Thursday, 19 July 2018

A Passion for Books

I have a passion for books. A deep and enduring love of reading that began early in life, and which has not abated in the ensuing years. I'm sure that as a kid, many summer days when I should have been running around outdoors, I had my nose in a book. 

In fact, I've written here many times about how much of my life I've spent with my nose in a book. I've written about books I love, and those I don't love quite so much. And even about the fact that finding a new and captivating writer can be very much like falling in loveThat's what happened when Hubby and I were on our camping trip last month. I fell head over heels for a new writer. 


photo of woman in black sweater
Author Susie Steiner   source

A few weeks ago I pulled the book Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner, a writer who is new to me, off the shelf of our library, knowing nothing about her or her writing. I was infatuated after page two. Hubby is lucky that, on our camping trip in June, I put the book down long enough to bike or fish or swim. I even considered taking the book with me when we went on a day trip into Algonquin Park. I mean, I have been known in the past to hold my fishing rod in one hand and a book in the other. But I thought that the fishing might distract me too much, and I didn't want to miss a single well-crafted sentence of this book. I loved it that much.  

Missing, Presumed is Steiner's first mystery/crime novel. She's a fabulous writer, in my opinion. She writes with a witty, slightly sardonic, engaging style.  Her plots are multi-layered with several lines of action taking place at the same time. She keeps what could become a confusing mess of events tidy by moving the point of view around, back and forth among three or four characters, unfurling each plot line using a different narrator, and in each section she gets well inside the head of her narrator. I love that. Thus we are privy to more information than any of the characters, almost as if we're in a drone, getting a 360° view from above. 

If I were still teaching I'd consider using Steiner's novels as an example of how to structure plot. To use a fishing metaphor, I'd say that Steiner lets a little line out, then a little more, then puts the brake on the reel, casts a second line, lets that line out, and so on, all the time careful that the lines don't tangle together. Of course when the fish is caught, all hell breaks loose, and the lines cross and tangle and become one. Ha. That metaphor is more apt than I realized. 

front of a canoe, a paddle lying across the gunnels
Fishing, not reading, in Algonquin Park in June.
Yesterday, I finished reading Persons Unknown, Steiner's second novel in her crime series, and I loved it more than the first. The plot in this one is equally well drawn, complex, and compelling. But what really gives Steiner's books the edge over so many other mystery and crime novels are her characters. She is brilliant at painting flawed, exasperating, yet sympathetic characters. 

The main character in the series is Detective Manon Bradshaw, smart, irreverent, passionate about her work and about, well, everything, really. Manon is single and her personal life outside of work is a train wreck. In the first book she's moving from one disastrous relationship to another, tries speed dating, and even falls for a witness she interviews. She's a mess and she's lonely, which is actually kind of a requirement for the protagonist in mystery novels. One reviewer compares her to Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect series, but she reminds me more of Barbara Havers in Elizabeth George's books. You feel like shaking her, but still love her at the same time. Alida Becker in her review of Missing, Presumed in the NY Times says Manon is "portrayed with an irresistible blend of sympathy and snark." 

I particularly love that Manon and, indeed, all the strong women in these books are flawed. They are smart, talented women trying to navigate what is still for the most part a man's world, but they're still women. I love the scene where Manon and her boss, Harriet, interview a male witness who is stunningly handsome, and unconsciously they both sit a bit straighter, and suck in their stomachs; Manon twirls her hair, then realizes what she's doing. I almost laughed out loud at that. They're not compromising their authority, but they can't resist trying to appear more attractive. And the ironic part is that the really handsome guy turns out to be the most boring man either of them have ever met.  

Bethanne Patrick, in her perceptive review for NPR, says that Missing, Presumed shows how everybody loses, both women and men, "in a malecentric society." 

I'd say this theme also contributes in a minor way to the second novel Persons Unknown. However, in my view, this second book is much more about love. Flawed, messy, sometimes hopeless, and yet utterly necessary love. And how our experiences with love make us who we eventually become. Manon's mother died when she was fourteen, and she refers to the ensuing time as "the hug-less years." But it's this experience which helps her to understand and be able to comfort others: "Manon [recognizes] the look on Birdie's face. She remembers those moments of coming up against death and having to shock yourself with the permanence of it. The hollow sensation of actively loving a person who cannot love you back because they are dead. And wondering who you are, if the you who was loved by them isn't being loved by them any more." That bit made me tear up. 

