Monday, February 5, 2024

My January 2024 Reading

My favorites this month were The Violin Conspiracy; Harbour Street; Turning Pages, a publishing memoir; and a reread of Charlotte Fairlie.  Now that I am taking public transportation to work after several pandemic years of driving, my audiobook usage has declined but I can read actual books as I sit on the bus and subway.  It has been downright freezing waiting for them to arrive, however!

The Edge by David Baldacci (2023). I do enjoy Baldacci’s suspense novels but it is a bad sign if you don’t remember anything about a book just a month later! In fact, in this sequel to The 6:20 Man, former ex-Army Ranger Travis Devine is sent by the government to a small coastal town in Maine to investigate the murder of a CIA agent. Travis does not have as much personality as some of Baldacci’s protagonists, which is probably why it was relatively forgettable.

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves (2014) (audio). In the sixth Vera Stanhope mystery, her trusted Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth and his daughter are on a train when an elderly women is murdered several yards away. Vera and the team are convinced the case involves someone from Harbour Street where the victim lived but there are many secrets to be unraveled before the case is solved. Vera is happy to be distracted from shopping for the Secret Santa planned by her staff by a murder investigation.
The Couple in the Photo by Helen Cooper (2023). Lucy is appalled when a coworker’s holiday picture reveals a happily married friend with a strange woman. She agonizes about what to do – the obvious thing is to find out if it is really Scott – but that leads to danger for Lucy and her family. I found this fast-paced psychological thriller entertaining, with some unexpected twists. My review.

The Traitor by Ava Glass (2023). In this sequel to Alias Emma, which I really enjoyed, Emma goes undercover on a yacht in pursuit of a Russian oligarch. I didn’t find this as suspenseful as the first book and it was obvious who the bad guy was.
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb (2022). Ray McMillian is a gifted black violinist who is often treated as an outsider in the privileged world of classical music. When his violin is stolen weeks before the biggest competition of his life, Ray realizes bitterly there are many possible suspects. My mother enjoyed this book so much, she persuaded me and my sister Andrea to read it, then I had my book group read it in January. It was the rare book that everyone liked!  Review.


Maybe Next Time by Cesca Major (2023). London literary agent Emma has a terrible day at work, followed by a stressful volunteer committee meeting, neglecting her husband on their anniversary, and failing to notice her children are in trouble at school. When the day ends in disaster, Emma is devastated. But the next day she wakes up – and it’s Monday again. And she has chance to repair the previous day’s mistakes – or does she? This book was much hyped but I got tired of the characters and repetition.
Charlotte Fairlie by D.E. Stevenson (1954) (reread). Charlotte is the young, attractive – and lonely – headmistress of a girls’ school. When a new student tries to run away, Charlotte is reminded of her own adolescent angst and befriends her. Tessa then persuades Charlotte to visit her in Scotland over the summer holidays, which changes Charlotte’s life. My review.

Historical Fiction

Hazardous Spirits by Anbara Salam (2023). In this historical novel set in 1920s Edinburgh, a young couple’s life is changed when Robert Hazard tells his wife Evelyn he can communicate with ghosts. She is appalled but does find herself enjoying their new life, traveling around Scotland and being welcomed by the rich and powerful, although her discomfort at her husband’s enthusiasm for spirtualism continues to unnerve her. My review.

The Radcliffe Ladies Reading Club by Julia Bryan Thomas (2023).  I was looking forward to this book for months but it was extremely disappointing.  It focuses on four young women who are freshmen at Radcliffe in the 50s and an older woman who has just opened a bookshop nearby who befriends them.  It seems unlikely that freshmen new to Harvard would have time or interest in a book club but what I found offensive was the author's lack of research and abundance unpleasant characters.  Going to football games in dungarees when Radcliffe students weren't allowed to leave their dorms in pants!  Getting raped in a car by one's boyfriend's roommate (I suppose it could have happened but it seemed way too sensational).  Admittedly, I have the advantage over this author in being the daughter of two 50s alumni but she could easily have found someone from this era to proofread her manuscript for verisimilitude.  The final insult was that not one of the four makes it to sophomore year, although only one for the reason the author posits frequently - that they are only at Radcliffe to find a husband.  No, my Radcliffe Reading Group will not be reading this one!

