Sunday 25 June 2023

Some catching up...

As usual I've been reading quite a lot but not doing much in the way of talking about said books on here. So... time for  a catch up via some quick reviews. 

First up, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

Nora Seed is in her mid thirties and feels her life to have been a failure. Currently estranged from her only family, a brother, over her unwillingness to start a band with him, her best friend doesn't speak to her as she decided against going to Australia with her and then Nora gets the sack for not being cheerful enough to the customers in a music shop. The last straw comes when someone knocks on the door to tell her her cat, her only company, has just died out in the street. Nora decides life is just not worth living and that she will end it all. Except the end isn't what she expected. She's now in a library that seems to contain books that have inside of them all the lives Nora could've lived if she had made different decisions. Can she find one amongst the thousands of alternatives that she actually wants to stay in? So this was interesting in that it dealt with all those 'What ifs?' that we all have in our lives. Those decisions we made that took us in one direction when a different decision might have taken us elsewhere and led to a happier more fulfilled life... or 'not'. I suppose it asks questions about alternate universes where we all exist but living different lives, with different people, different jobs etc. It's an interesting concept to consider. I like a book that makes me think and this was very good in that regard. 

Next, I read The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie. Thoroughly enjoyed this, one of the first Miss Marple books published after The Murder at the Vicarage. This is a series of connected short stories wherein a sort of murder club is formed over or after various dinners with friends that Miss Marple attends. People talk about various mysteries they've encountered and Miss Marple inevitably solves said mystery. I thought it was delightful. 

That was followed by a contemporary fiction story entitled, Retreat to the Spanish Sun by Jo Thomas. 

Eliza is a single parent with three grown-up children. Her husband left her when the kids were quite young and now they're adults and have flown the nest she's sold the family home and has a small 2 bed flat. Problem - for one reason or another they're all back and the place is bedlam. Eliza is taking a course and has an exam deadline but can't work in the chaos, so, on a whim, she answers a 'house-sitter required' ad and finds herself in Spain looking after a pig farm while the owner's away. The plan is to write her essay while it's quiet but Eliza reckons without the draw of the local ex-pat club who're learning Spanish, or trying to. This is one of those light books you get sucked into and I certainly did - starting and finishing in one day. I liked Eliza, in her mid-forties and just trying to better herself with a bit more education. The Spanish village setting was a delight and I learnt a bit about a local delicacy, Iberico ham. I've read three or four books by Jo Thomas and always enjoy her less than perfect heroines. 

Lastly, Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel.

This a science fiction story... it's as well I didn't know it was a time-travel yarn because I might not've started in the first place. It did actually begin quite well with a 'second and thus not inheriting much, son' travelling to Canada to start a new life in 1912. Something happens to him in the forests of British Columbia which is connected with some things which happen to others in 2020, 2203 and 2401. There are colonies on The Moon in this story, and I thought those were particularly well depicted. There's a pandemic involved (not ours). And the writing was very good indeed but as always I found the time travel aspect confusing no matter how clever the author was at bringing various timelines together and surprising the reader at the end. A solid 3 star read, I was slightly disappointed in this but bear in mind that reflects my dislike of time-travel stories, your mileage may vary. (A time-travel book I 'did' quite like - To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.)

I hope you're all keeping well and enjoying some good books. 


Margot Kinberg said...

The Midnight Library sounds like such an interesting way to explore the 'would have, should have, could have' questions that we ask ourselves sometimes, Cath. And I do love libraries! And I'm glad you liked the Christie. I admit that I am thoroughly biased, but for me, Christie rarely disappoints. The rest of your reads look interesting, too, and I'm glad you've taken the time to get some reading done!

Lark said...

Of these three I've only read The Midnight Library. And I liked it, but unlike the other books by Matt Haig that I've read, I didn't love it. It's not my favorite of his books. And I, too am a fan of Agatha Christie. I've been slowly trying to read all of her books...but I still have a ways to go. :D

Sam said...

I remember starting out really liking both The Midnight Library and The Sea of Tranquility. And then I started to lose patience with both of them at about the same percentage of completion spot...and I kept losing more and more interest as I read on even though I ended up finishing both of them. I found The Sea of Tranquility to be more confusing than almost any book I had read in a long time, in fact, and ended up more irritated with the plot and the author than I ever expected I would have. With The Midnight Library it was more a feeling that I had already been there, done that.

TracyK said...

I read The Midnight Library about a year ago, and I liked it but not as much as I had hoped to. I liked the idea of trying out alternate lives and I liked the ending mostly, and thought it was realistic, as much as a fantasy can be. I even held on to my copy because I think it may be worth a reread. I have other Matt Haig books to try.

I saw on Goodreads that you were reading The Thirteen Problems. I have never read that although it is possible I have read some of the stories, but in other collections. I will have to seek it out.

I have only read Station Eleven by Emily St. John, but just based on that I am a fan. I think I would like Sea of Tranquility, and I will definitely look for a copy. Since I have already got The Singer's Gun (her first book) and The Glass Hotel and Last Night in Montreal on the Kindle, I haven't been in a hurry to acquire more.

