiously so and not over the top. (In some ways she reminds me of Carl Hiaasen). Gosh! Where do we shelve this?! Publishers, take note: Readers aren’t confused. They know a good book when they see it.
Matt Cost: Aventurine and the Reckoning by Maine author Anne Britting Oleson is a smart and fun mystery set in England. Aventurine Morrow is writing a biography on an older woman who used to be a spy during WWII. A past relationship that went incredibly sour returns to once again haunt Aventurine’s present day, even as she tries to raise the spirits of her nephew who has recently lost his father. The setting is vivid and the characters come to life, especially the elderly Genevieve Smithson, former spy, with a bit of pepper left in her stepper. Music vibrates throughout every page, including a festival where Aventurine reunites with a band from her past. This is a wicked fun read.