Despite the touching scenes, Steiner's books are neither smarmy nor sentimental. We love the characters, but we see them in the cold light of day: all messy-haired and runny-nosed, sometimes selfish, mostly well-meaning, often making disastrous decisions for all the right reasons. Gad. I can't wait for the next one.

cover of Susie Steiner's novel Missing, Presumed       cover of Susie Steiner's novel Persons Unknown

I first remember being passionate about books when I was about seven or eight. I remember Sunday mornings when my older brother and sisters and my mum were still asleep, and I was not. Instead, I was sitting on the living room floor quietly, and happily, reading. Or re-reading. Leaning against the couch, engrossed, smiling, legs splayed out, and between my legs a sliding, messy pile of my favourite books.  

Over the years, my passion has held me riveted to my couch or chair with my nose deeply buried in a book for more hours than I would wish to count. But just for fun... let's try to count them shall we? 

I'm sixty-two years old. Let's say, for interest's sake that my habit started when I was eight. That's fifty-four years of reading. I'm not talking about reading for school or for work, not talking about professional reading or marking student papers, or anything that is NOT reading for pleasure. And even if I've spent only a single hour a day reading, that's 19,710 hours at the very least. Or 821 days of nothing but reading. And if I factor out 8 hours of sleeping each night, since I haven't yet figured out how to read and sleep at the same time, then it becomes 1232 days. Over three years of my life... when I've not been sleeping, I've been reading. 

You know, I still remember vividly my mum or my grandmother admonishing me to get my nose out of my book. To go outside, ride my bike, get some fresh air. I know they didn't mean that reading was a waste of time. After all they were, and are, great readers themselves. But it was a question of balance. Passionate readers not being very balanced when it comes to putting their books down. 

And I thought of this picture below, of the son of a good friend, reading on the dock at their cottage. He's passionate about books too. As I said to her, she's such a great mom, she's managed to foster their love of reading and get her kids outside at the same time. It's wonderful to see kids loving books, don't you think? 


boy reclining on a dock reading

Now I really must go. I finished the Steiner book last night, and passed it over to Hubby. And I'm feeling bereft. 

I'm bookless, with nothing to read. So I'm off to the library in a few minutes. 


What are you reading lately my friends? Any books which have aroused your passion? 



Linking up with Thursday Favourite Things,  #SaturdayShareLink-up, and #fakeittillyoumakeit  

58 comments:

  1. I went straight to my library website to add this author to my list before coming back here to comment. My taste in reading is quite similar to yours, and your recommendations have greatly enriched my reading over the years I've been following your blog. Between you and all of your commenters, I have enough books lined up to last me a good, long time.

    I find Barbara Havers to be a very engaging character -- she interests me a lot more than Lynley these days. If Manon reminds you of her, that's a definite recommendation!

    I'm trying to think of books I've read recently that I may have come across somewhere other than here. Are you familiar with Rachel Joyce? I recently read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which is the sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry -- would recommend both.

    Denise L.

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    1. I just love Havers, and like you, even more than Lynley. I'm so glad that Elizabeth George has brought her out from Lynley's shadow. I bought Rachel Joyce's second book for my mum but I haven't read it myself yet. I loved Harold Fry.

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    2. Another vote for Havers here!

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    3. Definitely a Havers fan.

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  2. What a sentence-breathtaking! I was looking for the breathtaking book,something to fall in love with! What a review! I want to read this at once!
    And what a math :-) I don't mind "dissipating"my years with the books
    Not in the same category I guess,but I recently liked very much the first book from A.J. Finn- The Woman in the Window
    Dottoressa

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    1. Me too, Dottoressa... years spent reading are not wasted. I'll look for that AJ Finn book. Thanks.

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  3. I also spent my childhood with my nose in a book and was encouraged to go out and play by my mother, who wasn’t a great reader at the time, although she read a lot more when she was confined to her chair as an old lady. My husband still teases me with that “nose in a book” comment even now. Many of the books you recommend are unavailable to us in the UK so I was delighted to search my library catalogue and find Susie Steiner was listed. However they only have Persons Unknown. I will go and collect this tomorrow but wonder “Should I be reading these in chronological order or do they stand alone?”

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    1. I have the same question re whether these novels can be read out of order; I was able to check out Persons Unknown immediately, but only was placed on the reserved list at the library for Missing, Presumed.

