Monday, March 7, 2022

The Books of February

February was a wonderful month to curl up with a book and I curled up with a few good ones! The seven books I read took me from the France of Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher to the village of Three Pines in Quebec; from the Illinois midwest to the cathedral town of Lafferton in the UK; the from wealthy homes of Paris to the farmland of Norfolk, and from war-torn London to England's Kent counry side. February's reads were well worth the time.

"Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr

 If you have ever imagined what it might be like to celebrate the holidays in Provence with Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard and Richard Olney, among others, then you will find this book fascinating. Written by Fisher's great-nephew with extreme documentation from her private journals, as well as letters and papers from Child, Olney and more, "Provence, 1970" follows about two months in the lives of these renowned writers and cookbook authors/chefs as they converged in the south of France for the holiday.

It was a period that would mark great change in the careers of these Americans who brought the concepts of French cooking back home. Child, having just wrapped up "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" with Simone Beck (with who she was having numerous disagreements in style) was ready to launch out with more domestic and international cuisine. Beard was prepping his book on American food that ranged from the more elegant to Sloppy Joes. Olney, too, had a cookbook on high French cuisine with the focus on local ingredients. And for years, Fisher had written about her love affair with France. It was this journey that changed her focus.

Understandably, the heart of this book is Barr's great-aunt, Fisher. But through her eyes and journals he attends a family style Christmas Eve with the Childs, editor Judith Evans and her husband, Fisher and her hosts, Sybille Bedford and Eda Lord. Bedford, Lord and Fisher are also feted with an extravagant French meal by Olney and they all attend a gala French New Year's Eve hosted by Beck. Always a remarkable and observant writer, Fisher's notes on her friends alone make the book a gem.

 "The Madness of Crowds" by Louise Penny


Canadian author Louise Penny has a problem. She cannot write fast enough to satisfy her readers' hunger for more stories from the Quebec village of Three Pines where Armand Gamache has moved with his wife, Reine-Marie. In "The Madness of Crowds" we find him celebrating the winter holidays in a the post-pandemic town when he is called upon to provide security for a Abigail Robinson, guest lecturer, whose rising popularity centers around a controversial topic. 

Her thesis is that the world would be better economically and in terms of mental health without the aged and infirm or handicapped children. Her proposed state-enforced euthanasia is attracting a large number of both followers and detractors. When they descend on Three Pines and an assassination attempt is made, Gamache finds that his family holiday is disrupted by an investigation.

And, it is quite likely that one of the Three Pines natives may be the murderer.

As always, Penny's clearly defined characters help make her mysteries all the more enjoyable, and -- as always -- the mysteries are well conceived and clever. There is no shortage of suspects, there are red herrings and (also, as always) tricky personal relationships. Everyone, it seems, has a vested interest in Abigail Robinson's theory. 

Oh, if they could all write so well as Louise Penny. And if only Three Pines were a real place! (Recommended to read this series in order to fully understand the characters and their personal dynamics, although the mystery itself is self-contained.)

"Lost" by Richard Lassin 


Full disclosure: Author Richard Lassin is a friend of mine and more than once I've had the pleasure of proofreading his novels. I have read "Lost" before (2014) but he has since tightened it up and it is a stronger book than before. 

Stuart O'Hare, Chief of Police in Lansing, Michigan, has traveled to DeKalb Illinois for a family wedding. Before he has even settled into his room at the hotel, he finds himself talking down a teen named Marcus who, distressed at the disappearance of his sister, is threatening to jump from the hotel's roof. After safely saving the boy, he meets Marcus' other sister and decides to look into what may have happened to the vanished sister, Leanne. He calls on two friends -- a lawyer and a retired U.S. Marshall -- to help him in his quest. Their investigation will lead them to a shocking plot at the highest levels of world power.

Meanwhile, at the wedding, he is surprised to encounter his ex-wife, Marilyn, with whom he is still in love. He soon learns that she has stage four breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, setting into motion a barrage of thoughts and feelings about the past.

"Lost" focuses almost equally on two plot threads -- O'Hare's relationship with Marilyn and his journey through grief, and the investigation. I will say right here that my taste in mystery leans more toward Midsomer Murders and less toward James Bond and I couldn't relate to all the more action-oriented scenes and dialogue in the book. It struck me as far fetched, until I happened to catch part of what Rick calls a "red neck romper stomper" movie on TV and thought, "Well, he might have it right."