I just finished The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers for my Classics Club Spin and my 20 Books of Summer. A very good read, on the depressing side, but so full of interesting characters that I did not mind. Set in Georgia, although that is never clearly stated that I could see.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I still have 'The Midnight Library' on my TBR pile, although it must be getting to the stage where I am one of the few people left to read it (nothing new there then!).

I spotted the Agatha Christie book on your Goodreads page, so that is also now on my list. I must admit that I thought I had read most of her books, but it would appear not, as you keep finding these little gems, which I can't remember ever having come across before!

I also thought I had read at least a couple of books by Jo Thomas, but having consulted my Goodreads and Fantastic Fiction library, obviously not. That definitely means I must have them squirreled away either on my bookshelves somewhere, or in the depths of my Kindle. I just know that I would enjoy some of the stories though, so I should really do a proper search.

I have been so good at not buying any new books, or accepting books from friends and family which they have finished - that was until I visited MIL last weekend and I gave in to her 'are you sure you won't take them?' words! So that's another half a dozen books for the overflowing shelves - Will I never learn? :)

Cath said...

Margot: You're so right, Christie never disappoints. The Thirteen Problems was a little gem and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have several others of hers I want to read this summer including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And I know there are more standlones I still have to read.

Cath said...

Lark: I enjoyed The Midnight Library well enough but like you I didn't love it. I want to try The Humans at some stage as that sounds quite good. I haven't read anywhere close to all of the Agatha Christies either... heaps more to go!

Cath said...

Sam: Yes, I had exactly the same experience with both books, starting out really nejoying them but somehow they tailed off. Midnight Library reminded me of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson so like you said, I felt like I had already been there. Sea of Tranquility just got steadily more ad more confusing but like I said, time travel is not my favourite sci-fi genre for the very reason that it can get very confusing. I should've read some reviews of it before I started.

Cath said...

Tracy: It seems a lot of people liked The Midnight Library but not as much as they thought they would! I want to try his book, The Humans, at some stage.

The Thirteen Problems is well worth seeking out as it's a real little gem.

If you liked Station Eleven then I expect you will like The Sea of Tranquility and it could be that I should've read that first because I think some of the characters are in both books. Sounds like you've got a lot of her books to be going on with.

I'll take a look at The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and keep an eye out for your mention of it in your end of the month post.

Cath said...

Yvonne: There, I thought I was the last person to get to The Midnight Library. LOL

I still have so many Christies still to read (although I've 'seen' more on the TV than I've actually read) but I do keep an eye out for the less well known little gems and The Thirteen Problems is definitely one of those. And it's a very quick read.

Jo Thomas is easy but delightful reading, good for a summer read I think. I like the European settings in these types of book although I don't usually go for Spain, usually it's France, Italy or Greece! And I wouldn't like a diet full of them in all honesty.

I've got someone like your m-i-l... an elderly cousin, I never leave her house without a bag of books. The fact that I only see her occsionally is probably a good thing.

TracyK said...

After I commented yesterday, I remembered that I had purchased Miss Marple: The Complete Short stories last year. It has all of the stories from The Thirteen Problems in it, so I am set. I am going to read some of them soon, and reading short stories won't interfere with my 20 Books of Summer reading.

Cath said...

Tracy: That's excellent... I love discoveries like that! You should be able to slot those in easily around your summer reading.

CLM said...

My book group enjoyed The Midnight Library but I was feeling contrary that month and didn't want to read something that "everyone" was reading. I guess that was pretty silly! I am glad you enjoyed it.

I've read the Christie but it's not one I recall. I guess Mandel is Canadian? Her books were very prominent in the Toronto bookstores I was in a few days ago. I was disappointed not to see Susanna Kearsley's books (I own them all but I feel that Canadian booksellers should do more to support her).

Jo Thomas sounds like a writer I would enjoy. I just got home after two days in DC for a conference and started a book by Beth O'Leary who wrote The Flatshare (improbable but cute), which was perfect airplane reading. It was lucky I had a book because the clueless taxi driver drove into a huge traffic jam which technology should have told him to avoid. Oh well.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I thought The Midnight Library had lots of elements that make for a good read and a good discussion with others.

Cath said...

Constance: I did enjoy The Midnight Library but that's as far as I would go... it isn't amazing, not in my opinion anyway.

Er... yes, if memory serves, I think Mandel 'is' Canadian, it would account for all the BC stuff and so forth. Interesting to hear that Canadian bookstores don't particularly support Kearsley but Cornish bookshops do! That was where I got The Winter Sea but not sure now if it was St. Ives or Fowey.

I think Jo Thomas is worth a try, not all her heroines are twenty something, which is nice. I think a friend read The Flatshare and quite liked it too.

Cath said...

Deb: Yes, absolutely, The Midnight Library is just the kind of book to discuss with others. I gather it was quite controversial because of the suicide element.