I’ll Keep You Safe – Peter May (2018)

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I was just in the right mood for a mystery the other day so happened by the library (as one does), and picked up this Peter May mystery. I’m not that versed in mystery titles, but with the summer in full swing (hot), I was looking for a narrative set in a cold place.

This book, I’ll Keep You Safe, was set on the Island of Harris  in the Hebrides, so I was set for plenty of rain, wind and cooler weather. I’d vaguely heard of May as an author, but have seen his name in a wide variety of places, so checked this one out, title unknown. (It’s good to live on the edge now and then.)

This was a stand-alone mystery that features a young couple who have started their own independent tweed business, which after struggling for a while, suddenly takes off into the stratosphere when an (in)famous fashion designer picks their fabric for one of his fashion shows.

During one of these shows during Fashion Week in Paris, the husband of the couple goes to a business-related meeting, but gets killed when his car explodes from a bomb. Why is he killed? Who killed him? And what about his female passenger?

So the narrative builds from there, and plays with time, going into the past to show readers who the couple are, their history and up to the present. It’s not a really avant-garde approach to writing a story, but it does what it says on the tin (and this is a murder mystery after all).

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What was most curious to me (apart from the story which was great until the last couple of chapters – more on that later) was the fashion designer upon whom May must have based his character on. The fashion designer in the book is fashion’s bad boy – full of excess, abusive of both substances and his nearest and dearest. He is badly behaved and his contemporaries view him as the enfant terrible who produces amazing clothing shows that are full of theatrical and sartorial overload.

(The fact that there is a main character in this field also gives the author a reason to talk fashion lingo, of which there were quite a few words that I didn’t know. “Bumsters”, anyone? May does not wear his knowledge of fashion very lightly in places, as he kept making all his characters wear these bumsters. Can’t have been very warm in them there Hebrides!)

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Bumsters (low-rise jeans)

Doing some superficial on-line digging brought me to the realization that May must have based his fashion designer character on Alexander McQueen, an English designer in the 1990s and early 2000s. McQueen was known for excesses both on and off the stage, and, in fact, one of his own shows also featured tweed once Spring, so it was a match.

The designer in the story follows a similar career path as well, in that McQueen worked as chief designer from 1996-2001 at Givenchy, and then founded his own brand.

I wasn’t that familiar with Alexander McQueen, but he seems to have been a character, and his own tweed-based show seems to have met similar accolades from his contemporaries and the media. I am actually pretty curious as to how and why May based one of his main characters on this man.

I wonder what the trigger was for him (as the author) to pick McQueen? Looking at the author pic of May, he doesn’t look like a person who keeps up with high fashion but you never know…

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Peter May, the author.

So, the story rattles along at a fast pace, jumping between the small Hebrides island police and the Parisian police departments, both working hard to solve the car explosion. Was it a terrorist incident? Or was it personal?

As the tale starts to wind up, the clues narrow in and then, in the penultimate chapter (I think around there), May drops the hammer.

But when I learned who the murderer was, I was soooo cross as, to me, May had chosen a stereotypical and easy way out. I’m trying not to give you spoilers, but I was disappointed that the author had chosen this person as it just seemed to fall into a fairly typical male (sexual?) fantasy.

I honestly thought he could do better, specially considering that he has written and successfully published numerous books. Oh well. I enjoyed the rest of the book. 🙂

 

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The Halfway Point…

Goodness me. July already. It’s true that time flies as you get older…

It’s been a hot summer here in West Texas, and I should really be used to this as I’ve lived here a very long time now. However, I always forget just how high the temps can get (and for so long). We’re got another four months of heat, so it’s all in the pacing… 🙂

So – we’re halfway through the calendar year, and what do I have to show for it, reading-wise?

45 books in total for a total of 12,990 pages:

  • 24 fiction
    • Includes short story collections, poetry, and a play
  • 19 non-fiction
    • I’ve been on quite a biographical kick – 7 this year

I’ve also been placing a much stronger focus on reading books by (or about, but preferably both) persons of color and other marginalized groups. So nearly 50 percent of my total reads have fit under that category, so I’m happy with that.

I’m definitely going to continue to have that focus for the remainder of the year until, hopefully, I get to the point where it’s not a conscious decision to go out and seek POC authors. I still have to research it quite a bit right now to find overlapping titles.

I have found that one title will lead to another one really nicely sometimes, and I’m breaking new ground with quite a few authors, POC and otherwise. So that’s been fun.