What he did have very right from my perspective was the relationship between O'Hare, Marilyn, and their daughter, Roz and the deep journey of the soul as he grapples with loss. While it isn't all "my" kind of book, I confess, I was turning the pages on those action segments, even though I had a vague recollection of the end. I just had to find out if I was right and I was glad I did.

The Benefit of Hindsight by Susan Hill

 

Fans of Hill's Simon Serrailler series will find the character facing the emotional demons of his past cases in this second-to-most-recent book in the series. A burglary in the small cathedral town of Lafferton has police concerned. The town has been quiet in general and DI Serrailler, having just returned from holiday, decides to block out the media, hoping the culprits will try again and be caught. But when they do, the burglars leave in their wake the badly beaten body of the town's great philanthropist who has witnessed the murder of his wife.

As Serrailler and his team work on the case, the parallel plots focus on his non-work life. He is facing a series of panic attacks, presumably PTSD from an earlier case that caused him to lose his arm. His sister, Cat, a doctor now in private practice, has found a troubling case of her own. And then, there is an incident with the siblings' father, with whom relationships are challenged.

This might be one of my favorites in the series. The plots are solid, the professional and emotional dilemmas very real and, as always, the connection between the central characters powerful. This is a series I'd recommend starting from the beginning, although the mysteries themselves are self-contained. (Recommended to read in order.)

"Maigret Hesitates" by Georges Simenon

 

 

I love the Maigret mysteries. They're usually very interesting, fairly short, so a fast read, and puzzling enough that I don't figure things out before Inspector Maigret does.

"Maigret Hesitates" finds the inspector receiving an anonymous letter with the anonymous writer's concern that a murder may be committed. With little to go on, he tracks down the elegant paper on which the letter was written and finds that it came from the home of a wealthy lawyer, leading him to begin a quiet investigation. Which of the members of this dysfunctional household and work place could have written the letter? And would a murder take place? Or was it simply a hoax?

There are numerous possibilities: the shy, withdrawn lawyer, his cold wife; his son or daughter; the secretary; the two young men who work for him or perhaps the servants? When the murder itself does happen, one suspect is eliminated, but who committed the crime? (Reading in order doesn't seem to matter with the Simenon books.)

"Under Violent Skies" by Judi Daykin

 


The first book in this mystery series featuring DS Sara Hirst is set in Norfolk and finds Hirst on her first day of the job in the Norfolk police department. A transplant from London and part Jamaican, she finds her transition isn't an easy one, as regionalism and racism are both prevalent in the area. She also learns that her boss' first choice for the job is her new colleague, Elly, who had just recently passed her sergeant's exam.

But Sara has two reasons for wanting to work in Norfolk. It is a change of pace for her London life but more significantly, she hopes to find her birth father who once worked for the Norfolk police. She finds him earlier than she expected when she stumbles on him when tripping into a ditch as she and her colleagues investigate the death of a man found brutally murdered in the Norfolk countryside.

Concealing the relationship, of which she still is unsure, Sara's work world revolves around two cases -- the identity of the murdered man, and a series of thefts of farm equipment from the rural countryside. Seasonal workers and sex trafficking play into the plot. While it's not as "gripping" initially as the cover art teases (I took a break half through and read another book; I don't do that with "gripping,") it still delivered quite a punch in the end. I have two other Hirst books by Daykin in my bookstack. I will be reading them.

"The Consequences of Fear" by Jacqueline Winspear

 


If I was forced to cull my library and could only keep one or two full series of favorite books, one would be the Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny. The other would be the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. This edition finds our private investigator in the later months of 1941 London, doing work for the government as she helps evaluate candidates for overseas Resistance work while handling her own detective business.

Her own case is quite a different one. The "client" is a young boy who serves as a "runner" for the government, passing secret messages from one division to another in bomb-ridden London. On one evening, he witnesses a brutal murder that doesn't seem to be taken seriously. So, he asks Maisie, with whom he had a previous encounter, for help. 

As Masie and her assistant Billy work the case, she discovers that the two issues -- the murder and her war work -- may be more closely aligned than expected. 

Set against the backgrounds of war-torn London and Masie's country home in the more bucolic area of Kent where her father, stepmother and daughter live, "The Consequences of Fear" is a worthy entry into the Masie Dobbs chronicles. And, as always, Winspear leaves the reader anticipating what will happen in the next book. (Recommended to read in order)

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51 comments:

Julierose said...

Thanks so much for your book reviews--I haven't read any of these, but have read some Maigret and the first 4 of Louise Penny. I am always on the lookout for good reads..you seem to have the same tastes for books that I enjoy.
hugs, Julierose

Mae Travels said...

