Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Books of August

I had too much company to get much reading done in August but the books I read were worth the time and the late nights! They include a political thriller, three mysteries (set in England, Florence and Venice), a non-fiction look at how a London writer adjusts to small town life on the coast of Denmark and a short book of poems by cats!

"State of Terror" by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Sometimes co-written books by a famous author and a famous public figure work and sometimes they don't. "State of Terror," by mystery author Louise Penny and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton works. Clinton's expertise on the way her political world operates and Penny's brilliant writing style makes this one a page turner from beginning to end.

The plot follows newly appointed Secretary of State Ellen Adams, who has a tenuous relationship with her boss, having supported another candidate rather than him. He has set her up on some missions almost guaranteed to fail, perhaps to show her up. He is replacing a president not unlike our Former Guy, which has eroded international confidence in the United States, destroying the trust of the Western world in matters of international diplomacy.

When an bus explodes in London across from the famed Fortnum and Mason's, the terror incident has international implications and Adams is sent on a diplomatic mission. When a second explosion occurs in Paris, it is clear that there is indeed a state of terror enveloping the world and she is off on a series of journeys that take her to Germany, Iran and Pakistan. It soon becomes clear that someone in the White House, possibly one of the holdovers from the previous administration, is implicated (but who?) and the fears that a nuclear device will be detonated in the United States becomes very real. 

"State of Terror" is more than a page-turning thriller. It is also a story of friendship -- that between Ellen and her childhood friend Betsy, who is now her political advisor. And, it is a story of family ties, as Ellen's children play a significant role as well. It deals with the empowerment of women in the male-driven political world and ultimately, with a situation that, as Clinton said in an interview with Penny, was one that kept her up at night when she was in Ellen Adams' position -- what happens if a dirty bomb lands on United States soil?

I loved it.

"The Year of Living Danishly" by Helen Russell

 

Suppose you were an editor of a popular women's magazine, living a hectic life in London, and your husband said, "I've been offered the dream job of a lifetime -- working at Lego in Denmark for a year." Do you move with him or stay in London?

Helen Russell decided to accompany her husband to Denmark, a country where she did not speak the language, and spend a year in a small coastal town in Jutland, far from the larger cities. Knowing no one and unable to work conventionally, she did what writers do -- she began writing.

Russell had learned that Denmark is considered the world's "happiest country" and she wanted to know why. So she began a quest to see why just about everyone she met rated themselves between eight and ten on a 1-10 happiness scale. Along the way, she discovers both the challenges and the joys of being an ex-pat and works through many of the reasons the Danes are so happy and content with their lives.

They have a lot to smile about. Yes, their taxes are extraordinarily high. But the benefits from those taxes more than make up for it. Entirely free medical care -- and extremely solicitous and good care at that; free education through university; generous child care stipends, and much more.

They are also extremely healthy, enjoying an outdoors culture, and community-mindedness is very much encouraged. In the winter, things shut down and the residents of the town stay inside (the homes there have heated floors!) and experience a hygge life. Sport is popular as is volunteerism. 

It isn't the conclusions of Russell's year-long investigation that make this book a good read. It is her delightful writing style, the introduction of her new neighbors and friends who share a new and interesting lifestyle and ultimately her own evolution from a schedule-ruled city woman to a happy almost-Dane. Covering everything from the food to interior design, she takes a thorough look at her new country as she approaches the end of her first year -- and must decide if they will stay on for another. 

Recommended (and I might say, we as a country could learn a lot from the Danes high-tax, excellent services model).

"A Change of Circumstance" by Susan Hill 

I'm almost caught up with Susan Hill's terrific police procedural series featuring Simon Serrallier in "A Change of Circumstance." This one is a little less gritty than some of her previous entries -- and just as interesting.

This time, Serrailler and his brother-in-law/boss, Kieran, are on the trail of an expanding drug ring that uses young people -- some as young as Brookie, an eleven-year-old boy -- as unknowing drug mules. In the early pages of the book, Brookie has missed his bus and is offered a ride by a fellow named "Fats" who gives him a backpack that he "found" and later, a phone from which he sends the boy messages to deliver an envelope to a given person. 

