Both on Amazon, for Kindle:
$1.99: Tourist Season, by Carl Hiaasen. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
|I was not sure I would like this one; but once I started following Major Pettigrew's character in the book and seeing the changes in him, I fell in love with the book. Did he actually change, or did he finally stand up for the lifestyle he believed in? There were several characters I liked, then others who I just wanted to punch...I liked how Simsonson wrote her characters so that there was a distinct emotion I felt as I read about them. Definitely a must read...|
2017 was an excellent reading year around here. I had four five-star reads, not counting re-reads, which is a very high total for me, out of some 90+ books read. One was a novel - 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, and three non-fiction: The Invention of Nature, by Andrea Wulf, and two by Ruth Goodman, How to be a Tudor, and How to be a Victorian. Wonderful re-reads included Dorothy L. Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, several Mary Russell novels by Laurie R. King, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (which I think I read in about 1978, but remembered nothing).
The best historical novel I read in 2017 was The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson, and the best new mystery Racing the Devil, by Charles Todd. I read a decent amount of non-fiction, all of it good, from The Glass Universe (about the ladies of the Harvard Observatory) to Michelangelo's Ceiling (Damn it, your holiness, I'm a sculptor, not a painter), The Sun and the Moon (the Man-bats, or America's first great "fake news" story), and A is for Arsenic (Agatha Christie knew her poisons).
I had some reads that were just pure fun, like Jennifer Crusie's Agnes and the Hitman, Deborah Harkness' trilogy on witches, or Anne Bishop's novels about The Others.
It did have down moments. Calamity in Kent's plot boiled down to "Scotland Yard inspector decides his tabloid journalist friend, Jimmy, is the best choice to solve a locked room mystery, and tells Jimmy to go for it." Um. OK?
The one which angered me, however, was my sole 1-star read of the year, The Ashes of London, which was billed as a thriller set during the Great Fire of London. It is set *after* the fire, did not have very good historical detailing (it could have been pretty much anywhere and anywhen in the past that had suffered a large fire), and had two narrators, neither interesting. And then it offended me with a touch of "let's start the characterization of the woman by having her evil cousin rape her" and I was out.
But most of my reading year was wonderful. I hope yours was, too.
You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson's wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.
The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?
It is the summer of 1914, and Beatrice Nash, 23, finds herself in Rye, in Sussex, attempting desperately to get a job as a teacher at the local grammar school. (As Latin mistress, of all things - very shocking for a female!) She has fled her late father's family, wealthy but highly controlling, to try to make her own, independent life, and is not finding it easy. For one thing, she's neither as old or as plain as they were expecting.
Down in Rye, she becomes involved in the lives of her sponsor there, Agatha Grange, Agatha's husband, John ("something at the Foreign Office"), and their two nephews, close as sons, Hugh Grange and Daniel Goodham. Hugh is studying medicine, and Daniel has aspirations as a poet.
When the war does break out, life becomes ever more complicated. Young men start to join up. There are panicked runs on food and other goods in the stores. The mayor's wife is even more impossible than usual. Young ladies of good breeding but little brain start handing out white feathers to young men not in uniform. Poor harmless dachshunds are attacked. And the town does its bit by taking in Belgian refugees.
There are four narrators - mostly Beatrice or Hugh, but occasionally also Agatha or "Snout," a boy in the village. Simonson writes well, so it's not really an issue; it's always easy to tell them apart.
This novel is every bit as good as Simonson's first novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and a good historical novel. (I don't recall seeing any historical detail that struck me as improbable or just wrong.) A thoroughly enjoyable read - I dithered between 4 and 4 1/2 stars.