August 17, 2020
For some reason, I would have thought that I would be getting more read during the great plague of 2020… but I’m still doing quite a bit of reading!
And I’ve got a STACK of things waiting for me…
Let’s talk about what we’re reading, what we’ve got on our lists, shall we?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I for some odd reason decided to re-read BOTH Dorothy Dunnett series – The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolo. The Lymond Chronicles come first – not chronologically, but logically. It makes very little sense, since Lymond is supposed to be an ancestor of Niccolo, but I’m not going to argue with anybody who can write novels like this!
The Lymond Chronicles are SIX novels, and House of Niccolo is EIGHT. And these aren’t just easy-reading leisure romance novels – they’re both historically set, the main characters do a TON of traveling, and they’re very politically involved. Frankly, I have to recommend the research companion books that help you understand the history, the odd Latin phrase, and other difficult oddities that crop up.
Despite all of that, I enjoyed these the first time I read them (when we lived in Ireland) and I’m enjoying them even more now. My ONLY criticism has to be that both of these men are a disaster with women; their relationships with their wives is fraught with stupid behavior and misunderstandings…
And oh yes, both heroes are quite a bit larger than life!
I’m not quite sure what I’m going to read after I’ve finished off Mr. Niccolo… Probably The New Paris, by Lindsey Tramuta. I’ve already dipped into this at great length, and I’m loving it.
For those of us who love Paris, there’s often an ongoing conflict between the traditional old-school Paris of our dreams and the more updated, constantly changing and improving city of young people who are innovating in the areas of food, beverage, and design. Ms. Tramuta addresses this conflict beautifully, and brings us into the lives and work of a lot of these young people, with the result that we understand the changes that we’re seeing, and enjoy and appreciate them.
It’s delightful to note that Belovedest and I have been to a lot of the restaurants and bars that she recommends; I don’t know if this is because my sweetheart is just naturally in tune to the innovations of the young, or because he was born hip!
The photographs alone are enough to make you weep with homesickness for Paris…
I also have her newest book, The New Parisienne, on my stack. I think it’s the same general idea, only focusing on women in Paris. I expect to love it!
It might be smart of me to read The Great Influenza, if only to see if I can glean some insights into our current situation, and perhaps find some encouragement or lessons. At a minimum, it will remind me that this has happened before, and will happen again…
I’m also pretty excited about Color by Victoria Finlay. I enjoyed The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair, (which I bought in Paris, read in 2 days, and then gave to Susan at Une Femme…)and I suspect that this book is going to be somewhat similar. Color is such an interesting and elusive part of our lives; learning more about their history and the way in which they’ve been perceived through time is great fun for those of us who spend a LOT of time looking at teeny little color variations!
Oh, so MUCH to read! I’m a sucker for anything about spies, so MI6 by Stephen Dorril is going to be a happy romp of super-secret spy stuff… I will love every word, I’m already quite confident!
And I’m a mad fan of Simone de Beauvoir; I don’t know how I’ve never read Wartime Diary? I thought I’d read everything she wrote! If this is a repeat, I won’t mind; I seldom re-read things, but anything by her is a good candidate, if only to see what nuances and subtleties I missed the first time through…
And one book that I do dip into from time to time is Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. It is, indeed, about getting rid of stuff. But this isn’t your mother’s “does it spark joy” kind of decluttering book – this guy means GOODBYE THINGS! Some of the people in this book get rid of nearly everything that they own. Not my current goal, but it’s still fascinating (and edifying) to see how simply some people can live…
Oh yeah – I still have my Michael Collins biography by Tim Pat Coogan to read! Holy moly….
So what are you reading, during these long days with lots of spare time?
p.s. Seven years ago, I was working my way through what I thought of as The ABC’s of The Vivienne Files – it was a way for me to focus on what I thought I was trying to accomplish. They’ve stood the test of time pretty well!
Not surprisingly, I have read Goodbye Things. Loved it.
Also, I am rereading the Nero Wolfe series. And have just discovered Terry Pratchett. Quite fun!
May Keeling says
It’s so interesting that you re-read the Lymond Chronicles! I read those years ago, and loved the series although I was often baffled by the history. It would be fun to re-read. I have wondered if they would hold up over time. You encourage me to seek them out again.