Brookie isn't his only mark. Olivia, a teenaged girl, has also received gifts from Fats -- along with envelopes to deliver. But it is Brookie's father, who discovers the phone, which gives Serrailler and his team their first solid lead.

On the home front, Serrailler finds himself at odds, longing to see his former love, Rachel, who repeatedly rebuffs him, while his sister, Dr. Cat, is feeling the stresses of overwork and family challenges with her son Sam, a missing  pet dog, and husband Kieron with an injured leg. 

It's the mix of Simon's and Cat's personal lives interplayed with the actual mystery that puts all the Serrailler books at the top of my list. This is a worthy entry. (It is recommended to read the Serrailler series from book one forward; the mysteries are self contained but the character stories and dynamics continue and evolve from book to book and the books are all the richer for reading them in sequence.

"Uniform Justice" by Donna Leon

Inspector Guido Brunetti of the Venice Police is back with another baffling crime -- this time set in a military academy located on one of the islands under the city's jurisdiction. A young student is found dead by hanging in the communal bathroom of the academy. It is presumed a suicide, but Guido isn't so sure.

The boy's father was a leading medical figure in Italy whose report on the medical system was not without great controversy. He was also a former politician and by all accounts an honest one, who resigned after only two years following a family tragedy.

As always, Brunetti leads us through a complex investigation and a sensitive one -- many powerful local figures may play a role and his boss, Patta, never likes to ruffle powerful feathers. But with the help of Signorina Elecctra, the secretary/computer-hacker-extraordinaire (a woman with friends in many helpful places) and the wisdom and groundedness of his wife, Paola (a strong feminist and a terrific cook!), he brings readers to a most satisfactory and surprising conclusion.

(Sequential reading is not required to get the most from this series.)

"Treachery in Tuscany" by Phyllis Gobbell



This is the third in Gobell's Jordan Mayfair series and I've not yet read either of the first two, but it held on its own as a mystery that needn't be read in sequence.

Jordan Mayfair is a 50-something architect from Savannah who accompanies her uncle Alex, a travel book writer, to Florence as he researches his newest book. Alex also wants to visit a woman who was a long-ago love, and who later married his best friend and is recently widowed. She runs a family agritourismo business, selling products made on their farm and offering classes in their villa.

Alex and Jordan pair are staying in a convent that now offers B&B services and early in their visit they meet the 18-year-old Sophie, who is on her own quest in Tuscany -- to find the woman with whom she is quite sure her father is having an affair. When Sophie falls from one of the convent windows while watching a festival on the streets below, it is thought to be a suicide. Jordan isn't so sure.

Running alongside of the mystery of Sophie's death is a series of jewel thefts in the neighborhood of the convent. They are of secondary interest to Jordan but of key interest to a journalist named Eli, to whom she is introduced. Can Eli's connections perhaps delve more into Sophie's death?

Adding to the ambience and romance is the arrival of Paul Broussard, a handsome French art dealer/critic with whom Jordan has had a relationship (apparently in one or both of Gobbell's previous books). But their revived romance is not without its complications as well.

There's a lot to this book. I wouldn't put it into my top tier of mysteries, but if you enjoy Italy and its art and architecture, there is much to learn from Gobell's vivid descriptions of the city and its treasures. The characters are pleasant, the relationships between Jordan and both her uncle Alex and Paul are interesting and the mystery isn't bad. (But don't expect an early death -- things don't really ramp up in a mystery-way until page 150!)

I'd read another of Gobell's books, especially if she includes her wonderful descriptions of the regions she writes about and its culture,  but not racing to find one. (Note: The first book I read in September was another in the Jordan Mayfair series. Stay tuned for a review next month!)

"The Rodent Not Taken" by Jennifer McCartney


This book isn't for everyone. But if you love and know cats, you'll get a boost out of this poetry collection with the subtitle "And Other Poems by Cats." McCartney divides this short, fun book into several sections: "Cat Verse Inspired by Famous Poems," "Free Verse and Beat Poetry," "Rhyming Verse, Haikus and Limericks" and "Poetry Inspiration." 

