A pleasant, well-written, if sometimes heavy-handed, story of love and romance after 60. That sounds a bit milquetoast, but that's not what the book is; it may not have stirred my soul, but it was easy to pick up and hard to put down.
Small village, small minds, race relations and a dying class system set the scene for a plot that is not unpredictable. But Simonson excels at writing rich characters that come alive on the page; the only time she failed for me was Roger. Roger had no redeeming qualities and should have been disinherited posthaste. Otherwise, the characters are what make the story.
A very solid 4 stars.
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.