Great set of reviews! I enjoyed "Provence, 1970" too -- reviewed it here:
https://maefood.blogspot.com/2016/05/provence-1970.html

There's a book about some of the same writers that is a great choice too, Justin Spring, "The Gourmand's Way" which I wrote about here:
https://maefood.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-gourmands-way-by-justin-spring.html

Such great foodies!

best... mae

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

You've mentioned some authors I've never read but you are right about the series that are 'our' favorites. Not sure I've read this Winspear book. I look on Goodreads and check. My husband and I have both read the Maisie Dobbs series and LOVE IT! Thanks for the reviews!

Penny from Enjoying The Simple Things said...

These books all sound interesting! I am checking out the Provence 1970 one for sure!

acorn hollow said...

I am listening to a Louise Penny books right now and I want to get into Masie Dobbs. The others I am not familiar with. I do not get to read as much as I would like but I do enjoy it a lot.
Cathy

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Thank you
Some books for the reading list
Reading a Penny novel at the moment.

Bill said...

Judi Daykin's book sounds good, I'll have to see if the library has it. Nice reviews, Jeanie. Enjoy the new week.

Joyful said...

I haven't read any of these books Jeanie. Thank you for the great reviews. I'm going to add the first one to my list!

William Kendall said...

Quite an eclectic mix of books.

My name is Erika. said...

You read some good sounding books this past month. I've read the first 2-Provence 1970 and the Louise Penny. They were both good reads. And I need to get back to the Simon Serrailler series.I bookmarked the Daykin book. The cover does look like an Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway book. I also haven't read any Jacqueline Winspear, but I've seen them and it's good to know they are worth the read. Since we have similar reading tastes in many ways I trust I would enjoy them. This is a fun post, and I look forward to your book posts. hugs-Erika

Misadventures of Widowhood said...

Seven books in a month is a lot! But you're right about February being a good month to binge read.

Marilyn Miller said...

I always love reading your book list. Lost sounds like an intriguing one I would want to read.

Ricki Treleaven said...

Dang Jeanie! Were we in a dark place during February, LOL! I'm really trying to guard my heart these days by only reading happy books. I am bookmarking this post for the fall when my heart can handle a few of these titles.

I'm most interested in The Madness of Crowds because I have a daughter with CP and I have been a children's advocate for years. Unfortunately Iceland would agree with the evil character Abigail Robinson because they have "proudly eradicated Downs Syndrome" via abortions.

But I digress....
What are you reading for March? I'm not doing much of anything these days other than reading.

xo,
Ricki Jill

Anvilcloud said...

I will probably read via audible the Penny book at some point. I’ve read all of the others

Susan Hill and Simon Serrailler. I lost track quite awhile ago. Not by intent,

Sue in Suffolk said...

Love a good book list. Thank you for yours

I'm eagerly awaiting the next Maisie Dobbs and will request the Judi Daykin from the library - they only have that one

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I have not spent much time indoors reading in February, so I am unable to parade a list of titles to you but I did read Tim Birkhead's fascinating account of Frances Willughby and another book on Darwin's barnacles, equally fascinating I must say. I am not sure whether I started "Happy The Man", collected essays of the great naturalist and ornithologist, Peter Scott, in February, but this book has been providing me with untold pleasure. If you visit England again, Jeanie, be sure to visit Slimbridge in Glos, and see Peter's Scott's legacy in the Wildfowl Trust. It is an amazing place.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, Jeanie

Great review and book list. I agree Louise Penny can not write fast enough, I have read all her books and eagerly await a new one. The Maisie Dobb series is another one I have read them all. I am waiting for her new book this month called A Sunlit Weapon, it is on my wait and hold list at the library. I have to try finding the Susan Hill books. I am always looking for a new mystery series. Thanks for sharing. Take care, enjoy your day and week ahead.

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, you were very busy reading seven books in the shortest month of the year. Several appeal to me, especially Provence 1970. I am way behind my goal for this year. Have a lovely week!

Ga From Dekalb said...

These all look interesting to me. Will have to look into Lost since I live in Dekalb, Il.

Steve Reed said...

Oh, Dave would LOVE that book about Julia Child, MFK Fisher and the others. I gotta track that one down!

R's Rue said...

I enjoy these posts of yours.

La Table De Nana said...

You are indeed an avid reader..I've only read 3..and this 4th is an audio book...

Linda Stoll said...

i absolutely adore a peek at other people's bookbags, friend!

Joanne Huffman said...