My guilty Pandemic pleasure was to read all 6 of Jane Austen’s novels, for the first time.
Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoires. In French. My degree is in French but I haven’t really READ in French for about 20 years. Alot of new vocabulary!
I usually read a lot, but recently I’ve been distracted, so I wrote myself a so-many-pages-a-day prescription.
I read Sasaki’s book a couple of years ago. Here’s a quote I liked:
“By thinking of myself as just another human being, my perspective of others has also changed…I can now meet people who own a lot of things or are blessed with enormous talent without feeling embarrassed about myself…Rich or poor, famous or ordinary, we’re all just human beings who come into contact with one another.”
A Gentleman in Moscow—about a person locked down for many years and a life in isolation. Incredibly charming. It was on President Obama’s reading list—always a good source of intelligent and enjoyable reads.
Yup, loved it! And loved looking at pictures of the real hotel and Moscow at that time on the internet!
I’ve been reading a lot, too. My fave so far: Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees. If you like spy thrillers and post-war history with some recipes thrown in, this is for you!
I’ve been reading – and re-reading – a LOT during the last 5 months. I can definitely recommend:
* anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, which I suppose might be termed “historical fantasy”. Most of his novels take place in fictional settings that resemble real places during real historical periods. The Lions of Al-Rassan, for instance, is set in what might sort of be Spain during the time of El Cid, or the 2-book series Sailing to Sarantium / Lord of Emperors set in Constantinople during the time of Justinan. Many books, ALL worthwhile, and omg can that man write well.
* for mystery fans: Dorothy Sayers (Peter Wimsey books, set in England between the wars), or Amanda Cross (Kate Fansler books, set in New York, 1960/70s) or the 4 exquisite novels by Sarah Caudwell, centered on the lives of a group of young barristers practicing in Lincoln’s Inn and narrated by a Hilary Tamar, a professor of medieval law (whose gender is never revealed), who also acts as detective. Or for those who like harder mysteries, Harry Bingham, who has 6 mystery novels featuring Welsh Fiona Griffiths, and that 5th book – the Dead House – still haunts my nightmares.
* science fiction: start with The Price of the Stars, by Debra Doyle and James MacDonald, and go on from there. Space opera in 7 satisfying books. Or check into another author duo: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, who have written more than 20 character-driven novels set in a consistent universe. Scout’s Progress is one of my favorites – combine Jane Austen with SF, and you’ll be right there.
* fantasy: Laura Anne Gilman, the Devil’s West: start with Silver on the Road, set in a late 1800s West that never was. Ellen Kushner: Swordspoint and The Privilege of the Sword, the most stylish cloak-and-swordsman books you will ever find.
* and one that I can only describe as “Canterbury Tales on the NASCAR circuit”: St. Dale, by Sharyn McCrumb. There are 2 sequels – Once Around the Track, and Faster Pastor, and they are all totally worthwhile.
Sally in St Paul says
I didn’t know there were sequels to St. Dale! That was such a fun book…I think I need to re-read it and then give the sequels a go.
Ditto Sarah Caudwell – they’re wonderful.
More mystery recommendations: Early in the lockdown, when I felt very depressed, I read the entire Hilary Greene series (author Faith Martin) – all 18 books. She’s such a refreshing detective, a very down-to-earth, no-nonsense but successful woman.
Anne Robinson says
Oh, I’m a huge fan of Guy Gavriel Kay! I have just completed reading all of his books and have read some of them loads of times. My favourite is Tigana, followed by the Lions of Al-Rassan. Since I had a stroke, I can’t read print books any more, so I am buying all of GGK’s as ebooks – waiting for good deals!
On the basis that I love Guy Gavriel Kay and Dorothy L Sayers I think I need to pursue the rest of your list. Unfortunately I have not actually got spare time at the moment…
Sheila Harden says
I’ve been rereading as well…. Anne Bishop: The Others (series) and The Black Jewels (series) total fantasy, and nothing you have to think too hard about. More gritty are my James Lee Burke Robicheaux series and Michael Connelly Bosch series…..detectives.
