For train and plane travel at the beginning of the year, I downloaded Sara Blaedel's Only One Life from the Vancouver Public Library. It's the second in the Danish author's Louise Rick series, which I began, out of sequence, with the copy of The Forgotten Girls my husband had grabbed at an airport bookstore last year. Rick makes a good protagonist, especially with her journalist friend Camille Lund to amplify and broaden the female perspective. The two I've read in the series are solid police procedurals with interesting Scandinavian settings (landscape and social/cultural climate), and both treated "social justice" issues (care and institutionalization of special-needs children and adults in The Forgotten Girls and immigration/anti-Muslim sentiment in Only One Life) thoughtfully, educating while entertaining rather than preaching.
Also downloaded from the VPL was Jacqueline Park's The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi. I'd read about this historical fiction a year or so ago when a sequel was released. Park was 72 when she finished The Secret Book, an international success when published by Simon and Schuster fifteen years ago (although it had to be edited substantially to bring it down to a readable/commercial length). Then in 2014, when Park was 89 years old, Anansi published the sequel, The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi. (More about Jacqueline Park's interesting life and how she came to writing a best-seller so late in life here.)
I don't often read historical fiction, but I enjoyed the character Park has drawn in Grazia dei Rossi, a spirited, educated (despite the regular objections from her community to women's education), Jewish woman living in Renaissance Italy -- as well as the characters surrounding and supporting and acting as foils to Rossi. Her powerful sometime-employer, the historical, real-life Isabelle d'Este, for example, not always a likeable woman but admirable in her own way. And interesting; challenging assumptions. . .
The book is obviously very well researched, so that what a reader absorbs about Renaissance Italy feels credible, convincing: its culture, its knowledge, its aesthetic preferences, its social problems, its problematic politics and vying for power through military might or religious influence, and particularly its treatment of the Jews, the way that community adapted and suffered. . . . Only one quibble I have with credibility of research. At one point, Grazia is talking to her lover and they use hummingbirds as a reference point in making an analogy. They speak of hummingbirds as if they existed in Italy, as if they had seen them in a garden. Given that hummingbirds only exist in "the New World, I wish Park's editor had done some fact-checking. But it's a relatively minor quibble, and if you enjoy historical fiction with strong female characters -- and strong, likeable male ones as well -- with lashings of danger and intrigue and romance and passion, I think you'd enjoy reading The Secret Book that Grazia is purportedly writing to/for her son.
The page-turning "airport" books continued to be my preference even after I got back home, especially since I took so long recovering from a hard-hitting cold. I'd begun Madeleine l'Engle's A Circle of Quiet, and enjoyed the more thoughtful pace, the many observations and musings that invited contemplative pauses -- but I own the e-copy of that book so I can take my time finishing it.
Not so with two books that I'd had on Hold at the library, which had to be picked up, read, and returned (for the hard copy; the e-copy simply expires) within a set time period.
Donato Carrisi's The Whisperer I read in a hard copy borrowed from the library after I heard about it from another blogger. I'll admit that it kept me turning pages, and that it's well written, but I'll also admit I'd partly chosen it because the author is an Italian and I'd been hoping to travel back to Italy in its pages. Instead, the book's setting is -- probably intentionally, for the purpose of drawing a broad readership -- blandly international or non-committal. And while there are two characters who intrigued me -- a female detective and a male psychologist -- the serial-killer plot had one too many twists to be satisfying, never mind convincing. Plus because it involved child victims, it was disturbingly gruesome, even for this reader who can read, say, any of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta mysteries and not have nightmares. Still, I did read to the end and was entertained by some of the subplots and, as I say, by some of the characters and by some of the puzzle-solving and guessing.
Elly Griffiths' The House at Sea's End was the e-book with the expiry period that hurried me along. I'm so glad that Sue pointed me in the direction of this great series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. I love the landscape Griffiths draws for us here, and I also enjoy watching the developing relationships from novel to novel between characters we've come to know. The academic atmosphere is another setting Griffiths sketches convincingly, and now that Galloway has embarked on single motherhood, I'm also engaged by her sometimes anguished division, recognizable to many of us, between the calls of maternity and those of career. The complicated (potential?) romance between Galloway and a certain Detective Inspector also intrigues. Highly recommend this series.
I've also just finished Aurélie Valognes' delightful Mémé dans les Orties (pictured above, with the popcorn which sent me to the dentist!) which I picked up in the train station at Chambéry last month. If you can read French, you might enjoy this story about a grumpy old fellow who reluctantly makes friends in his apartment building, mainly out of stubborn resistance to end up in the maison de retraite (old age home) to which he fears his daughter plans to send him. Some charming characters, some not so charming, but entertaining -- several might have stepped across a few streets from Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog (although the concierge in the latter book only pretended to be unfriendly, unlike the grumpy old fellow's nemesis).
This book was fun for teaching me some French idioms -- each chapter was titled for a different idiom, most of which were new to me. The book's title, for example, Mémé dans les orties (roughly, Granny in the nettles) comes from an expression that means "Don't (go so far as to) push Granny in the nettles" -- i.e. That's going too far!
If you can't read French, you can find this translated into English (and available for you as e-book or paperback) as Out of Sorts.
Now I've got to go sort out my airplane reading and poolside books for a long weekend in the sunshine. Of course I'll be checking in here from my chaise longue, so feel free to share any reading you've been enjoying (or not!) in these first weeks of the year. . . Or ask any questions about the books I mention here or add your impressions of any I've mentioned that you've also read.