Along the way she riffs off the work of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Walt Whitman, Joyce Kilmer, Dylan Thomas, William Blake and others. The originals -- largely haiku and limericks, are equally clever and fun. With titles like "Laser Pointer," "Box," "Ode to a Fresh Litter Box," "Ode to the Corner of the Book You are Trying to Read," "Haiku of Shame," and "Cat Lady Haikus," you know any cat fan is in for a clever treat.

I leave you with one of her entries, and since it's wine o'clock here, it's a perfect one: 

WINO

There once was a puss from Bordeaux

Who developed a taste for Merlot. 

The cat was ashamed.

She left town, changed her name.

Now she gets drunk on Mouse-cato.

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59 comments:

Julierose said...

Oh "The Rodent Not Taken" looks like a very funny read;))) We could all use some humor these days....hugs, julierose

Jenn Jilks said...

We have some titles and authors in common! I quite like Susan Hill and Donna Leon. I'm caught up in both, except for the last Leon book which has 10 people ahead of me on reserve at the library.
You did well, despite guests!

Brenda said...

Loved Clinton…Penny book

Mae Travels said...

Your reviews are fun to read. I'm a bit behind on the Donna Leon books -- but as you point out, they don't really have to be read in sequence. In fact, time kind of stands still in them -- the kids have been adolescents since the early 1990s, though they adopt new technology all the time.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Steve Reed said...

LOL -- I think I'll pass on the cat poetry, but I'm glad the Hillary Clinton one is good! And the one about Denmark sounds interesting too.

Joanne Huffman said...

I read A Year of Living Danishly a while ago and loved it - fits perfectly with what I've experienced in Denmark.

Carole @ From My Carolina Home said...

That cat poetry book looks funny! Some of your recommendations may end up on my to-read list too.

DUTA said...

I would like to read "The Year of Living Danishly". I'm always interested in places and what they have to offer. The scandinavian countries, Denmark among them, do intrigue me.

NGS said...

I had no idea Clinton paired with Penny to write a book. How interesting. It sounds like maybe something I should add to my TBR.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I really enjoyed State of Terror, too. It was very well-down. Co-writing a book would be very tricky but they pulled it off!

You still got a lot of reading done despite playing host! The book of cat poems sounds fun!

Misadventures of Widowhood said...

I added the cat poems and Clinton/Penny books to my Wish List at Amazon. They both sound great.

coffeeontheporchwithme said...

Looks like you have lots to keep you occupied. Personally, I don't like when authors team up and I'm such a Penny fan, I was disappointed in her for teaming up with Clinton. It seemed like a "gimmick" to get more readers when she doesn't need to, as her books are so well written and wonderful to begin with. But that's just me... I really need to check out a Leon book soon! -Jenn

eileeninmd said...

Hello, Jeanie

I have mentioned before I enjoy your book reviews and have found several new series to read thanks to you!. I have read all of Louise Penny's books, including the book written with Clinton. I am on the wait list for her new book A World of Curiosities. I am reading one of the Donna Leon's right now.
Take care, enjoy your day!

William Kendall said...

Good reads. That Lizzie expression is priceless.

Divers and Sundry said...

I agree about the tax model. It's better when we each can access medical care. I would think the "right to life" would guarantee that, and it's a tragedy it doesn't.

Donna Leon never disappoints.

Parisbreakfasts said...

How you get through so many books is outstanding. Are you reading them all at the same time or in rotation? NYTimes book review could use you. I read the Donna Leon whilst in Venice…the perfect place. I’m impressed with your reviews —very thoughtful ๐Ÿ‘

gigi-hawaii said...

I would like that Denmark book the most, as I prefer non-fiction and memoirs in general. I had a good Danish friend, who recently died at age 92. Interesting and unconventional guy!

bobbie said...

More books for my list!! Thanks for the report ~

DeniseinVA said...

Very interesting book reviews and I will enjoy putting these on my list of reads. Thanks Jeanie :)

Valerie-Jael said...

A lot of great books. I think I will get the Clinton one, it sounds right up my street.

Anvilcloud said...

We have State of Terror in audible form, but I haven’t gotten around to it. I have read Hill’s Simon Serraiilier in the past and then lost track of it. There are probably a few books out there if I want to catch up sometime.

Ricki Treleaven said...