February was African-American History Month here in the U.S., and I found loads of great reading those weeks. I met some new POC authors, and got quite a few TBR off the shelves and out of the door (to make more for new titles, naturally!)

And I’ve tried to throw in a few classics in at the same time: Native Son (Wright) and Go Tell It on the Mountain (Baldwin) were two notable titles that I was happy to read and complete (even if I wasn’t 100% sure that I understand the narrative – Mr. Baldwin, I’m looking at you.)

My summer is going very well. I’ve just finished that last summer session class (which I really enjoyed), and then this week, I start teaching my own summer class. This goes on for about a month, and then I’m on holiday with my mum and sister up there in Canada, eh? (Sorry, Canadians. Couldn’t resist it. I’m interested to see if Canadians do really say that a lot. I blame it on Mike Myers, really.)

We come back from that and then I’m off to Mexico to sit by the sea and do not much, and then it’ll almost be back-to-school time.

With lots of reading, movies and puzzle times, along with mucking about and weeding in the garden (which I love doing), it’s been pretty relaxing.

(I usually find weeding quite a meditative sport to do when it’s not one thousand degrees outside. This is a good thing as plants/weeds grow like crazy in the summer months.)

 

How’s summer (or winter) in your own world?

June 2018 reading review

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June was an interesting month for me. Started auditing that class which has been great fun.

It’s been forever since I’ve taken a summer school class and I had forgotten how intense and fast-paced they can be. I’ve learned a lot though so all is well.

Reading has continued apace. Despite what I said in the above paragraph about all the classwork, there has been some messing around time and so I’ve managed to read a few more books than usual.

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in June: 11. (Hooray for summer!)

Total number of pages read3,375 pages (av. 338).

Fiction/Non-Fiction7 fiction / 3 non-fiction; 0 plays. 1 DNF.

Diversity5 POC. 4 books by women (+  1 DNF by a woman).

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 6 library book, owned books and 1 e-book. (Not too shabby.)

Plans for July: Read lots. Read widely.

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The latest jigsaw puzzle… The blue sky is driving me nuts. It remains to be seen if these final pieces make it into the whole pic or whether it is put away as is. Whenever it stops being fun, I think. 🙂

 

Celia’s House – D. E. Stevenson (1943)

miCGYCEhFXfj911XXhSZ29gIn the library the other day, I found myself in the “S” section and cruising around, happened upon a D. E. Stevenson title, Celia’s House (1943). I’d been hoping for a Miss Buncle title or perhaps a Mrs. Tim Christie, but no dice on those. Instead, they did have this one and after having heard so many good things about Stevenson as an author, I took it home with me. Even more impressive: I picked it up the next day and then read it!

(You know how sometimes library books get shuttled home and then sit on a shelf for weeks unread until they need to go back, primarily because there’s little accountability for the books? No? Might just be me…!)

This title, Celia’s House, traces the history of a Scottish mansion through its owners via inheritance, and so the start of the novel introduces us to Celia, who’s actually an old lady by now. Celia is planning her will and decides that instead of the eldest son of her son inheriting the house (as would be more traditional in them days), she wants a not-yet born daughter called Celia to inherit the land.

This puts rather an onus onto the immediate family to actually go ahead and then produce this daughter, name her “Celia” (as the grandma expected), and then for this young Celia to grow up and get old enough to inherit. In the meantime, the old Celia dies,  and few others are told about the arrangement – neither the young Celia nor her elder brother (who would be the one more typically to inherit). And so, it’s a complete surprise to young Celia when she’s told at the end that she will inherit the mansion.

So, pretty basic story, pretty basic read, but saying that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. I did, for the most part. It’s a quiet domestic mid-century-ish novel that was pretty fun and fast to read. The only parts where I had trouble (in terms of not rolling my eyes) was in the early part of the novel where Stevenson matches her narrative style with the talking style of an 11-year-old boy. (That was a bit painful, but it stopped after a while.)

So, pretty straightforward read and would be up your alley if you’re searching for a domestic not-very-demanding novel about a fairly upper class family and their manor house. Lovely descriptions of the Scottish scenery and an overall pleasant way to spend a summer’s afternoon and evening.

Sometimes fluff is enough! 🙂

 

 

Whotcha reading?

