Friday, May 3, 2024

April's Books

Cataract surgery slowed down my reading time in April (and it will continue this month, too). But All the books I read were well worth reading! As usual, most were mysteries but the gem was a non-fiction work.


 "Last Bus to Woodstock" by Colin Dexter 

I read one Colin Dexter "Inspector Morse" novel years ago. When someone sent me "Last Bus to Woodstock" (with a few other books -- and thank you, Vagabonde!) I knew it was the one I had to read first! 

I've always been a fan of John Thaw as "Inspector Morse" on BBC/PBS so as I read, I had a "vision" of what Morse and his sidekick, Sergeant Lewis, looked like and that brought the pages even more to life -- though Dexter's tight plot and good writing would be fine coming in cold.

A young woman is found dead and raped in the car park of a pub on a rainy night and it turns out that she and a friend were waiting for the bus to Woodstock when a driver stopped and offered them a ride. The friend got out first but the driver and the soon-to-be-murdered woman continue on. When Morse and Lewis arrive there is no sign of who she was, how she ended up there and who might have killed her.

Set  in Oxford, the plot takes us into the colleges where three of the professors might know something about the murder, as well as to a local business where a woman who may have been the victim's friend works. As Morse pursues this lead, he encounters her roommates as well. And what about the victim's boyfriend, whom she was supposed to meet at the pub? As you can see, there is no shortage of characters and that means no shortage of suspects.

This is the first of Dexter's "Morse" novels. I don't know that it matters to read them in order, but it is certainly a good one to begin with.

A note -- after I finished the book, I decided to watch the video (the "Morse" series is on BritBox in the US.) The video is equally good with many of the same characters. But many are different, including  the motive for murder. It didn't matter to me as it would with a dearly beloved novel, but it was interesting to see how it was changed and it has me wondering why.

"Blue Lightning" by Ann Cleeves

I can't remember the last time I cried when finishing a book. In fact, I only remember once and that was probably when I was no older than my 20s and possibly even in my teens. So, why does a  mystery like "Blue Lightning" get to me?

I can't tell you the answer, although I know it. It wouldn't be fair to anyone who hasn't read this offering in Cleeves "Shetland" series with its lead detective, Jimmy Perez. 

"Blue Lightning" finds Perez on Fair Isle, the Shetland island on which he grew up, bringing his finance, Fran, to meet his parents. The Perezes are hosting an engagement party for the couple at the island's Field Center where naturalists come from around the world to engage in bird watching. The center's director is Angela Moore, author, television star and birder and it is run by her husband, Maurice, whose teenaged daughter, Poppy, is visiting. Others who are part of the center include guests Hugh and Sarah Fowler, and fellow birders Hugh and Dougie. The staff is made up of Ben Catchpole (Angela's assistant) and Jane, the cook and domestic help.

The night of the party, Angela is found dead, stabbed in the back with an array of feathers in her hair. It is clear that the murderer must be one of the center's residents, for it turns out that many of them have reason to dislike the woman. But with a plethora of suspects and a minimum of evidence, Perez (who must now, as the only policeman on Fair Isle) must investigate the crime. It is a daunting task, made more so when another of those at the center is found dead as well.

To say any more would be unfair to the reader. What I will say is that as you near the ending chapters, be sure to have some Kleenex handy.

"Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande

"Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy -- the freedom -- to be the authors of our own lives. This is the very marrow of being human"

But how do we do this when we are in pain -- the excruciating pain that comes when death nears? When we simply cannot do the things that make life worth living? And how can we be certain that those whom we love, who will be left after we have gone, can carry out our last wishes? How do we even start the conversations with our partner or our parents? 

"Being Mortal" should be required reading for anyone "of an age" who will at one point, sooner or later, have deal with these decisions with a spouse, a parent or for themselves.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon, is quick to remind us that the medical profession is dedicated to prolonging life and sometimes that comes at a terrible  price physically and emotionally. Another round of chemotherapy when the first doesn't work, or the second. Living in a medical facility such as a nursing home where the schedule staff must keep to manage their schedules might be rigidly inflexible, often to the detriment of the patient's needs or comfort.

And too many people rely solely on the advice of their doctors -- which is valuable. But do they ask the patient, "What matters to you?"

Through a variety of examples of patients he has encountered, as well as the story of his own father, Gawande takes us through a series of cases that make us think "What would I want? What do I need in the final stages of life?" Independence? Family? My pet? To be able to read books or paint or travel?