I'm adding The Year of Living Danishly on my TBR list.

anno said...

Cat Poetry! And book titles with puns (The Year of Living Danishly)! These both look like great fun. That, plus a lovely assortment of mysteries... what a great review. Nice collection for a month where you had "too much company to get much reading done." Thanks, Jeanie

Regina said...

Speaking of cats, I have a book downloaded on my kindle called Confessions of an Angel Cat by Nice Tatano. I'm looking forward to reading it. It is out of the kinds of books I normally read but it looks like a cute book.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Every day since AUGUST 10, I have been here trying to leave you a comment. There was something wrong between our two sites and I think it must have been mine, but not sure. There was NO comment box to leave one. I know which day it was because I came to wish you a happy birthday the next day. I'll never be able to catch up, so I will start here instead. I was about ready to ask someone to let you know, when tonight I was able to get a comment box. I am SO happy to be able to let you know I was here.

I always love your taste in mysteries. I especially enjoy your Donna Leon series and would love to read "State of Terror" and "A Change of Circumstances." I always LOVE your synopses.

I hope this is not a fleeting comment, but I can continue to do so from now on.

Iris Flavia said...

Oh, love your first pic!
The beginning of a month is really dangerous. I ordered two books on my kindle due to reviews from Erika.
Plus I found 4 in the streets and had bought thee in the store.

Danishly sounds great - good thing this country is too cold for me!
It sounds tempting!
I had one blogger friend, Ella, from Denmark. She got depressive and took citalopram, that´s a drug I also got and had a hard time with it and 6 weeks later to get out.
She stuck to it and after trying several times...nothing. Very sad.

Oh, I need time! Sooo many boos!

Linda P said...

Thank you for your notes on books you've been reading in August. I too enjoy Donna Leon and Susan Hill as I like a series with familiar characters. I rarely read contemporary poetry but I like the idea of a poet who writes poems about cats in the style of other famous poets.

Rita said...

I have meant to read Donna Leon's series for years and you have me interested now in Susan Hill's, too. I finally ordered both (the first books) as audio books. (I get free Google Play money by answering surveys.) Since my eyes don't work as well as they used to I thought I'd try more audio versions. I've had a hard time staying focused in the past with audio books so wish me luck--LOL! :)

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Maybe all those rightwing whack-jobs who froth at the mouth at the mere mention of the word socialism should visit Denmark to see the level of happiness it can achieve.

acorn hollow said...

for someone who was busy with company you certainly got some reading done.
I have been lugging around the same book for a month and added to my stack of must reads. And I am not entirely sure what I did last month.
hmmm
Cathy

Pam Richardson said...

Jeanie, you still got more reading finished that I did in August. You always do a great job on your book reviews. I may add some of these to my list to be read.

Penny Carlson said...

Some of those books sound very interesting. Thank you for your reviews!

Marilyn Miller said...

I always enjoy your reviews. I had wondered about the one by Louise Penny and Hilary Clinton; so now I want to read that one. Thanks!

Maggie from Stillness at Cherith said...

Wow!
I think I am going to have to go to my public library to see if I can't find a few of these titles.
Love your photo of kitty and the book ♥

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a great august reading list Jeanie. I’ve read the year of living danishly and I loved it too. You reminded me I need to get back to the Donna Leon and also the Susan Hill series. There are too many books and not enough time for reading them all ๐Ÿ˜ฉ I have state of terror and glad to hear you liked it. A friend of mine who read it said don’t bother. I think I’ll take your advice and give it a shot when I get home. Hope September has started well. Enjoyed your reading list this month, but I always love books lists. Especially ones that are books I would read myself. And you are good at reading similar ones to what I would read too HugsErika

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Good reviews, winter reading will be better for them
Lizzie's eye matches a color in the quilt. Precious photo

My name is Erika. said...

I tried commenting from my email and guess it didn’t go through. ๐Ÿ˜ฉNice august reading list. Isn’t the year of living danishly good? I read it a few years back and really enjoyed it. I’m glad to hear you liked state of terror. I have the book and a friend told me not to waste my time, but I think when I get home I’ll give it a read. Seeing your read many books similar to me, it’s good to hear you say you liked it. you reminded me also to get back to the Donna Leon and the Susan hill series. I always enjoy reading your lists as you read so many good books. Thanks for sharing, and I hope September has started off well. Hugs Erika
Sorry for the typos. Writing this on my phone ugh!!!