Some good suggestions - I will be looking into Susan Hill and Judi Daykin.

Sandra at Maison De Jardin said...

Jeanie, all the books sound interesting. I have read, "Provence 1970," twice actually. I loved it.

I always enjoy to see what you are reading - you have shown me some great ones.

Jenn Jilks said...

These are all good books, I bet. So many!
My daughter bought me a 888 page book and I cannot read it in bed! It's too heavy!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

You read such interesting books. The first one about the famous chefs getting together sounds fascinating. I just wrote an email to my sister. If she hasn't already read it, it would be a perfect escape right now.

anno said...

What a fun collection of books! Provence is, indeed, great escape. (And, honestly, I wish I could escape there right now.) Curling up in a big chair with a great book, though, is a delightful second option. Thanks for the Louise Penney reminder. It's been a while since I've picked up any of her books, and it would be nice to have another series to binge on while I wait for the next Ruth Galloway.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Jeanie,
Thank you so much for your visit and very kind words.
Great book list!
Blessing,
Penny

Prims By The Water said...

You always find the best books to read! Janice

Sakuranko said...

I feel interested in The Madness of Crowds of Louise Penny

Judy at GoldCountryCottage said...

Jeanie, all your reading habits sound so interesting. I am keeping a list and and hopefully will read one or two in the future. Right now I have been practicing painting and the one I am working on now is not too bad in the whole picture. I will share it next week and want you to be truthful in your evaluation! Haha..Happy Tuesday..xxoJudy

The French Hutch said...

I would enjoy Provence. I have several books on Julis Childs and I have enjoyed cooking with and have Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I love Julia! I always enjoy seeing what you are reading Jeanie........

Sherry's Pickings said...

lots of good suggestions there jeanie. i do love a good mystery tho these days i tend to read a lot of Nordic noir. I love those grumpy Scandi types :-)

Iris Flavia said...

It´s always dangerous to visit you! I have too many books and your reviews sound so tempting, yet I have so much stuff to do I hardly find the time to read...

HAPPY RETIREES KITCHEN said...

I found your post at such a great time when I need to read a foodie book. Thanks for all the recommendations.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Unlike yourself, jeanie, February was not a good month for me to do any reading and for no specific reason. So I am glad to see what books you found entertaining and interesting and have already noted a couple of authors to look up in my local library, Georges Simenon and Jaqueline Winspear, as I admit to not having read a single book by either author. I watched Murder in Provence this week and now have to add M.L. Longworth to that list of authors new to myself.

gigi-hawaii said...

I would love to read the first book. It must have been awesome to socialize with such great chefs!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

You had a fantastic reading month. And thanks for the reminder about Maigret!

Sandra Cox said...

Good job on getting 7 books read.

Barb said...

I love your eclectic tastes in books, Jeanie, spanning several countries and genres. I can see you with candles lit in the evening and maybe a glass of wine, turning the pages.

Pamela said...

Love your book posts. I’m a fan of mysteries and especially series.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

What a great month of reading for you! The Provence book sounds so interesting. I'm such a Julia Child fan so am sure I would enjoy that. I am glad you liked the latest Three Pines book. I appreciated that the book was pandemic-adjacent. It must be hard for writers to figure out how to involve the pandemic in their writing!

Victoria Zigler said...

Thanks for sharing your recent reads with us.

Sandra Cox said...

Enjoy your reading;)

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I love a good mystery and your reviews have piqued my interest in these. I would love to find time to read as voraciously as you, dear Jeanie.

Anca said...

Sounds like you've had a some pretty interesting books on February. xx

Carola Bartz said...

M.F.K.Fisher lived her last 20 years Glen Ellen, here in Sonoma County. Today, her "Last House" is on a nature preserve, the Bouverie Preserve. This area used to be David Bouverie's ranch who was a friend of hers and he let her build this house on his ranch.
The Norfolk book sounds interesting - is the setting in the Broads? The cover lets me think it might be. I love Norfolk. And how fun to read a book whose author you know and I'm sure you also know all the places in the book. I enjoy those books very much.

Lowcarb team member said...

Books are wonderful aren't they ...
So many to choose from, we are so fortunate.
I always enjoy your reviews ...
Great post.

All the best Jan

Amy at Ms. Toody Goo Shoes said...

I always enjoy reading your book posts (I'm finally reading Italy, A Love Story after your review of France, A Love Story). I think I must add Provence, 1970 to my reading list!

Priscilla King said...

A book about the great legendary cookbook writers would be interesting...

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