61NR514KCRL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_So, although there is some significant messing around in my schedule right now, I’m also doing plenty of reading (naturally), and when I don’t have my nose working through the reading-through-the-whole-AP-style-book project, I’ve also been reading some fun stuff as well.

I tackled Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience (Chandra Prasad, ed.) another collection of short stories, this time from the perspective of living a multiracial experience, and this was pretty good. It seemed a stronger collection than my earlier short story experience, and it was so interesting (to me) that the one common concern for the authors in this collection was the life-long question of identity. If one is of a multiracial family, where does one really belong? It seems to be a very frequent and real challenge for people who have different parents from different ethnicity groups, primarily because (I think) people feel like they have to pick “sides” in terms of a racial identity.

So, some great stories in this collection from writers with all kinds of backgrounds, POC and otherwise. I enjoyed this read.

51RcFw8xmTL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I did a fast (and very funny) read of Nina Stibbe’s novel, A Man at the Helm (2014). Such a hilarious book, primarily because the author seems to have lived a lot of the same experiences as I had as a child, and so she cracks me up. I’ve enjoyed her other book, Love Nina (2013), a fiction (?) collection of letters that she sent to her parents when she was doing her first nanny job, and there’s one more fiction title out there somewhere that I’m going to track down. I just love Stibbe’s writing. (Ooh. Just found another  title (An Almost Perfect Christmas (2017)…) I’ll add it to the list…)

I tried to read Toni Morrison’s novel, Paradise but wow. It was so confusing, and even though I got about halfway through the book, I still hadn’t the foggiest idea who some of the characters were, so I admitted defeat. Strange as I’ve loved Morrison’s other work: Sula (1973), Beloved (1987), and Jazz (1992), but there you go. Can’t have a home run every time.  (Actually, this title (Paradise) was the last title in the Beloved trilogy (consisting of Beloved, Jazz and Paradise), so I’m not quite sure why I found it to be so confusing… It might have been my Monkey Mind to blame.  🙂 )

And then, non-fiction-wise, I’m close to finishing By the Lake of Sleeping Children, a non-fiction read of work by Luis Alberto Urrea (whose work I tend to adore as can be seen here (review of The Devil’s Highway [NF 2004], here (review of Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexico Border) [NF 1993} and here (review of novel Into the Beautiful North [F 2009]). This particular title is about the time Urrea spent getting to know the people (and the society) who end up living in this huge rubbish dump on the border of Mexico and the U.S. near San Diego.

Stuck between two different countries and with no way out, Urrea shows how hard their lives can be, as well as how they can find some small joy throughout their time. It’s an astonishing read as you know these folks have the same goals of life as anyone else: good health, worthy employment, happy relationships but how to achieve those goals when you are the poorest of the poor? What would be your escape?

The good thing about Urrea’s writing is that he doesn’t write down about these families, and he doesn’t pity them. He treats everyone with equal respect and although their lives may be very very hard, there is no sentimental approach to his descriptions of their day-to-day activities. It’s very neutral and balanced, and I really appreciated that.

So that’s the summer so far… I hope you’re having an awesome summer as well. 🙂

The Best American Short Stories 1999 – Amy Tan (ed.)

file-3I’m usually not the biggest fan of short stories, but I’m making an effort to read them because so many people actually do love them and so I’m trying to see if perhaps my (limited) view could be swayed somewhat. I could be wrong. (Shock. Gasp. 🙂 )

It’s hard to go astray with any of the titles in the book series, “The Best American FILL-IN-THE-BLANK”, usually published each year and edited by a notable author who curates all the selections inside each edition. There are books that celebrate travel writing (see 2000 [Bill Bryson], 2011 [Sloane Crosley] and 2016 [Andrew McCarthy*]), science and nature writing, short stories, and others and although they have a tendency to be heavily rich white male in their offerings (through design or accident), you can usually steer your way through that by your choice of who the book editor is. For example, this one was edited by Amy Tan which, to me, ups the odds of there being a more diverse selection of writings inside.

(It’s not always true to form, and there are some (white male) editors who choose a diverse selection and vice versa, but generally speaking, the older the edition the more likely it is to be a white European-centric volume.)

All that to say, I enjoyed this anthology and Amy Tan’s selections. As with any collected volume of works, there are going to be some hits and misses, but on the whole, this was a good selection of writing and a good read. Tan has curated a collection that’s pretty evenly split between male and female authors, but for some reason, it’s heavily swayed towards white people (16 out of 21 stories had white authors).