Sally in St Paul says
I had never read the Bosch series so I started it a few months ago and am enjoying it.
If you like spy stories then “The Lost Girls Of Paris” is perfect for you. Based on true story about girls trained to aid allies in France.
Currently inhaling “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” – it’s WONDERFUL.
I read that color book a long time ago, when I was studying color at FIT. I did NOT like it. She would present some research, and then go off on these flights of fancy, “I imagine that…” and the next whole section would be entirely made up. I found it really frustrating to read, because the reporting and the fiction are all mixed up.
I read Goodbye Things fairly recently, and I found it interesting, but ultimately that lifestyle is not for me.
I didn’t know there was a companion research book for the Lymond series. I translated all that Latin and French myself and researched the references–this was back in the early 70s, I think. Maybe I’ll buy that research book and reread.
I think there are 2 companion books – 1 for Lymond and 1 for Nicholas. But I’m not positive – I didn’t have the good sense to get some help until AFTER I finished Lymond…
These are really fascinating, in a way unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
Hi Janice! I’ve been thinking about the Weekly Timekess Wardrobe and thought I’d ask if you would consider doing a post on one of these ideas:
What you can do with a WTW…adding whappage! Ideas for dressing it up.
Or, maybe the WTW with shoes as a focus?
And I must admit, I’m starving for a black, white, and bright post again…I enjoy all the old posts, but wonder if there is something that you could do with that theme and the WTW? It just makes my heart sing when I see those colors together, and Im realizing that my clothes are my expression of art…
Sally in St Paul says
My favorite historical novels are the seafaring tales of Patrick O’Brian (Jack Aubrey series) and C. S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower series). It might be time to revisit them…with the useful O’Brian companion book A Sea of Words at my side.
For what it’s worth I started the pandemic by reading all the Sue Grafton novels in order. I’m now on the final one and not sure where to turn (emotionally or literarily)…
There’s always the Brother Cadfael series: quite a few in that one.
Have you read Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. They are a bit intense, but the settings are lovely, the characters are quirky, and the food…!
Joanne Long says
I’ve just finished Donna Leon’s Unto Us A Son is Given. (Venice) If you like Roddy Doyle, Love is the story of two older men who meet after many years in a Dublin pub. I enjoy Lost in Cheeseland so I should read Lindsey’s books. (Paris) I’m practising my oral French each day by reading an ancient Pierre Loti book (Britanny) that belonged to my great-great aunt who was an Irish woman who lived in France. Who says we can’t travel?
Oh – I went through a spell during which I read ALL of the Donna Leon books! I used to visit Venice a lot (I knew a man there…) and her descriptions are so perfect; you could seriously use her books for directions around town. That’s saying something, since Venice is a maze…
Very lately I’ve been reading Art and Public History: Approaches, Opportunities, and Challenges for my new internship. It’s really fascinating! I’ve also read about restoration art and other types of art made for public history—google Mining the Museum, a groundbreaking exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society in the 90s. It’s fascinating to see how public historians and artists are coming together to reexamine the way we tell history—and what histories we tell.
Other than that, I read an AMAZING article about the origins of bagels, lox, and cream cheese in 1920s New York City. At the end, when the author went into punchy detail about how other theories were wrong, it was just *chef’s kiss* beautiful.
Beth T says
Wow, we could start a Library with all these suggestions. I’ll certainly be investigating some new authors.
I’ll throw my suggestions into the ring. I love well-researched historical novels that are accurately set in time and place.
Phillipa Gregory novels which have also been serialized for TV. One of her more academic books is called the Cousins War about the Wars of the Rose’s.
Alison Weir – historical novels but a lot of research and learning.
She-Wolves:England’s Queens before Elizabeth by Helen Caston. Not a novel but a well-researched book of the stories of the lesser known Queens of England who governed in place of their husbands who were at war.
SJ Parris – Giordano Bruno series – based on the true stories of a monk charged with heresy but recruited by Elizabeth 1 to go undercover. Tudor spy thrillers. Well researched. He’s also younger and fitter than Brother Caedfel!