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    2. Well... it's hard to say. I dove right into Person's Unknown because it picked up a few months on from where Missing, Presumed ended with respect to Manon's life. I think I would be best to read them in order, since once you've read the second one you kind of know the outcome of the first, although not the missing person/murder mystery solution. If they only have the second one, it shouldn't matter as you've no choice. But, Natalie...I think I'd wait and read them on order. If you decide otherwise, please let me know how it was.

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  4. Thanks for this recommendation. To your question, you might also like Sunburned by Laura Lipmann and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. Especially on audiobook :)

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    1. I really like Laura Lipman. But I've not read that one. I'll look to see if my audio plan has the Lisa See book. Thanks for the recommendations.

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  5. Thanks for the recommendation. I too went straight to my library website and I'm into the book already. She does have a lovely snark to her writing, I think Im going to like this book.

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    1. Ha. So glad you are liking it. It's always dicey to be too enthusiastic about a book since we all have our own taste.

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  6. Oh, yes, that flat feeling of finishing a great book and having nothing on tap to read next, I know it too well. In fact my current book is so boring that I should really just stop, discard, and find something more interesting. But I keep hoping we will turn a corner into something better.....

    Love your tabulation of hours spent reading for pleasure!

    ceci

    ceci

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    1. Toss that boring book, Ceci. The only time I persist these days is when a trusted reading friend counsels me that it will be worth it.

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  7. Since learning to read when I was 5? I have been a great reader. I laughed at your comment about not being able to read and sleep at the same time. Wouldn't that be great. I could tick off a lot more books from my reading list, many of which I have found on your blog. My mother used to read and knit at the same time.

    I would also recommend The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. It was a very good read and I learnt a lot about rare teas along the way.

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    1. I can't remember when I couldn't read. I do remember the thrill of reading the little Dick and Jane "readers" on my own, and being allowed to bring them home from school if we were very careful. Then I'd read Dick and Jane stories to my Mum... who I'm sure was riveted. Ha.
      I will look at the library for the Lisa See book. Thanks, Christy.

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  8. I remember reading at age 4 and was also one who read way more than I should have as a child. I love books. I am also putting this on my to be read list as sounds amazing. I am always so sad when an author dies and no more stories from him or her! Devastating when it is an author I have enjoyed. Still grieving Vince Flynn. I really liked A Man callled Ove. I am reading, My Gandmother told me to tell you she’s sorry, right now. I started Beartown by him also but had to return the book and am waiting for it from my library. My husband did not grow up reading and does not understand my obsession. Thank you for sharing this author!

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    1. I remember being sad that Reginald Hill had died. He was my favourite mystery writer. Then both P.D. James and Ruth Rendell went... such a loss to the literary world!

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  9. Every sentiment echoed and probably the same amount of time too. Reading keeps me sane and happy. Even in the days of early motherhood when others claimed to have no time to read, I kept hard at it, getting rather nifty at breastfeeding and reading at the same time. Fortunately we are all fanatical readers in this household and regularly share books too, despite having very different tastes. I was just chatting to my son last night about a sci-fi book I lent him when he was home a couple of weeks ago - he left with a big pile of stuff from the shelves. When I meet people who say they don't read, I literally have nothing to say to them. We could not be friends. Dream death scenario: summer evening, country garden. Big family lunch now over, descendants running about having fun. Old, old lady at the bottom of the garden, reading a book. Someone goes to offer her a gin - she has passed, book still open. Fade...

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    1. Now, that would be a lovely death... which if it isn't the title to a mystery novel, darned well should be:)

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  10. Thanks for the suggestions. I really value your choices. I just cruised through Michael Ondaatje's newest, Warlight. He's at his wonderful, creative, storytelling best. Highly recommended. Bobbe from Montreal

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    1. Thanks, Bobbe. I was eyeing that latest Ondaatje at the book store the other day. Happy to hear it's wonderful. I have so much respect for his writing.

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  11. I recently read "Then I Found You" by Lisa Jewell, and subsequently ordered all her other books and read them. Great mysteries, but very full characters as well. I love her writing. Just ordered Missing, Presumed after your great recommendation (I read a few pages on Amazon) and can hardly wait for it to arrive. Thanks.

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    1. Just downloaded that Lisa Jewell book to my kindle ap. Thanks, Kathy.

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  12. Hi Sue
    Now this sounds like a book I could read! ;)
    I'm halfway through the seventh book by Ellen Crosby. They are whodunit based in Virginia wine country. A good light read.
    Robin

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    1. I haven't read any Ellen Crosby... I will check her out. Thanks, Robin.