This has got me wondering whether this emphasis on white authors is primarily because most of the stories that the guest editor in question is going to read (or find) are those from authors who have already published their work (in literary journals and/or similar).

This seems to be common as many authors are (or have been) caught up in the engine of grad school writing programs (the “publish or perish” syndrome) — students are rewarded by high grades from profs (majority of whom are traditionally older white males) who think “this student writes just like me and it’s awesome!” So it’s like a vicious cycle of some kind and since grades are almost everything in grad school, no one wants to rock their own boat too hard so they stick to the “same old same old” as it’s the safest way to get through class…

Hear me out on this theory (and it’s only a theory): For most people, going to grad school is only possible, really, if you have some money/time to spare, and so I’m wondering if the low diversity numbers are due to the fact that disproportionately high numbers of POC simply do not have the luxury of that choice to attend a grad school with prestigious authorial faculty (even more $$$) and so on up the educational pipeline. Poorly-funded school systems also tend to disproportionately impact minority and under-represented kids (which means that the kids might not have the same academic or other support system)…

I don’t know, but just thought it was interesting to ponder for a while. What do you think?

Back to the book: Diversity-wise, this anthology included work from a Dominican-American, someone who is Chinese-American, an Indian-American, a professorial type from Tibet (now living in the US), and a guy from Bosnia (now also living in the US).) Perhaps I should be wise to remember that the title of the series is the “Best American….” !!

Of the stories that I liked, I thoroughly enjoyed the work of Lorrie Moore (whose work I will be searching for more to read), and then I thought that the others were all a bit same-y in the end, although they were a nice same-y.

Therein lies the biggest problem for me with regard to short stories: since most tend to be generated either during or after going through grad school writing programs, the authors are taught to write in a certain way to get the “A” grades, that certain way being determined by the students’ professors who also have previously also spent their time in the grad school engine and so it’s a big self-feeding circle in the end.

I could be wrong with this pondering, and this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the read. I did, especially when I was exposed to very different authors than my usual choices. Perhaps that was what was challenging: that some of these stories were very different in both structure and form than my typical fare. And yet, I’m usually ok with post-modern endings, inventive structural decisions and other experimental offerings. That I finished the whole book would support that I enjoyed the majority of the read. I’m just contemplating what my expectations were in contrast with the final product.

Whatever the reason(s), in the end this was a thoughtful read that led me down plenty of other rabbit holes on-line. It’s always good to learn, and this title certainly helped to expose me to different authors and approaches.

I wonder if you (as the reader) have a similar experience of “same-y” when you read a book of short stories all written by the same author. (Toddles off to the TBR shelves to see what else I have…)

(This title is off the TBR pile. Go me. 🙂 )

  • The very same Andrew McCarthy who acted in John Hughes’ inimitable Breakfast Club from the 1980’s. He’s all growed up now. 🙂 )

Playing around…

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Source: Shutterstock

Summer is here in every way, shape and form now we are in June. It’s fairly common to have multiple days of more than a hundred degrees as the high temperature, and I’m hoping that the oncoming weeks will bring us some more rain. (We live in a semi-arid desert region and most of the rain tends to fall around now. However, climate change (even the one invented by China 🙂 ) seems to be impacting that, so we’ll see. ETA: We had rain!!

The laid-back summer vibe continues apace, and it’s a very nice pace indeed. What have I been up to? Well, frankly, not much, and that’s fine with me.

Reading, naturally, has been happenin’ but since I’m spending a lot of time away from the computer screen, I think I’m just going to do some briefer round-up summary reviews instead of the in-depth ones. You won’t mind, will you? 🙂

I have been focusing more on the TBR pile, trying to make some inroads on that (**dry cough**), and I had a fun read of Famous American Plays of the ’40s (Henry Hewes, ed.). I’m not a drama expert in any way but I do rather like reading (and seeing plays) and I’ve had pretty good luck with this series (Famous American Plays of NAME the DECADE). Admittedly, the selections do tend to be very white and male, but you need to start somewhere, right? (Another good collection of plays (this time the 1950s/early 60s) is Six American Plays for Today edited by Bennet Cerf, in case you’re looking for something with variety.)

So this anthology of plays from the 1940s contained the following titles:

  • Home of the Brave – Arthur Laurents (1945)
  • All My Sons – Arthur Miller (1947)
  • Lost in the Stars – Maxwell Anderson (1949)
  • The Member of the Wedding – Carson McCuller (1950).

