February is always a long month and this year's was no exception. But, we are just over 3 weeks away from the equinox and I can already feel my equilibrium being restored and my fingers have beeen itching to tell you about what I've been reading.
Black Diamond, by Martin Walker - #3 in this marvelous mystery series set in the Dordogne in France and featuring the lovely Bruno as police force of one in a little village in France where he cooks for his friends, hangs out with his dog, and tries his best to keep the peace. In this story, we get a glimpse of the rival Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants who compete for business, both the legal and the illegal kind. I love these books because they aren't just edge-of-your seat stories but provide historical, cultural, and regional sidestories that I like as much, if not more, than the actual mystery plot.
The Madness of Crowds, by Louise Penny - I enjoyed State of Terror (the co-authored thriller by Hillary Rodham and Louise Penny) so much that I just wanted more of Penny and Armand Gamache and Three Pines, so I read #17 in her wonderful series. It was excellent, of course, and delved with the aftermath of Covid and the ethics involved in medical decisions. This is the first novel I've read that references Covid, and I thought Penny handled the subject deftly.
Raven Black, by Ann Cleves - I've been enjoying this prolific author's Matthew Venn series so much that I thought I would read some of her other series. My library had this one handy, so now I am reading her Shetland series. It was absolutely excellent with many of my favorite elements: small, tight community with secrets, harsh but compelling environment (the Shetland islands are not for the feeble), and well-written plot that kept me guessing until the end.
The Lost Man, by Jane Harper - I've enjoyed Harper's Aaron Falk series, but this was head and shoulders above them. An absolutely outstanding thriller about life in the outback of Australia. Again, love those harsh environments with a closed, tight community carrying a load of baggage and secrets. Harper did an outstanding job painting a stiflingly hot, pressure-cooker story that had a glorious ending.
A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer - my JASNA bookclub is reading Heyer for our March meeting, and my friend Maxene recommended this Regency Romance as a bit atypical with a hero and heroine cut from different cloths than the usual Heyer fare. I loved it--absolutely loved it. Adam is a spare whose older brother manages to die, making him the heir, and then his father dies leaving him a mountain of debt. The solution? That's right--accept the civil contract offered by a parevenu who wants his plain daughter to marry a lord. I loved practical, sweet Jenny who tries hard to make Adam happy, and I especially loved her dad, Mr. Chawleigh, who is the definitive bull in a chinashop but with a heart as big as his bank account. The side characters were interesting and added zest to the story. All in all, a wonderful way to get through the doldrums of February.
The Maid, by Nita Prose - another out-of-the-park novel. Loved it so much. Molly Gray, the hotel maid cum detective, has a very literal approach to life, not unlike Elizabeth Zott in Lesssons in Chemistry and Elinor Oliphant. It's frustrating to watch her not "get it" but then marvelous when the penny finally drops and she sees her way clear. Her moral compass is finely polished and this was a fun, interesting read. I believe this is Prose's debut novel, so I am eager to see what she does next.
Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen's Masterpiece, by Susannah Fullerton - I gave this 3 stars on GoodReads mostly because I loved the first half and was bored to skimming in the second half. The first half retold the tale as old as time of how P&P came to be published and the impact its publication made on the oh-so-short life of Austen, and then she dived into commentary about all the major and minor characters, which was fun to read, insightful, and just like a JASNA meeting. The second half explored the various translations, adaptations, sequels, prequels, and Austenmania ad nauseum. I think the book would have garnered another star had it been shorter. Short books can still be good and sell...just saying.
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith - I've heard of this book for years but wouldn't have picked it up and read it without it being the selection of the GoodReads True Book Talk group. It is a story of life in London during the 1970s to the turn of the millenium, focusing on the lives of Archie and his Jamaican-born wife, Clare, and Samad (an immigrant from Bangladesh) and his wife Alsana, and their children. I just found out that there is a four-part mini-series available on Amazon, so I might watch it. The book was excellent and thought-provoking.
Hope you are all well, discovering great books to explore, and finding your own equilibrium as we approach the equinox. That's something we can all celebrate, worldwide.