La Table De Nana said...

Not read any..thanks for the intro to new authors!

Joyful said...

These are all 'new to me' books and many sound very interesting. I love your book reviews. I'm too lazy to write many myself. Enjoy the rest of your month.

crackercrumblife said...

I loved The Year of Living Danishly! It made me want to move there honestly.

And Jeanie - the Queen. I am so sad! What an amazing life and legacy though.

Danielle L Zecher said...

"The Rodent Not Taken" sounds great! I wonder if it might be a good Christmas present for fellow cat lovers?

I need to check out some of these mysteries. I'm all caught up, waiting for the next books to be released on all of my favorite mystery series, so I need another one.

Pamela said...

I love that you always make/have time to read. You’ve chosen some great books again this month.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Yikes, Jeanie, this was another great month of reading for you and, like others, I appreciate the level of detail you always provide in your reviews both on the plot lines and your opinions. My husband enjoys Louise Penney, but will not be reading the one here (not a Clinton fan). It does make me wonder why public figures co-author with well known writers, none of these recent pairings interest me. Thanks for the heads up on the latest Leon book as I have fallen way behind in this series. I found that The local library did have Phyllis Gobbells and she is now in a wish list. Despite having guests, your reading list was so extensive, more so than those of us who did not entertain.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I buy or check out every book I run across that deals with ways to live a happier life, and I really enjoyed The Year of Living Danishly.

Sandra at Maison De Jardin said...

Hi Jeanie. Your book selections look so interesting, especially the one by the Cats. Has Lizzie read it? I have a great little book - "Cats Letters to Santa Clause." If you come across it, pick it up. You will laugh like you never have.

Have a good weekend, as you can tell I am on catch-up.

Linda Stoll said...

i love to burn the midnight oil with a good book. John Grisham always delivers!

hope your weekend is filled with good pages to savor, friend.

Lisbeth said...

Interesting number of books. I love Florence so I think that would be a book for me. Donna Leon is always good, and Venice is a superb city.

Lowcarb team member said...

Always interesting to read your book choices and reviews :)

All the best Jan

Gretchen Joanna said...

Merely the title of the Rodent book is extremely satisfying!! Thanks for sharing your reading adventures.

GretchenJoanna said...

Merely the title of the Rodent book is extremely satisfying! Thanks for sharing your reading adventures!

Victoria Zigler said...

Considering how much you had going on during August, I think you did amazingly to read that many books.

Pam said...

Always looking for a good book to read. Matter of fact, cooler temps are setting in so I will be doing some more reading.

Hena Tayeb said...

The book of poem written by cats sounds so quirky and unique. Would make such a fun present for a cat lover.
I have been on the fence about reading State of Terror. Great to hear that you loved it.

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

I'll look for some of these books at the library! I've been in a slump this past week...starting books that are not worth reading! lol I want a good mystery but not one that is so gruesome!

Amy at Ms. Toody Goo Shoes said...

I'm always interested in your book recommendations, and "Danishly" is my kind of book. Putting it on the list!

thepaintedapron.com said...

Thank you for the reviews Jeanie. I've been wondering what the book that Hilary co authored was like, interesting! You had a nice mix of books in August and the cat one sounds hilarious!
Jenna

Carola Bartz said...

A great list of books - the Danish one would be interesting since I am always interested in the experience other ex-pats make. I'm sure I would enjoy the cat poems.

Sami said...

Great reviews as usual Jeanie.
I've already searched my library and will go and fetch "The Year of living Danishly" and "State of Terror".
I love books about expat living and their views on their adoptive country. I have a Danish friend here in Perth, and I do know about the high taxes but great benefits like great health, free universities, free nursing home care... but he hates the cold! So it wouldn't be a country of my choice to live in either, lol.

Anca said...

The Rodent Not Taken sounds like a fun book. I also like the sound of The Year of Living Danishly. It's unlikely I will have time for these though, as I'm quite busy with other books.

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