He introduces us to men and women who have changed the look and practices of many nursing and assisted living homes, offering their patients privacy or the opportunity to care for something outside themselves. (These chapters were my favorites and I started looking for places like this in our area. There aren't enough.) He also discusses the benefits of Hospice at length for giving the dying the opportunity to have their pain controlled and to be able to be at home with family if that is what they choose.

Perhaps most important, he goes through the tough conversations that must be had between family members and the importance (and difficulty) in respecting the wishes of the other, even if they conflict with one's own. 

"Being Mortal" is inspiring, as we meet a host of courageous people -- patients, family members, and medical professionals who want to focus most on the needs and desires of the individual and not the institution. Or, to put it another way, if one more chemo drug or trial makes you so ill, so weak or leave you in great pain, is that what you really want? 

Or would you prefer to have your pain controlled and be in the environment you would most like. We can't always have everything we want, but we can do better than we have in the past.

This book came out in 2014 and I read it then but it didn't resonate. As I read it now I realized I wasn't ready for it then. My parents had already passed; there was nothing I could about that. And aging seemed far away. Now I suspect there is a whole generation of people my age who will be contending with physical challenges and hard decisions (if they aren't already) and a younger group who may well be responsible for the well-being of their parents.

The stories -- some deeply personal, such as those related to Gawande's father -- help us walk through our own thoughts. Beautifully told, with honesty and a surprising degree of humility, "Being Mortal" is definitely one worth reading -- and sharing with those you love.

"Fire in the Thatch" by E.C.R. Lorac

This is another Inspector Macdonald mystery in the British Library Crime Classics series, originally published in 1946. The story is set in the Devonshire countryside near the end of the war. Colonel St. Cyres and his daughter, Anne, live at Manor Thatch, a large farming estate. Cyres' daughter-in-law, June, is living with them, along with her young son, while her husband is a prisoner of war.

June wants her father-in-law to rent Little Thatch, a small cottage with land on the property. to her city friend, Thomas Gressingham, who wants to turn the area into a country club. Opposed, St. Cyres chooses Nicholas Vaughan, a taciturn but hard working veteran who wants to build a viable farm, as his tenant. Vaughan works hard on the property, fixing up the house, planting the garden and working the fields. He is respected by the villagers in the area for his hard work.

So, when his body is found in the ruins of Little Thatch after a devastating fire, many think it is an accident -- faulty wiring, perhaps, or an unattended fire. But the matter comes to the attention of Macdonald and he is not convinced. Indeed, he believes that murder might be the cause of Vaughan's death. But who might the murderer be? Gressingham or his friends, Brandon or Rummy? Another villager? 

In this clever mystery, Macdonald eventually sorts out the clues and comes up with the answer -- and it's a clever one, and one that totally surprised me! I love this series of books and Lorac has become one of my favorites.

"Bodies in the Library" edited by Tony Medawar

I am, in general, no fan of short stories. I can't seem to get as involved as I do in a good fiction or non-fiction tale. But a collection of very short mysteries appealed to me -- can they set out a good story and solve a mystery credibly in few pages?

Those stories collected in "Bodies in the Library" do that, for the most part, quite well. The sixteen stories are written by many of the Golden Age of Crime's well known novelists, including Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Croft, Anthony Berkeley (aka Cecil Waye), A. A. Milne, and Georgette Heyer, among others. 

Some stories (and mini-plays) are extremely captivating. Among my favorites were the play "Blind Man's Bluff" by Ernst Branah (and I'd love to see this on stage!); "The Elusive Bullet" by John Rhode, "The Girdle of Dreams," by Vincent Cornier, "The Starting Handle Murder," by Anthony Vickers and "Lincke's Greatest Case," by Georgette Heyer. "Victoria Pumphrey" (H. C. Bailey) is delightful, as is "The Man with the Twisted Thumb" (Anthony Berkeley). 

And lest you should think all of these involve murder, think again. You'll find spies, thefts and swindles among the mysteries to be solved.

If you like a mystery -- and a short story -- then this collection (published in England) might be just the one for you!

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Sue in Suffolk said...

A very very long time since I read that Colin Dexter - long before it was a TV series.I read them as they were published after that and the same with the Shetland series.
Thought I'd read 'The Bodies in the Library' but it turns out that there are 6 different collections in this series (numbered 1 - 6) so I've got 5 more to reserve! So thank you for that nudge to check them out!