Three out of four were memorable, so that’s not too bad considering that I was familiar with approximately zero of these works of drama, and I enjoyed the read for the most part. Good find at the old FoL sale one year. I think I have a couple more of these titles (Famous Plays of the DECADE), so will pull them off the shelf at some point. I’m trying to make them last though. 🙂

(Linked with plays and drama, we also went to a showing of Ripcord (by David Lindsay-Abaire) at our local am-dram community theater. I love going to these things…Incredibly unlikely that I will ever get up on stage, but I have a good time from the audience seats watching others who are braver than I go up on stage.)

I also hit up a YA poetry book, Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (2014) which was great. If you have any younger readers who quake at the thought of poetry, this would be a good introduction as the poetry is approachable and in free verse. It describes the childhood and adolescence of a young girl growing up in the north and with family in the south. Excellent read. Woodson has written quite a bit of YA stuff, so more to chase down at some point.

Picked up a more light-hearted title called The Diary of Hendrick Groen Aged 83 3/4 by an anonymous author. This is rather like an OAP version of Bridget Jones’ Diary – epistolary, funny, dry sense of humor. It tracks a year of OAP Groen as he moves into an old people’s home and makes friends and has adventures. Pretty funny. (It’s a Dutch book, I believe. Same sort of vein as A Man Called Ove, if you’ve read that one.)

Read a rather oblique and graduate-school-mill book by Amit Chaudhuri (2000), Freedom Song. Actually, this title (Freedom Song) contains three different novels inside its pages, but I only read one. As I didn’t really connect with the characters in this first story, I’ve ripped off the bandage and moved the book to the donate pile without reading the other two selections. (Woo hoo. Another off the TBR pile and out of the house!)

I think that those are most of the titles I’ve read since last I reviewed a book on this here ol’ blog, so I think that brings us up to speed now. More reading to come, no doubt…

And remember that jigsaw puzzle that I was working on a few days ago? Here is its most recent progress photograph:

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DH describes me as a crackhead in terms of just how addicting these puzzles can be. Oh my….

 

“No more teachers, no more school…”

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(That title may be somewhat obscure, but it is a reference to the song by Alice Cooper which details the delights of reaching summer holidays for schoolchildren. If you need a memory prod, try it here. It’s not the Glee one. 🙂 )

With May also under our belts, it means that the university’s semester is completed, grades are in and now, for the first time, I get to enjoy (and appreciate) faculty summer. I’m fortunate to have a contract which states that I only have to go to the office one day/week (for some meetings, really – the lifeblood of the professional life). And so, the next three months seem to be full of promise and opportunity. (The only time that I’ve ever had such a stretch of free time was during unemployment, and you just can’t enjoy it then.)

Plans for the summer include auditing a class for Summer I (if it makes with enough students), teaching a class for Summer II, and then it will be the autumn and time for classes to start up once more for a brand new school year. I have a writing conference to go to in July, and probably a trip somewhere sometime with my mum and sister, but there’s mostly free time for me to with as I wish. What an awesome present to have!

I’ve been reading, naturally. I seemed to have hit a bit of a reader’s block towards the end of the semester, but that is now sorted out, and I’ve popped to the library to pick up one or five alluring titles. I also owe you guys a couple of reviews… In the meantime, here is my loot from the library:

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It’s good to have choices… 

Victoria and Abdul – Shrabani Basu (2010) NF about a friendship between Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, a servant from India who was waiting tables at a celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. (Lots of scandal, apparently.)

Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience – Chandra Prasad (ed.) (2006) F. I’ve tried this one, but it didn’t stick. Maybe another time…

Diana: In Search of Herself – Sally Bedell Smith (1999) NF. (This was related to my viewing the Royal wedding the other day…) I’ve read a couple of other titles (The Queen and Prince Charles) by this author so hoping this one will be as good.

Mankiller: A Chief and her People – Wilma Mankiller (1993) NF. Mankiller is (was?) the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation and this is described as an autobiography of the tribe itself.

Paradise – Toni Morrison (1997) F. (Loved Morrison’s other reads so far: Jazz, Beloved, Sula…)

Extraordinary American Indians – Susan Avery and Linda Skinner (1992) NF. This is a juvenile read but I was looking for a general overview of First Peoples in the US, and this title came up.