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  13. I wholeheartedly agree. Steiner is fablous. Can't wait for the next biok.
    Have you read Tana French? Another detective series with alternating narrators and interesting characters.

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    1. Love, love Tana French. Especially the Dublin Murder Squad series. She almost makes up for the loss of PD James and Ruth Rendell.

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  14. Another vote for Tana French: I've read In the Woods, Faithful Place, The Secret Place, and Broken Harbor. I found them both absorbing and quite lyrical.

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    1. Me too, Natalie. I think Faithful Place was brilliant. And I really enjoyed all of them.

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  15. As an only child growing up in rural north of Scotland in the 1960s reading was my main pastime, tho I also loved being out of doors - we had so much freedom to roam the hills. I can't imaging a home without books, and I'm amazed at rooms in house magazines where there are no books - how is it possible not to have a bookcase in every room?? Since doing a French literature undergraduate degree and then a PhD, and analysing fiction inside out, I find I've had my fill of most imaginary worlds, and now read mostly non-fiction. Above all I can't bear novels about middle class British relationship entanglements/1st world problems! In fact the only fiction I read nowadays are the novels of Ursula Le Guin. I know crime is a really varied genre but I can't seem to get in to it at all. But I have a lifetime of biography, history, science, geography, environment to catch up on, so that keeps me busy!

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    1. I feel somewhat the same about literary fiction. For years, every summer, I read the newest Canadian literary fiction looking for good books for my grade twelves. Now I'm content to read good mysteries, with the very occasional more literary novel. I'm hoping the aversion wears off after a few years of retirement.

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  16. Now I'm all set for my next book!!!

    Thank you! You write excellent book reviews.

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    1. You're welcome, Lisa. Hope you enjoy it.

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  17. I've just ordered Missing, Presumed, and The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane from my library. I'll be 62 in a few months, also an avid reader since about 8, and think your calculations are spot on.
    I just finished The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick. It's similar to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, and Harold Fry, in that each one features an older male protagonist. Is this a new genre, I wonder?

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    1. I though the same thing when I was at he book store recently... lots of books about quirky senior citizens. Hope it doesn't become like the Chick Lit craze of a few years ago, when the early more interesting novels were diminished by all the silliness that followed. I also noticed a penchant for long silly titles.. like The Man Who Did Something UNusual and Then Did Something Else... kind of:)

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    2. Sue, do those books ever put you in mind of Margaret Lawrence's Hagar, in The Stone Angel? No cutesy there, right?!

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    3. Ha. Hagar was definitely NOT cutsey.

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  18. Sue, thank you for this enthusiastic review of Susie Steiner's books. I'm forwarding to my fellow book club members a link to this blog post.

    I may be repeating myself, but a book I read recently and loved was A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

    And most recently on vacation, I finally (cough!) read E. M. Forster's Howards End and Henry James's The Awkward Age. On long holidays I prefer to read classics I somehow missed devouring when I was young. I'm usually grateful for the long delay since I doubt I'd have understood or appreciated them as much as I do all these decades later.

    Ann in Missouri

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    1. I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. So well written and engrossing. I must try your trick of reading classics while travelling. There are so many that I haven't read. Including Howards End. Although I have seen the 1992 movie... she admitted sheepishly.
      P.S. I had to delete my first reply and edit. I used an apostrophe initially in that title. And of course "Howard's End" would be a very different book. Ha.

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    2. LOL! Poor Howard and his End. Yes, getting used to the apostrophe-less Howards End was tough for me, too. ;)

      Ann in Missouri

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  19. OMigosh, what am I NOT reading feels like the appropriate question right now! I've mismanaged my Holds at the library, and they all seem to have come in, plus I couldn't resist a few finds when I went in to pick those up -- I finally have Ursula LeGuin's No Time to Spare in my greedy hands (that was a LONG waiting list!), but also Anna Quindlen's latest and Jonathan Deaver's (was on the Fast Reads shelf, so I'm skimming it -- not sure his books are worth the bother anymore, so many graphic twists and turns, but I do like Rhyme and Sachs and Thom). And I've just had a message from the library that both the latest Elly Griffiths/Ruth Galloway AND the Donna Leon I was waiting for have come in and I have to pick them up this week -- yikes!! So although Susie Steiner's books are available there, I've added them to my For Later shelf.
    And yes, I was pretty much the same as a kids -- did you ever hold a book open to read as you were walking to school? I remember that, tilting the book downward to check for cars before crossing the street. ;-)

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    1. I haven't read Jonathan Deaver is a long time. Liked the new Elly Griffiths/Ruth Galaway. Waiting impatiently for the new Ann Cleeves to come into our library. I might have to order it on Kindle... put myself out of my misery.
      I took the bus to school, so there was no chance of a reading-traffic accident waiting to happen. I do remember, though, when we first moved to Ottawa, my roommate was so engrossed in her book that she missed her bus stop and had no idea where she was.