Sue in Suffolk said...

and I forgot to say that Lorac is my favourite author of the Crime Classics too.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Thanks for these reviews, Jeanie. I’m sure that many will be motivated to check at their local library.

Tom said...

...I love BBC mysteries.

gz said...

I liked the Morse's always sad when the adaptation veers away from a good book...( Or vice versa in the case of Hitchhiker's Guide!)
I preferred Ian Rankin's series about read in order... because I could visualise places that I knew

My name is Erika. said...

I think you had a good reading month having had eye surgery. I need to get back and read some more of the Shetland series after reading this month's review. I even have a couple more of those books in my besides the book pile. Grin.And those short stories sound good too. Like you I often find it hard to really get into a short story, but sometimes, they are good to break up the usual reading. I've read the Morse, which is also a good, but in some ways dated. Dated doesn't make it bad in any form though. Being mortal sounds like a tough read, but necessary, as it is something we all need to deal with. I've got my book posts scheduled for Sunday. Hope you can make it by to read it. Have a great start to your weekend Jeanie. And I always enjoy reading about what you've been reading. You always pass on some good books, especially the mysteries. hugs-Erika said...

Thanks for the reviews and suggestions Jeanie!

gigi-hawaii said...

"Being Mortal" would resonate with me. As you know, David was bedridden in a nursing home for 3 months, and we all know what a horrible ordeal it was.

Valerie-Jael said...

The books sound great! I have seen all of the Morse series on TV, and also all of the Lewis series, who takes over after Morse dies. Have a great weekend, hugs!

Valerie-Jael said...

I left a comment and it disappeared! Enjoy your reading! Hugs!

Rita said...

Since eye issues have curtailed my reading for years...I just found the Shetland story (in two parts) and the Inspector Morse story on YouTube to watch (again, as I have seen both series and love them both--especially Shetland). And I ordered the first E.C.R. Lorac book in the series as an eBook (so I can enlarge the print). I am off to watch right now! Thanks. (Any excuse to rewatch Shetland is okay with me--lol!)

Breathtaking said...

Hello Jeanie :=)
You did well to read all these books. Thanks for the review. I doubt if I will be able to find these books in Portuguese, and books in English are hard to come by, but I will look for them.
Have a happy weekend.
All the best

DUTA said...

I'm for realism and honesty in life, so "Being Mortal" sounds like a very important read - especially that's written by a doctor who also refers to his own father's case.

bobbie said...

Jeanie ~
"Being Mortal" is awesome!! I had gotten it when it first came out ~ it should be required reading for anyone over 50! End of life care is something near & dear to me ~ I saw too much of the flip side of it at work.
I will see if I can get the others at our library.
Thanks, as always, for the tips!

Joanne said...

That is an impressive amount of reading for someone that just had cataract surgery! Sounds like you read some great mysteries.

eileeninmd said...

Hello Jeanie
I would love each of these books, great reviews.
I hope you and your eyes are back to normal or even better soon.
Take care, have a wonderful weekend.

Prims By The Water said...

Once I retire I will have time to read again. I love mysteries. Janice

Lowcarb team member said...

Having just had cataract surgery, I think you did well to read all these books. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and reviews.

Have a happy first weekend of May.

All the best Jan

Pam Richardson said...

Wow, I am surprised that you read that many books with cataract surgery. As always, thanks for you well written reviews, Jeanie!

Linda P said...

I used to go to literary festivals where a talk about his books was given by the late author, Colin Dexter. I have quite a collection of his crime books. (I can get dramas of Inspector Morse on UK TV) too. Mysteries are my favourite book genre so a new book in that category is one I would welcome. Thank you for your book review Jeanie .

Iris Flavia said...

Since I have the walking pad and a bloggy-friend who now knows me too well (we met in Adelaide, Australia) I have too many DVDs.
I have many an unread book and I admit... I just overflew this post - way too dangerous to order even more!
Wow, you do read a lot! Thinking of all the work with the cellar, too.... wow! Seems like retirement will not give more free-time!

Anonymous said...