And of course, I have all these great titles from which to choose, so what do I read? Something on my Kindle: Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. Noah is the host of The Daily Show and has an interesting story to tell. His childhood was pretty rough when he was growing up in South Africa, and although he’s not the best writer in the world, he has a good story to tell.

Oh, and then I was in the mood for some short stories and trawled my TBR to find the 1999 edition of the Best American Short Stories (edited by Amy Tan). Enjoying these, but I think it’s best if I don’t read them one after the other. I need to take a break from these or they become a bit same-y when they’re really not. (My fault. I accept it.)

And we saw the sequel to Deadpool yesterday. My advice: save your money. :-}

And in the afternoons when it’s actually too hot to go outside and be productive, I have started a jigsaw puzzle. Fun times!

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ETA: Oh dear god. This is a hard one. What was I thinking? 

Cold Weather Reads for the Hot Season (at least here in Texas!)

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The temperatures here in West Texas are creeping up and have hit the typical numbers now, which means hot, hot, and more hot. I’m not the biggest fan of these never-ending hot and dry days, but luckily for me, I don’t have to work in the cotton fields or live in a house without air-conditioning. 🙂

It still doesn’t take the fact away that the days here can get really warm, and so I thought it might help keep us cool if I put together a reading list of books that feature cold weather in some way. (Cold and wet would be even better! You can take the girl out of England, but you can’t take the England out of the girl, as they say.)

So, here are a few suggested titles from both the blog and my TBR that might do the trick for cooling down your internal thermometer:

Antarctica would be a good place to start, so how about a read of the riveting adventure of Captain Scott and his fatal expedition at the turn of the twentieth century? Apsley Cherry-Garrard has The Worst Journey in the World, a two-volume diary that details almost every step of the way and is an adventure classic that is hard to put down. You can almost shiver in sympathy at these poor men who follow an almost despotic leader across iceburgs with completely inadequate equipment and training. (Volume l and Volume II). Another angle would the biography of Apsley Cherry Garrard called simply Cherry (TBR).

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If your goal is general survival, try Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why by Laurence Gonzales (TBR) as it looks like it has some useful tips based on research, but if you’d rather look at a slightly warmer (and more civilized) trip across some wilderness, you could try Mary Bosanquet’s Saddlebags to Suitcases, where she details her time crossing some of Canada on horseback back in the 1930’s/1940’s. It’s still cool, but more summertime cool.

If you’re interested in history and the pioneer life (since it can get pretty cold in a log cabin or sod house), Timothy Egan’s Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West looks good (TBR), and I know that Dayton Duncan’s Miles from Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier (1993) is excellent.

If you’d prefer to look at pioneer things through a  family saga perspective, you could always read the classic, Giants of the Earth by O.E. Rolvagg (1927) which has some cold parts of it. (Clearly, since the story is placed on the northern plains of the U.S. in a log cabin…)

Speaking of living a domestic life for pioneers, another good read (this time a how-to book) is The American Woman’s Home by Catherine Beecher Stowe and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869), an excellent guide for first-time explorers which tells you how to survive both the hot and the cold if you’re building a new life and a log cabin on the plains.

db035d32e6865b0673e873457270f2c5Another good pioneer perspective (including a difficult winter or two), this time from a very cheerful and optimistic newcomer, is The Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart (1914) or you could return to old faithfuls such as The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940). Or even the NF book, The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin (2004) (TBR) which tells the tale of how a group of children got lost during a blizzard in America’s heartland back in the 1880’s.

Speaking of bleak weather, if you’d like to travel with a man and a boy during the aftermath of a tremendous event, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is as unrelenting a read as the bad weather and bad luck for these characters. (That’s a toughie to read, IMHO.)

On the other hand, if your plans are more “travel-around-the-world-with-servants” style, and you need some non-fiction to know *exactly* what to pack, try the Victorian travel book, The Art of Travel by Francis Galton (1854) . (So. Much. Stuff. But that’s ok as you’re not the one carrying it. :-} )

DQWqwPVXkAAFMF5Perhaps your plans include a journey via the Himalayas, so you could have an enjoyable journey with Michael Palin when he went there: Himalaya (2004) is a book about his travels there one year.

Another true adventure book that gets a bit cold is The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz (TBR) which follows the truly amazing journey of seven prisoners of war who escape from a Soviet labor camp and travel across Siberia, China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet and over the Himalayas to British India in 1941. (Also the related film tells their story and is called “The Long Way Back” (2010) if you’re more of a film buff.)