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  20. I just read your comment on Amid Privilege and wanted to concur about literary fiction (at this moment anyway) ~ however, if you haven't read An American Marriage, it really is fantastic and not to be missed. I also wanted to thank you because my husband is addicted to the Stuart Neville books that you recommended here!

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    1. Wow... that Stuart Neville recommendation must be from a long time ago. I love his stuff... particularly to listen to on Audible.

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  21. I just went to my library website and requested Missing, Presumed. I recommend another crime writer I found on the shelves -- Attica Locke. I loved Bluebird, Bluebird and The Cutting Season.

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    1. Thanks for that. A writer who is totally new to me.:)

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  22. Thanks for the Susie Steiner recommendation. I'm a few chapters into Missing, Presumed, and I'm sold. Thanks too for introducing me to Denise Mina some time ago.

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    1. You're most welcome, Maggie. I love Denise Mina.

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  23. thank you for the recommendation. she sounds exactly my sort of author and i cant wait to start reading. one of the most pleasurable things in life is to find a new author you love who has already written a series of books.

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    1. Oh my... the thrill of finding a writer we love.... who has a whole list of books we haven't read. Reader's nirvana.

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  24. You know, Sue, I´m starting to dread your posts on books. There wasn´t one when I didn´t buy at least one of your recommendations.
    Seriously, I love the way you write about books and reading. Your passion shines through and makes me want to read that book, too. And then I do.
    Thanks for that.

    Inra

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    1. Thanks, Inra. So glad you've enjoyed the books I suggested. We must be reading kindred spirits.

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  25. I now have a hold on Missing, Presumed (do you think the librarians will notice the sudden uptake and wonder where the interest was generated?). Loved Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Just listened to Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Enjoyed it so much, and then saw hubby with his nose in the book a few days later, and he also raved about it.

    In my book club we have listeners and readers, and most of us vary between the two -- but we have noticed a difference in our responses to the book, whether we have listened or read....it's curious. For example, those of us who listened to My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, all went on to complete all four volumes in the series, and enjoyed it. Those of us who read it were barely able to complete the first book!

    For listening I have really enjoyed anything by Kate Morton. Listening or reading -- Loved A Gentleman in Moscow and also Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, as well as The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan. On a WW II theme, I just listened to Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wren, which was apparently written for teens, about two women's experiences, as best friends -- one a pilot, the other a wireless operator, and which I found engrossing. Also The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, which focused on women's experience of war in France, and uses the perspective of two women in different time frames -- one in WWI and the other in WWII. And, of course, the powerful read, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah -- so well written and so illuminating; a tough story but so well written; brought me near tears several times.

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    1. That's interesting you should say that. I've listened to books by a couple of authors and then found reading them myself not nearly as entertaining. Particularly very light novels can be much more fun if the narrator is good. Similarly, I tried to settle into listening to a very serious novel, and found I couldn't do so. Some books I just need to savour at my own pace. I'm currently loving listening to old Agatha Christie books narrated by Hugh Fraser who plays Hasting in the BBC Poirot series. He is a really talented reader.

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  26. Many thanks for the recommendation of Susie Steiner, just finished Missing, Presumed and the next is on hold at the library. Also thank you to all the blog readers here for their suggestions. I live in a rural area, and the book club offerings at the closest library leave much to be desired, so I am always very happy for a post like this to see what others are spending their time with. As for the admonishments to get your nose out of a book, oh, yes, so many times. We had a lovely old maple tree in the front yard, and I would sneak up there to sit on a nice wide branch and read in the summer, hidden by the foliage. My happiest childhood memories are of reading, and browsing the library.

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    1. You are welcome, Judy. I'm happy you enjoyed the first book... the second is even better:)

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All comments, ideas, commiserations, questions, complaints... are most welcome.