This is Lisa. You had a great month despite dealing with cataract surgery! I want to read Being Mortal. I have heard nothing but good things. I should probably read it sooner than later as I do have aging parenting. They are quite healthy but one never knows what is ahead. It makes me think about something that happened when I was in FL with my parents. My grandma was in the hospital because of a fall that broke her sacrum among other bones. Her kidneys were shutting down and the doctor offered a suggestion of sending her to a bigger hospital where a kidney specialist could see what could be done. My uncle relayed all of this to my parents and my mom had to say - but is this really what she wants? She is almost 101 and has been ready to go, do we really need to prolong her life? My uncle was quick to agree. He got caught up in the moment and was just going along with the doctor’s suggestion - which was probably offered because they need to present all options even if they aren’t appropriate? Ultimately the decision was made to keep her comfortable and start the hospice process and she peacefully passed within a matter of days. She was in quite good health up to the end besides this fall but had horrible macular degeneration so could no longer do the things she enjoyed like crosswords, reading, crocheting, etc. it was a depressing way to live at the end because even audio books were tough since her hearing wasn’t great even though she had hearing aides.

Jim and Barb's Adventures said...

Very timely post! We are in the process of putting together our books for summer adventure.

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

An impressive list, thank you. The Being Mortal sounds like a book everyone should read.

Sandra Cox said...

These all sound good, but the first one is particularly intriguing.
Have a grand weekend.

anno said...

You've already hooked me on the Shetland series with Jimmy Perez, but I think I'm one or two stories behind you. Thanks for the preview! And thanks for the introduction to Colin Dexter as well... this looks like something I need to have lined up in my Kindle.

Isn't Atul Gawande amazing? Any time I see one of his essays (New Yorker? NYT?), I know I'm in for a treat. Somehow I missed the fact that he had a book out (even if it was nearly 10 years ago!) -- I'm glad to hear about this.

Cataract surgery or no cataract surgery, looks to me like you had a great reading month. Thanks for sharing your finds!

acorn hollow said...

I got one book read and felt very proud of myself lol. I do love Ann Cleeves.

Carola Bartz said...

"Being Mortal" is on my list - this seems to be such an important read. Of course our "natural" reaction would be to shy away from it, but in the end we all have to confront our own end and how we want it if we have a choice. These are uncomfortable thoughts, but we really cannot turn away from them, as much as we would like to.

Pam said...

Hope that you are healing well. With my health, its a surprise that I don't have that same issue but my eyes are great, no sign of cataracts at all. I read for several days on the pig book but the last couple I have not done reading. Need to get on that.

Jenny Woolf said...

I have a great pile of books waiting to be read! The only ones I'm looking at are those which are total escapism and amusing with it, and not hard to understand, so Terry Pratchett fits the bill. Have you read any of his books?

DeniseinVA said...

I always enjoy your book selections Jeanie, and I do hope you are healing well :)

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Great list, thank you!

Hena Tayeb said...

Good to hear all your reads were so good. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

I also have trouble getting involved with characters in short stories. I prefer somewhat longer stories although I have enjoyed those between a short story and a long novel.

Sounds like a list of great books this month. Some series just can't be beat to grab your attention and keep your interest.

R's Rue said...

Being Mortal is now on my list. Thank you.

Red Rose Alley said...

Sounds like some intriguing reads, Jeanie. I'm glad you were pleased with all of them. Fire in the Thatch sounds like the ending was the opposite from what you thought. I have watched a couple movies lately about the prisoners of war, and the way they were treated is shocking. What a devastating time. I'm so impressed with all the reading you do, Jeanie. My eyes are not what they used to, so my reading time is limited. But I love visiting my favorite blogs each and every day. : )


Marilyn Miller said...

I am impressed you got this much reading done with having eye issues and surgery. Hoping your eye is better and on to the next one. Hugs, m

Debbie-Dabble Blog and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

I do hope I get do to a bit more reading this Summer...I am not going to buy and plant as many annuals as in past years because I spent most of last Summer watering those flowers trying to keep them alive in the terrible heat and humidity that we get anymore in the Summers...Thanks so much for always stopping by to check in on me!! It is gratefully appreciated!! I hope you are having a good week, my friend!!

Anca said...

I reserved Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter. I wanted to read a book set in Oxford while I was studying there and forgot about it. So, now, after seeing this one on your blog, I reserved it. :D

Anca said...

I left a comment earlier, but I'm not sure if it got through. I mentioned that I reserved at the library the Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter, as it is set in Oxford and I want to read while I am still there. :)

Mae Travels said...

Going back to the classic mystery writers is a great idea. I've read some of them rather long abo, but I should read more, or even reread some.
Good luck with the second eye!
best, mae at

Barb said...

Being Mortal is a must read! Bob and I wrote a letter of instruction for our sons after I read it.

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