Coach by Michael Lewis (2005). This novella is both a tribute to Lewis’ high school baseball coach in New Orleans and also a critique of the overprotective parents who think Coach Fitz’s character-building tough love is too much for their children to take.

Turning Pages: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Publisher by John Sargent (2023). I never worked with the charismatic John Sargent, former CEO of Macmillan, but enough of my friends did that I was curious about his memoir, which I greatly enjoyed. I think anyone interested in books would be entertained by his breezy descriptions of working with celebrities as well as the ordinary challenges of running a publishing business.

Children’s Books

A Spoonful of Time by Flora Ahn (2023). This is an appealing time travel novel intended for middle-graders in which Maya learns about her Korean culture by cooking – and time traveling – with her grandmother. My review.
Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall (2022). The shameful internment of Japanese Americans is a surprising topic for this lovely picture book but I hope elementary school teachers use it as a way to share this history. My review.

The Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum. In this sequel to The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman team up with a mischievous boy named Tip to find right rightful ruler of Oz. My family were big fans of the 14 Oz books so I was happy to join Lory from Enchanted the Enchanted Castle in her Ozathon24 readalong. My review.
Contemporary Romance

Bare It All by Lori Foster (2013 ). This was an extremely lame second in a romantic suspense series, with an unconvincing heroine and her swoony neighbor, a detective with a cute dog. I am not very impressed by this author although I do want to know how the series turns out . . .

Weekends With You by Alexandra Paige (2024). In this contemporary romance, an impecunious florist moves into a converted warehouse with a haphazard group of young people. Despite having little in common, they plan one weekend of low-budget activities every month to stay involved in each other’s lives. This concept was appealing but I found the two main characters too immature to care about much.
The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead (2023). Had I realized this was the same author as wrote The Last Housewife, which was vile, I would never have checked it out of the library. That would have been a pity because it was an entertaining book. Heroine Alexis (a cliched shy librarian with glasses) goes to a bar looking for a one night stand, stung by criticism by her ex, and encounters Logan, a handsome political candidate. When they are photographed together, his campaign staff asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend so people don’t dismiss him as a playboy. While pretending, Alexis develops a political conscience and start to develop her own voice. I liked Logan and his idealism but I was irritated by Alexis who did not keep her part of their bargain.


Cath said...

You seem to have had a few disappointments in January but that reading, eh? Win some, lose some.

Peter enjoys Baldacci, I've read a couple and liked them well enough but not enough to rush to library for more. Charlotte Fairlie I did like when I read it 4 or 5 years ago, loved that island! What a shame about the Radcliffe Ladies Reading Club.

I'm just coming to the end of Maiden Voyages, about women (passengers and staff) on the cruise/passenger liners between the wars and during. I now want to find something about Martha Gellhorn and Nancy Cunard, especially the former, what a remarkable life she must've led.

Katrina said...

I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who forgets the contents of some books fairly quickly. That looks like a good reading month for you, I really mean to start the Vera books, I feel I should do it in the correct order though.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I'm sold on Turning Pages! As for The Traitor, I totally agree and hope book 3 improves. I think what made Alias Emma so good was the intensity of the condensed timeline and forced intimacy of an extraordinary situation so I'm not sure how easy that is to replicate...but I'll stay hopeful!

thecuecard said...

Wow the Radcliffe novel seems like a real stinker! And to think it's from 2023. They should have had you read it beforehand, save them some grief. I don't like to catch factual errors in novels ... and it's weird when it happens. Otherwise you had a plentiful reading month.

TracyK said...

I will have to look into Maybe Next Time by Cesca Major. That type of plot appeals, but since it came out in 2023, I can wait awhile.

I did get a copy of Alias Emma last year after you reviewed it, and I look forward to reading it. Too bad you did not like the sequel so well.

I am sorry I missed your review of Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall because the topic interests me, but I agree with the point you made in your review that a picture book might not appeal to children old enough to understand the subject. Nevertheless, I will try to find a copy. The Kindle version is a reasonable price, although not under my normal limit.

I don't think it would bother me that the author did not get things about Radcliffe right (how would I know?), but I agree totally on wearing of pants on campus in the 50's. I went to college in 1966 and that year I had to wear shorts with a raincoat over it if I wanted to leave the dorm without a dress on. When I returned to college in 1968 or 1969, the ban on wearing pants on campus was gone.