I started 2022 with two very good books and you can't ask for more than that. First up, Northern Lights by Nora Roberts. This is my first book for the Read Around the World reading challenge, the category for January is, 'Arctic and Antarctic'. I picked this book from their list of titles but I could equally have chosen my own and may do so next time as I have a 'lot' of books for February's category, Western Europe.
Nate Burke is an ex-police officer from Baltimore. He lost his partner in a shooting incident a year ago, an incident which he believes was of his making and therefore he considers his partner's death to be his fault. He's suffered badly in the intervening months and needs a complete break from the past. Which is how he finds himself in Lunacy, Alaska having taken on the role of chief of police. It is of course a 'massive' culture shock. And not everyone is thrilled to have a 'Cheechakos' - an outsider from the Lower 48 - come in to take charge of law and order in a very isolated town which likes to do things its own way. But when a couple of kids find a body in a cave out on the mountain, Nate's long experience of homicide comes in handy because he can handle things dispassionately. Other things, like his newly blossoming love-life, he's not so cool about.
Well goodness me, I didn't expect to like this as much as I did. My previous experience with Nora Roberts is a couple of her Irish supernatural efforts - I didn't like them as much as wanted to and have not really bothered with her since. But this standalone was 100% better than those. Of course, Alaska is always a draw for me (I'm a keen fan of Dana Stabenow's 'Kate Shugak' series) and lots of people on the challenge FB page said how good this was, so I thought I would give her another go. Oddly, when I texted my daughter to see if she owned the book (she's a keen NR fan) it turned out she was reading this exact book right then. I must point out that this is a mystery book with an element of romance, I know some people are not keen on that, but the romance doesn't overwhelm the book and to be honest I really liked Meg the very independent pilot. Alaska loomed large as a presence and felt very well depicted to me but then I've not been there. The other characters were interesting and quirky without being over the top nutters, if you know what I mean. All in all, excellent, and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads because even when I wasn't reading it I was thinking about it, which for me is the sign of a Good Book.
Next up, Dear Me, an autobiography by Peter Ustinov.
How many people these days remember Peter Ustinov I'm not sure. I'm not even sure how far back I can go with remembering him but he seemed to be the sort of performer who did appearances on the Royal Variety Show or Sunday Night at the London Paladium in the 1960s and 70s. I thought he and Danny Kaye were the two funniest men in showbusiness. At the time I thought he actually 'was' a comedian, unaware that he was firstly a writer of plays, an actor, a director, and a writer of books. Comedy appearances were more of a sideline. Anyway, I liked the first half of this book more than the second. His childhood and school days, his strange relationship with his German/Russian father and so on was all very interesting. Ustinov seems to have had an odd heritage, being mainly of Russian descent but German too with some French and an Ethiopian lady in there also. But he was born and grew up in England where his parents eventually ended up after WW1 and I always think of him as English, although I don't think he did. His experiences in WW2 seem to tally with many others in that there was much in the way of absurdity and that was very funny to read about. What I found less interesting was the same as with the Noel Coward biography I read last year, and that was when he was listing one play after another that he'd written and acted in, although anecdotes about very famous Hollywood stars were very revealing. All in all, I enjoyed this a lot, Ustinov's talents as a raconteur definitely come over and his writing is sublime. I have read a couple of his history books many years ago (one about Russia I think) so I might see what else he wrote as he was quite a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction and I'm sure he had many other interesting things to say.
And if you have 50 minutes to spare, at any time, you could do a lot worse than to spend it watching, An Audience with Peter Ustinov from 1988, on Youtube. Hugely entertaining.
I currently have several books on the go, Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson, an American writer who wrote about nature and the environment back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Future Crimes, an anthology of science fiction crime stories edited by Mike Ashley, and Deep South by Paul Theroux... I'm now ready to read the 'winter' section of that. Also this:
This is The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan, the first in his Percy Jackson series of books for young adults. I thought it might be fun to read this series as part of my mission to know a bit more about the world of Greek myths and it certainly is working, I'm picking up a lot and it's a fun read.