This month started off light with a couple of cozies. They were fine. They passed the time. Nothing wrong with either of them. Damning with faint praise, you say? Yeah. It's not them, it's me.
I've read too many. I need a break.
Back in high school, I went on a Margaret Atwood bender, reading novel after beautiful novel. Cat's Eye. The Handmaid's Tale. The Edible Woman. Surfacing. And short stories. And poetry. Wonderful, all. Until one day, I couldn't look at another cover with her name on it. Her wording seemed overly careful, precious. I was so over it. I was full.
It was probably at least a decade, maybe a decade and a half, before I picked up another book by Ms Atwood. I know. Ridiculous. How does one get through an English BA and a Master's degree without a close read of Margaret Atwood? Yet I did. And now, after the extended break, I can read her work with absolute pleasure again.
Anyway, I'm not saying that cozy mysteries are anywhere near Atwood calibre. But I'm not saying they're not either. I'm just saying that when reading something becomes an endurance sport and if no one is paying you to read it, then don't. So in October after enduring my way through two cozies, I stopped.
I've decided November will be entirely cozy mystery free. I've told The Dave, my library mule, not to bring me any. It's gonna be weird.
If you're curious, here was the October book lineup:
[GAHHHH!! &$%! I just lost the descriptors for all of these books. CRAP. Anyhow, I'll have a go at rewriting. Bummer. Jesus saves, so should you, Frances!]
Grilling the Subject by Daryl Wood Gerber. Fine.
Cheddar Off Dead by Julia Buckley. Also fine.
So those were the last two proverbial straws that caused the breakage. The following books have all more or less set my reading brain on the path to restoration.
A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George. I probably should have stepped away from popular mysteries entirely for a bit because I think my experience of this book was affected by the fact that it's part of a series of which I have read many. Still though, Elizabeth George is a titan and even if not one of my favourites by her, it was still really very good.
In Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, World War 2 London comes alive with the horrors of continual bombing, casual racism, and everyday cruelty to the disadvantaged, including mentally and physically disabled children and black people. This beautiful novel tells the story of a privileged young woman, 18 at the beginning of the book and the war, who chooses to serve by teaching the children left behind in London when most have been evacuated to the countryside. She's rapidly becoming an adult, finding love, and losing it, while living through utter horror – yet there is beauty and joy too. The cast of characters feel dimensional and real. I reread many pages and passages for sheer pleasure. It's a rich story, well told, and I learned from it as well.
The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy by Elizabeth George. More of a novel than a novella, this charming fantasy lasts approximately the length of the flight from Dulles to Pearson.
Betty Boo by Claudia Piñeiro. Piñeiro is Argentina's most popular crime writer, and I can certainly understand why. This novel unveils a series of deathsm which from the outset do not appear to be linked. The main protagonist is a novelist who has undergone a crisis of confidence and is now making a living ghost writing for vanity projects. The secondary characters are a mix of old school and new school journalists, who find they have a lot to learn from each other. The translator, Miranda France, has done a superb job in using language that feels utterly true to Buenos Aires (I mean, at least to me, having never been to South America, so what do I know?), without feeling forced or like there is a layer n front of the story. I will most certainly seek out other novels by this duo – but not in a row. Each novel shall have breathing room for itself.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North. This novel was highly, highly recommended by Dave. I think I have mentioned that we have very different preferences for reading, but when he makes a reco of something he thinks I'll enjoy, he's almost never wrong. This novel was another win for him. I guess you could describe it as a time travel story crossed with the movie Groundhog Day. Harry August is born, lives, and dies in the 20th Century. Then is born again, lives and dies again, in the same timeline repeatedly. Except in every new life he has the accumulated memories of previous lives. AMAZING concept. So the title is literal - the book tells the story of his first fifteen lives. It's a page turner.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. Last but not least is this sort-of-sympathetic retelling of the warring reign of King Edward IV from the perspective of his wife, the traditionally vilified Elizabeth Woodville and her family. (Those poor boys in the tower. More than 500 years later, and it's still heartbreaking.) Even knowing how it all turns out, I found the story engaging to read and I appreciated the strong female view of the world. If you don't know how it turns out, may I suggest the podcast Rex Factor? It's the no-effort, highly enjoyable way to get up to speed on all the kings and queens of England from Alfred the Great to Elizabeth the Second. As for me, I'm all caught up with episodes of the kings and queens of Scots and waiting for the next. Love it!