Two books finished over the last couple of days, one fiction, one non-fiction, both excellent.
First up, The Lark by E.Nesbit.
It's 1919 and Jane and Lucilla are two cousins who are at school together but being nineteen-ish both are eager to leave and go out into the world. They're orphans who are under the care of a guardian and when a letter arrives with bad news the two girls get their wish to leave the school, but not in the way they would've wished. The guardian has scarpered with their inheritance: he's left them £500 and a house to live in, so they're not exactly destitute but things are not hunky-dory either. Being rather positive in their outlook the girls decide to treat the whole experience as a bit of 'a lark', hence the title of the book. By accident one of them ends up selling flowers from their garden to people passing by and thus the germ of a way to make a small living is born. One thing leads to another and a business comes into being and another one decided upon for the near future. They should be able to keep themselves after all but the journey will not be straightforward.
This is one of the reissued books from the Dean Street Press people who publish books and authors that have gone out of print and been forgotten a bit. Not that E. Nesbit is a forgotten author as she wrote many famous children's books including the very famous, The Railway Children and the 'Five Children and It' series that I devoured as a young teenager. What's less known is that she also wrote a few books for adults, not to mention some very good ghost stories. The Lark is essentially a book for adults 'but' its tone is very 'young adult'... to my mind anyway. It's incredibly charming, a lovely read if you're looking for a gentle book in these horrible times we're living through. To me it was quite character driven and I enjoyed meeting all of the various people who serendipitously come into their lives and end up helping or sometimes not. It's not all sweetness and light, some of them are not what they seem and the girls learn a few valuable lessons along the way which saves the book from being too good to be true. The humour also helps with that as it's written quite tongue-in-cheek. All in all this was a delightful read that I can't recommend too highly if you love gentle stories along the lines of D.E. Stevenson, Dorothy Whipple or Angela Thirkell.
Lastly, After: A Doctor Reveals What Near-Death Experience Tell Us About Life and Beyond by Dr. Bruce Greyson.
I read this because I saw it reviewed by Diane on her blog, Bibliophile by the Sea. It might not seem a natural choice for me as I'm quite agnostic in my religious beliefs but I do have a streak in me that enjoys reading unusual books, especially those which increase my knowledge of the unknown or which insist I really think about the subject. The author, a professor of psychiatry in the USA, begins by telling the reader how his fascination with NDEs (Near-Death Experiences) started. As a young doctor, he'd been in the process of eating some spaghetti and tomato sauce when his beeper went off. It made him jump and he got tomato sauce on his tie. He went off to speak to the friend of a girl who had over-dosed, waiting in the waiting room. Later when speaking to the girl who had survived her suicide attempt, something strange happened. The girl knew about the stain on his tie, said she had witnessed the conversation between her friend and the author because she had been floating near the ceiling. She knew exactly what had been said about her and that Dr. Greyson had had tomato sauce on his tie. For the author this led to a life-time's investigation into this subject, talking to thousands of people who have had experiences like this young woman 'or' who went further and went somewhere they could only describe as 'heaven' and then got sent back, usually because they had family who needed them or unfinished work. Dr. Greyson describes himself as a skeptic when this all started for him but finds himself unable to dismiss the testimonies of so many people. There's quite a bit of science in this book, none of it beyond my ability to understand either the concepts or the experiments they did to exclude various theories. There are a 'lot' of case histories quoted here, every one of them unique and fascinating. I may have been ready to read something like this having recently been told something about what happened when an elderly aunt passed away years ago, which rather took me aback. So has this book changed my stance or opinion on the subject of what happens when we die? I would say, 'yes'. Lots to think about and I'm still thinking and considering and wondering... which is what a good book is for really!
So I'm currently reading several books. First this:
Murder by the Book, edited by Martin Edwards, is a collection of murder mystery short stories that all concern books or writing. Perfect for reading nerds like we all are. I'm about two thirds of the way through and enjoying it very much.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth is a book about Scandinavia. Why is it considered so wonderful to live in Denmark, Sweden, Norway etc? Why do they continually come out on top in the 'best places to live with the happiest people' polls? I'm reading this for the 'Round the World' challenge I'm doing and so far it's quite good.
And I've just started this too:
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir who I believe wrote The Martian, the book the film of the same name was based on. I haven't read that but so far Project Hail Mary is excellent.
I hope you're finding lots of good books to read in February.