“Wow that year sure flew by” …said absolutely no one about 2020. Yet, somehow there were still more books than time. For the first time ever, I managed to fail my reading goal which makes absolutely no sense given that most of the year was spent with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I’ve heard the same story from other readers, though. Even if we dodged COVID, many of us seemed to suffer from the “can’t-get-anything-done malaise”.
I resolve every year to commit to a more challenging book list, but somehow the easier reads creep in, and thankfully so – these six provided a welcome escape:
Death on the Nile: A Hercule Poirot Mystery
by Agatha Christie
Audiobook, 352 pages (8 hours) narrated by David Suchet
I read Agatha Christie for the first time a few years ago (And Then There Were None) and decided that the genre just wasn’t for me. Deep inward groan, then, when another was assigned as a book club choice. And while Death on the Nile didn’t exactly change my mind about Agatha Christie mysteries, it was at least geographically more interesting. It more or less held my interest and with David Suchet (who played Hercule Poirot in the film version) narrating, it was a more than bearable read. Lots of vapid people thrown together on a cruise, throw in a murder and make sure the sagacious Poirot on hand to tie up all the loose ends – a winning formula. I’ll give it 3 stars.
Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall 1783 – 1787
by Winston Graham
Audiobook, 365 pages (14 hours 27 minutes) narrated by Oliver Hembrough
A group of my friends are avid fans of the Poldark series (which has twice been adapted to the screen, most recently in 2015 and is available on Netflix). After the umpteenth gathering where one friend mentioned Poldark and the rest emitted deep, admiring sighs and told me I HAVE to read it, I decided it was time to investigate further.
I’ve only listened to the first book, but my hot take is that if Thomas Hardy had written soap operas they would have looked something like this. The character development is thorough, the 18th century Cornwall countryside is appealing and the attraction between strong silent type Ross Poldark and the servant girl Demelza is irresistible. I’ll give it 3 stars and I’ve got Book Two queued up in my Audible library.
City of Girls
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Audiobook, 496 pages (15 hours) narrated by Blair Brown
I’m a defender of Elizabeth Gilbert. I did not by any means hate Eat, Pray, Love and I thought The Signature of all Things was a truly fine novel. City of Girls, for me, falls somewhere in between.
Sometimes I think Gilbert’s problem is that she is just too talented a writer. She’s witty and she thinks fast and it can come off as just a bit too glossy. This book was a little too loud that way and maybe a little too long for me. The setting – 1940’s New York City, specifically Broadway theatre life, was a big plus for me, though, since I was reading it after 2020 New York City and Broadway had gone totally dark.
Gilbert’s protagonist, Vivian, is a modern girl who flunks out of Vassar, moves to NYC and has lots and lots and lots of sex. For all that sex, she never marries, and, for all that sex (did I mention that there’s a lot of sex?) the most meaningful relationship she has with a man is a platonic one. Vivian grows up, and grows old. I liked this quote about aging: “After a certain age, time just drizzles down upon your head, like rain in the month of March. You’re always surprised at how much of it can accumulate, and how fast.” 3 stars, and yes, I’ll read whatever Gilbert writes next.
Penguin Bloom: the odd little bird who saved a family
by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive
Paperback, 152 pages
This is more of a booklet than a book, which does not lessen its appeal in any way. I had followed the Penguin Bloom account on Instagram so I knew a bit about the story when Angie gifted me the book. Australian couple Sam and Cameron Bloom and their three sons led the kind of joyful, adventurous life that us stick-in-the-muds can only dream of. They soaked up everything the world had to offer until one tragic moment changed everything: on a trip to Thailand, a balcony railing broke and Sam plummeted to the ground, suffering a T-level fracture and permanent paralysis.
For a woman whose whole life revolved around physical activity and whose role as a mother and wife changed in an instant to a year-long hospital stay and a greatly altered future, things looked very grim indeed. Enter Penguin the magpie, who brought much-needed magic to the Bloom’s lives. Heart wrenching and heartwarming and I am guessing that proceeds from the book go to help keep the family afloat. Buy it for someone who needs encouragement (which is basically all of us these days…) 3 stars and 5 hearts.
Paperback, 296 pages
Spy Sub: A Top-Secret Mission to the Bottom of the Pacific
Paperback, 256 pages
both by Roger C. Dunham
These books were truly genre-benders for me. If you’d told me I’d be reading a medical crime mystery and an account of a Cold War spy submarine mission in 2020 I would have laughed outright. However, there are a lot of things I wouldn’t believe could have happened in 2020 so I guess these books fit right in.
I was asked to write an article for a local magazine about a neighbor who has authored several books and decided I’d better read a few of them before I started writing about him. In Final Diagnosis, Roger Dunham turned his memorable stint as a medical resident at LA County + USC Medical Center into a medical crime mystery. And in Spy Sub, he chronicles his service in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear reactor operator on the spy submarine “Viperfish”. The name is in quotes because the 1960’s mission remains so highly classified that Dunham is not allowed to divulge the actual name of the sub. Retired now, Dunham spent more than three decades practicing internal medicine in Santa Barbara, and wrote these books in his “spare time”. He is currently writing a non-fiction book about the current trajectory of Western medicine. 3 stars each for two books I never thought I would read.
Happy week and happy reading! More 2020 re-cap next week…