Tuesday, 11 January 2022

First reads of 2022

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.


22 comments:

Terra said...

You are starting out strong with your reading in 2022 and the theme of far north. I read two books thus far this year too. I recall Peter Ustinov starring in the movie Topkapi; I visited Topkapi several times when living in Istanbul and a couple of my friends worked as extras in the movie.

Kay said...

Cath, sounds like your reading has started well for this year. I've read a lot of Nora Roberts books, but Northern Lights is one I missed. Love the setting and I'll keep that one in mind. I like a little 'Nora' now and then. And you're reading The Lightning Thief. Great! I love that YA series. I got really fond of the characters and had to keep going to see what might happen next. Enjoy!

Sam Sattler said...

Looks like you're starting off the year with a bang, Cath.

Oddly, though I remember Peter Ustinov very well as an individual and an actor, I am struggling to come up with a single film or television show that he did. He just always seemed to be there when I was growing up, and I always considered him to be 100% English despite his surname. Your accounting of his heritage surprised me a bit.

Lark said...

The Lightning Thief is a fun read. I enjoyed that one. And I like the sound of the Nora Roberts' mystery mostly because of that Alaskan setting. (And I certainly don't mind a little romance either.) Here's hoping the rest of the books you read this year are equally good. :)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I recall reading Northern Lights when it was first released - guessing some 15 years ago and I loved it as well. Glad your reading year is starting out well.

Mystica said...

My reading has been going on apace mainly because of a semi lockdown self imposed. Figures are rising but the country has opened up (dont even ask) I think economic reasons behind it because otherwise my country cannot survive. Schools opened this last Monday and I am relieved for the children, at the same time wondering whether it is going to start another wave.

TracyK said...

I looked into the Read Around the World challenge earlier and it looked really good, but I did not think I could keep up with it. There was another good one there, something about reading through the decades, which I would love, maybe I will try than one next year.

I do like Peter Ustinov and think that book would be a fun read, although I can see the problem with all the plays and roles discussed. He was in a film I have watched many times, a heist film set in Turkey called Topkapi. He was also in two theatrical films as Poirot, Death on the Nile (1982) and Evil Under the Sun (1978). And in three TV movies playing Poirot. In one of them, Thirteen at Dinner, David Suchet played Inspector Japp.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Like Tracy, I can best remember Peter Ustinov playing the part of Hercule Poirot, although I have to say that I didn't like him in the role as much as David Suchet, who epitomised for me, what a typical Belgian might look and act like (that is entirely a preconceived idea of course, as I have no factual basis on which to make that assumption) and was just so perfect for the part.

I have only ever read one Nora Roberts book 'Night Shield' which was from the 'Night Tales' series, although it was written in 2000, very close to your own book, which was published in 2004. I think she is just such a prolific author that I have always assumed her work is a little 'Mills & Boon(ish)'. Not that there is anything wrong with that, however for me that is reading that I need to be in the mood for.

I'm really sorry if this comment sounds a little opinionated, it wasn't meant to!

Your year is off to a good start :)

Cath said...

Terra: I knew Ustinov had been in Topkapi because it was mentioned in the book but I can't for the life of me remember whether or not I've seen that film. It's quite likely I think. How interesting that you have friends who worked as extras!

Cath said...

Kay: Your comment, 'I like a little Nora now and then' is probably going to sum up my attitude towards her books. I don't feel the need to rush out and find all of her books immediately but I would like to sample a few more standalones throughout this year. I have a list of about half a dozen I would like to find.

I'm loving The Lightning Thief but am probably more interested in subsequent books. That's because I've seen the movie of this first book so the plot is a bit familiar.

Cath said...

Sam: The only film of Peter Ustinov's that I could really put my finger on is Death on the Nile which is a film I always enjoy rewatching, he and David Niven are so good in it. But like you said, I always remember him being around on talk shows and so on, a constant presence. I knew his heritage was very Russian but not that it was also all over Europe. He did say that the UK was where he felt most comfortable and he was so very English that that didn't surprise me, plus he's quirky like we are. LOL

Cath said...

Lark: The Lightning Thief is great fun and I'm really looking forward to moving on to book two. I don't mind a bit of romance either, in fact I like there to be some in many of the books I read. After all it's what a lot of people are looking for.

Cath said...

Diane: I think Northern Lights was 2004, something like that. I feel like I've found a new author to sample. Not that I want to read all of her books as there are something like 200! And not all of them are going to appeal, but these mystery standalones might seriously be my kind of thing. I like that they seem to be set in different US states too.

Cath said...

Mystica: Yes, the various lockdowns have increased my reading too. I thank goodness that books are my thing because otherwise they would've been very hard to bear. Yes, our numbers are very high too and it's such a fine balancing line to keep people safe and still keep the economy going, the schools open etc. I wouldn't want to be in charge.

Cath said...

Tracy: Yes, the Read Around the World challenge is a bit of a commitment in that a book a month is required, I wasn't sure about it but thought, 'What the heck!' and went for it anyway. LOL! I might try the decades one at some stage too as it sounds like fun.

I remember Ustinov well in the two Poirot films, Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. He's not my favourite Poirot but I still love the films. I don't remember the three TV movies though. Interesting.

Cath said...

Yvonne: Oh yes, David Suchet *is* Poirot for me. That said, I enjoy the two Ustinov films with him in the role when they come on the TV, probably because it's Agatha Christie and always watchable. Although the more modern BBC versions have not appealed to me all that much.

Nora Roberts is in the Mills and Boon vein, very much so, but I would say superior M&B. Plus, this book I read was much more of a mystery book than anything else. The romance was in the background. Also, the setting was *much* more apparent than any M&B I've ever read, Alaska jumps off the page at you. I never have any problem with commenters saying what they think :-), more than happy that people take the time to come and comment to be honest. Thanks for stopping by!

Nan said...

I sent along your Northern Lights review to my daughter who reads NR. I think she will be delighted.

Cath said...

Nan: How funny that we both have daughters who read NR.I hope it inspires her to try the book if she hasn't already read it. My daughter liked it as much as I did. Now I'm busy concocting a list of other standalone NR books I want to try.

CLM said...

I really enjoy Nora Roberts, although some are much better than others and I don't care for her supernatural books. This one I recall being very good. I will admit a weakness for her Eve/Roarke series. I can never remember the plots or which ones I have read without checking but they are surprisingly amusing and well done.

Roberts has revitalized the small town she lives in with a bookstore, hotel, casual pizzeria, and I think a gym. We tried to visit some 6-7 years ago but my brother insisted on so many stops along the way that when we got there everything was closed but the pizza place. Can you imagine me with my face pressed against the bookstore window unable to get in? https://www.ttpbooks.com/

Cath said...

Constance: Well, my experience of Nora Roberts is really limited but I'd realised that her books vary a lot, I just didn't realise that I might like some of them so much. Interesting discovery for me.

I don't know the Eve/Roarke series at all so will look those up later. I just looked, those are are the 'In Death' books my daughter mentioned to me. 51 books or something?

Oh my goodness, that is a tragic tale. Did your brother live to tell the story?

Susan said...

I've read a couple of Nora Robert's books and had the same reaction as you did. Meh. I've avoided hers ever since.

As for Percy Jackson, I've only read the first one although my kids have all been huge fans of the books. We have most of them. I've just never continued with the series. The first one was alright for me, but the world wasn't appealing enough for me to keep going. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Cath said...

Susan: I think I thought all of NR's books were the same but it turns out they're not. Very odd.

I'm told that the Percy Jackson books take off with book 3, which is often the way with authors and their series, they take a couple of books to get into their stride. We'll see.+