CJ Sansom – Shardlake series – big thick books. Hunchback Tudor solicitor investigating crimes for the Crown. Very well researched with accurate place descriptions and often involving real events like the Pilgrimage of Grace and Kett’s Rebellion. Well-drawn maps allow the modern reader to trace the steps of the stories on the ground – my hairdresser does!
Tracey Chevalier – good reads on a variety of historical people – real and fictional.
Deborah Moggagoch – Tulip Fever
The Miniturist – 17th century Dutch gothic novel – dark and mysterious.
Jane Austen – should be re-read annually. You will notice little details, nuances and humour that you didnt notice last year. We watched the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice – serialized weekly as it was originally. It’s hilarious.
At the other end of the scale, I will admit to enjoying the simple escapism of ‘Chick Lit’ – often akin to modern day Pride and Prejudice plot lines. Favourite authors are: Isabel Wolff and Katie Fforde – I have almost all their books! My sister-in-law introduced me to a new author Jenny Colgan for my birthday. I suspect that she had limited choice for my lockdown birthday present – whatever was available in her local supermarket!
I also like Rosie Thomas books – romance and travel combined.
I buy a lot of my books in charity shops so it’s a good way to try new authors or fill gaps in my collections without spending a lot.
When I worked in a public library, one of the common requests was for similar authors. We used to have a booklet – now I just look at Amazon suggestions, though I rarely buy through it.
If I want to get serious, then I choose books on local and social history to broaden my understanding of the lives and times of my ancestors. My husband recently bought me a copy of the account of a journalist sent to investigate the industrial and textile towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire (UK) in the 1840’s. It was grim reading of poverty and squalor, terrible working conditions, child labour etc etc. Then I remembered that my ancestors lived in the areas the journalist had described as ‘not fit for pigs’….
Rosie Thomas – Strangers was a book that absolutely made me SOB every time I read it… I have no idea why, but I will remember that book until my last minute on earth. Wow – I am tempted to re-read it, but I’m afraid that it will have lost it’s impact, and that would be sad…
Beth T says
The first book I read by her was the Kashmir Shawl. Her description of the processes by which the shawls were made and the design of the exquisite patterns were so vivid that I could almost see and feel them. I can’t really remember the rest of the story but that impression will stick.
A good writer brings your imagination to life.
I would like to recommend “Doomsday Book” from Connie Willis (science fiction). It’s a bit peculiar, historical, funny, but also very thrilling and emotional. I can’t reveal much more, but it’s about travel. Time travel.
Sally in St Paul says
Yes, Connie Willis is excellent! I read Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, and looking them up, I realized there is a third book in this series now, Blackout (2010). Time for a re-read and then on to the new one. I’m realizing that I’m terrible about liking an author/series and not keeping up as new ones come out.
Tina Vernor says
Please read CASTE by Isabel Wilkerson. Even if you don’t read anything else this year, please, please read this book.
Sally in St Paul says
This book looks amazing and important…I have put it in my library queue (wait listed, which is a good sign). Thank you for this recommendation.
Amanda R says
Have you read the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow? They are set in the wilds of Alaska, with a fantastic native Alaskan protagonist, and the author, as an Alaskan too, really knows what she’s writing about. The heroine is feisty, challenging and ever- growing, and the author is a journalist who seems to have lived a fascinating and adventurous life that finds its way into the series. It’s great that there are now 22 books in the series so you can dive into Kate’s world and stay there for a really long time. I want to be either of there women when I grow up!
Kris in 29 says
I started these recent months rereading a childhood favorite. I rarely reread anything and especially not mysteries but with very few choices in my bookshelf (I use the library, let them store the books) I went into storage and brought out the Trixie Belden Mysteries. Having been over 40 years since last (and only) reading, they were delightful. Looking past some of the anachronisms (written in late 40s, early 50s) I’ve decided I still want to “grow up” and live in Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson, NY with the whole Bob Whites of the Glen clan. :)
Once I was done with those, and the library still not open, my mom started sending me her collection of Nevil Shute and Mary Lasswell. Pure escapeism but what wordsmiths!
Now with the library open, I’m able to once again start plowing through my book log of books to read, gleaned from GoodReads, Bookbub, LibraryReads, First Look Book Club and many other websites and blogs.
House of Niccolo!! Fabulous.
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