Books I read in April

I seem to have been in the middle of more books lately than usual, between the two audiobooks (one for exercise and one for the car), one to read at work and two or three to read at home (a mix of fiction and non-fiction, depending on my mood), plus those we’re reading at Sunday School and Bible study. But one by one, I finish them … and start the next.

I had previously read another murder mystery intended to fit the category “a book set in an abbey, cloister, monastery, vicarage, or convent,” but it turned out to have relatively little of the story set in the convent where the murder took place. And I had already tentatively selected Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie for this category before reading the other one, so I decided to go ahead and read it anyway. I did not enjoy it as much as the Miss Marple books I had read previously, but that may be because this turns out to be the first one, where Miss Marple is introduced, and over time Christie developed the character more.

As it happened, that novel by Christie was one of five in one volume, featuring her best-known detective characters. I had never read any of her books that feature Superintendent Battle, or even heard of him, so I decided to go ahead and read Toward Zero, even though it didn’t fit any categories for the reading challenge. I enjoyed the story, and I think I may even like Battle better than Poirot or Miss Marple.

I selected Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer as a book by two female authors. I had read and enjoyed Patricia Wrede’s Snow White and Rose Red a number of years ago, plus I know my husband has some of Wrede’s books, so this one looked promising, although I had never heard of Caroline Stevermer, and the reviews I read were somewhat mixed. I enjoyed this book, and was impressed after reading it to find out that the two women had written alternating chapters as a series of letters (which is the format of the novel) without discussing first what they were writing about. (They did some minor tweaking prior to publishing the finished product.) I did think that the two young women writing the letters were insufficiently distinguished from one another, and it was hard to keep track of all the characters, but it is for the most part a fun story to read.

My co-worker noticed me reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank at lunch, and was surprised to hear I had never read it before. It seems like everyone, at least of my generation, has read it. Was mine the only school that did not assign it as required reading? I had heard of it, of course, but never felt any particular inclination to read a teenage girl’s diary. I did go to a play based on the diary, a few years ago, and I thought the play was pretty good. I finally chose to read it because frankly, I needed something for the reading challenge category “a book with at least one million ratings on Goodreads” that I hadn’t already read, and it seemed like I should finally read the book everyone else seemed to have already read. It was interesting, getting an idea of daily life for Jews in hiding during the Holocaust. I have read numerous novels set in that period, but of course novels usually include only enough of daily life to give you a feel for it, focusing instead on more exciting activities and events. I can’t say I found it as inspiring as some people do, and I still don’t care for reading a teenage girl’s private thoughts, on and on about what she thinks about herself and her thoughts about boys.

I had already read two books for “your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge,” my favorite prompt being “a book that involves a bookstore or library.” But naturally, it being a favorite, I read multiples in this category. This time I read The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick, one that I think I had come across in reviews on goodreads.com. It involves both a library and a bookstore, and a book is a central plot element. But mostly it’s about people, family relationships (I guess I could have used it for “a book about a family” but I already have two books picked out for that category), choices and their consequences, and growing beyond what your past has made you.

I thought when I picked up The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson, it would work as a ghost story, since it’s about Dino’s ex- best friend coming back from the dead. But as July comes back inside her decomposing body, rather than as a free-floating spirit, it’s closer to a zombie story than a ghost story. Not what I understand as a typical zombie story, of course (though that’s just based on my impressions – I’ve never read one), but in many ways more like the kind of ghost story where someone has to stay around to take care of “unfinished business.” The presence of the body just makes for interesting complications. It’s an easy read, not terribly heavy (though it deals with issues of death, of course, as well as relationships among friends and family) and with some humor. Not great, but  pretty good read. And it turned out to have just been published this year, so it counts for a book that’s published in 2019.

I had been wondering what to read for a “cli-fi” (climate fiction) book, as it’s a new genre and I didn’t really know what to expect, and wondered if such books would be particularly politicized. The subject certain arouses strong feelings, both by those who fight for lowering our “carbon footprint” to protect the environment, and those who are not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity. South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby turned out to be a reasonably good choice, giving the controversy a large but not central role in her novel. Reading about the type of people who choose to live and work at the South Pole was interesting, though I was disappointed in the portrayal of the artists/writers, who seemed to substitute grandiose statements for actual artistic work (unlike the actual artists who get grants to go to the South Pole, from what I have read about the program).

I had read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth some thirty years ago (before I had kids) and loved it. When World Without End came out I was eager to read it, but by then I was much busier, and it is very long. I did buy a copy and start reading it, several years ago, but put it down, maybe to read a library book, and somehow didn’t get back to it (now I’m not even sure where it is). Finally I decided it was a good fit for an audiobook to read during my commute. It took a few weeks – very enjoyable weeks, listening to a good storyteller tell a good story. I was surprised to realize (by recognizing events in the book) just how far I had read previously – probably the length of a typical novel. But as long as it is, there was plenty more after that! I didn’t like everything about it – one particularly gruesome execution, for instance, that I did not need to know the details of. And I thought one of the main characters had more modern attitudes than would be reasonable in someone from her era, even considering that every era has people who think unconventionally. But I was never bored by it, never wishing I’d get to the end and get on to another book, and was sorry to get to the end and the need to find another book – always a sign of good novel.

One last book I read was a very short one, which I noticed on the shelves in the adult fiction section of the library and picked up just out of curiosity as to what such a tiny book could be. It was only 34 pages, and those pages were smaller than even the smaller paperbacks (though this was hardcover). Pigs Is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler reads more like a children’s book than one for adults, though the dialect used by at least one character might be difficult for children to read. It’s a funny story, and from what I read later, it may have provided the idea for the famous Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.”

 

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