And if you’d rather take a look at the Russian side of the world, Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe (1968) is a riveting quick read about how one Polish family survives as prisoners in Siberia around the start of WWII.

If you’d like to get away from almost everything, I’ve heard it gets a bit cold out in space, so you could always refer to Chris Hadfield’s lovely book about his life as an astronaut, The Astronaut’s Guide to Life (2013)… (or Mary Roach’s pretty hilarious Packing for Mars…)

For a rather different take on life on English moors, try The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe (1959) , a collection of short stories by one of the more recognizable names of The Angry Young Men movement in mid-century England.

Or you could venture out onto the cold and rainy moors with The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901)  or perhaps another of the many Sherlock Holmes titles. (They usually involve some cold places of one kind or another.)

More cold-weather crime is via Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries, a collection of stories edited by Martin Edwards as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. And don’t forget Dame Agatha Christie who has some cold reads, Murder on the Orient Express being one of the more obvious choices.

You might prefer to go more on the domestic route with some dreary weather, so perhaps The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearne by Brian Moore (1954) or a quick WWII domestic read of 1939’s Mrs. Miniver (Jan Struthers). You know what? The gritty Irish trilogy that starts with The Girl with Green Eyes (Edna O’Brien, 1962) or maybe the trilogy that starts with The L-Shaped Room by Lynn Reid Banks (also published in the 1960s) might hit the spot since that’s rather a cold book (re: temperature) at times. There’s also a sequel to that as well: The Backward Shadow (1970) and that’s followed by the final title, Two is Lonely (TBR). (These titles are also known as the “Jane Graham” series…) Just sayin’. Sometimes you want dreary, amiright?

For a snowy and slightly scary story, don’t forget that Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)  has some chilly moments in it as well, as does The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1896).

Peter Hessler has written several NFs about life in rural China, so perhaps start with River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze about his time teaching in a small rural town, although there are several titles from which to choose. It has some cold scenes in it.

Similar (in that both places can be cold) but different would be a read of Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2010) of life for the typical person in North Korea. Brr. Hungry, poor and cold? No thank you.

If you’re not quite sure where exactly you’d like to go to get cooler, any of the prestigious America’s Best… volumes can take you almost anywhere you’d like, with travel writing collected and edited by a variety of authors (including Bill Bryson (2000) , Elizabeth Gilbert (2013), William Vollman (2012)   etc.)  These collections typically contain a mix of climates as part of their writing selections (although they can sometimes lack diversity in the author selections)…

Finally, for the more science-y folks, you could learn more about the amazing snowflake and see some stunning photography, in The Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrechrt and Patricia Rasmussen (2003).  This title even makes some parts of physics comprehensible and fascinating… (And that’s me saying that from the perspective of dropping physics and chemistry when I was 12 years old. If I can understand it from my non-science background, it’s probable that you will as well. Plus – great photography.)

So, there you go. Some wintery reads for you if you’re stuck with hot temperatures. Hope that helps (or at least guides the way for) you if you’re sweltering…!

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Swabbing the Decks…

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It’s been a while since I’ve had the need to do a “swabbing the decks” kind of post, but it’s come around again. This type of post is just for me to catch up with some of the titles that I’ve been, the titles that perhaps don’t really warrant an individual post of their own. It doesn’t mean that these particular titles are not good. Au contraire. Most of the time, it’s because the books haven’t triggered any great thoughts or debate for me, but they are still good all the same.

I’ve just finished two quick but enjoyable reads of a couple of the Miss Read books, Friends of Thrush Green (1987) and The School at Thrush Green (1991). I do enjoy these rather mellow narratives where the most vexing thing is usually that the tea was luke-warm and perhaps a newcomer arrives in the village.

They’re just enjoyable chillaxing kinda books and ideal for very hot days (as we have been having) where you’re taken over by lassitude and end-of-the-semester fatigue and don’t really want to think that hard. I don’t know if I could plough through all the Miss Read novels one after the other, but as a refresher between books, they work a treat.

TV-wise, we’re finishing up the latest season of “Better Call Saul”, the spin-off of “Breaking Bad”, which we have loved. It’s probably going to lead to us re-watching the “Breaking Bad” series now that we have learned this prior (and parallel) storyline. So good…

The big thing is what to read next? The eternal question for any reader….