Books lately: Histories, mysteries, Paris and politics

Sometimes you just run into a motherlode of good books, and that’s exactly what I hit upon in the last month our so. There’s real variety in these selections, from memoir to mystery and some quintessential fiction, as well as thoughtful themes on friendship and politics. Although I continue to highly recommend Louise Penny’s Six Pines mystery series, I’ve also included Janet Ivanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum (as well as this whole series), which is much lighter and pure fun, perfect for a gray, winter day.

Memoir or biography: Two compelling reads

History, biography, politics and Paris. Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah has it all and, yet, I was a little hesitant to read this Book of the Month selection. Would it be too much People Magazine and not enough biography? Using substantial research on post-war Europe and the ever-present threat of the communist party in 1948 in a city still trying to regain its footing after the German occupation as a backdrop, Mah vividly imagines Jacqueline Lee Bouvier’s  junior year in the city of light. Although not totally factual — Ms Kennedy’s papers are not available — it’s easy to imagine her being schooled in French art and antiques by a countess who was part of the resistance, attending class at the Sorbonne with a variety of politically active fellow students, and socializing with an equally diverse group of American expats. It’s as interesting for the political and historical setting Mah creates as it is for the role of the future First Lady. Or maybe the former First Lady is the perfect vehicle to deliver this surprising post-war picture of Paris. I’ll let you decide    

Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships by Nina Totenberg is the next title for my neighborhood book club. Although we are not meeting until late January, I jumped in and read it in December and have been recommending it ever since. As the New York Times review points out, four years before Totenberg began a prize-winning career at NPR and almost twenty years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Totenberg called Ginsberg after reading the latter’s brief in an important Civil Rights case. Their friendship was well established before their careers “took off.” Totenberg recounts not only some of the highs and lows of their professional journeys, but also their personal relationship as well as those of others around them, and how they mentored and encouraged each other along the way. If you like history or memoir, admire Totenberg and/or Ginsburg, or are a reader who appreciates their career climbs, you will love this book.

A good family saga

French Braid by Anne Tyler is the latest novel from an author that never lets her fans down. Tyler’s work always seems a little light to me, at least until you get 50 pages in and realize that while she is telling an entertaining story about everyday people leading everyday lives, she is also revealing an important truth about life and love and family. I’ve been reading her books for more than a decade. They never fail to make me chuckle out loud, tear up, and continue reading long after I should have turned out the light. French Braid starts in the present, then gently falls back a few generations to tell the story of the Garrett family (always from Baltimore) and how their polite but persistent lack of communication shaped their lives and loves.

Case closed: Two mystery winners

I am a devoted fan of two mystery series, one just for fun, Janet Ivanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, and the more cerebral Three Pines series by Louise Penny featuring the professional and personal lives of Chief Inspector Armand Ganache. I knew both series we releasing new books this fall and, as soon as I heard that these latest titles were available on Kindle, I shamelessly dowloaded them and dug in. (I consider this one of the hazards of owning an e-reader. Books on demand. Who knew?)

Louise Penny’s latest Armand Ganache mystery, A World of Curiosities, was available as I was finishing Dinners with Ruth and wondering what I could read next that would be half as enjoyable. (Do you do that? Worry about what you can read next that will be as good as what you are reading right  now?) The book opens with the discovery of a secret room in one of the buildings in Three Pines. While Ganache and his fellow townspeople are trying to decipher the significance of the room, the Chief Inspector flashes back to his initial meeting with brash young Beauvoir and the beginning of their professional (and later personal) relationship. As always Penny deftly handles the lapses in time and diverse characters without ever losing her reader or the master plot. As with all of the Three Pines books, A World of Curiosities is a keeper.

Stephanie Plum saves the day yet again in Going Rogue. This series is my guilty pleasure, sure to perk me up when I need it and make me laugh out loud.( I think I have already shared with you that I re-read several of her titles when I readly needed to escape the pandemic.) Going Rogue brings the entire Plum cast together, including Lula, the spandex-wearing former ‘ho; Grandma Mazur, who never misses a viewing at the local funeral home and always carries her gun; and Morelli and Ranger, the two men in Plum’s life who could not be more different. This time around Stephanie’s boss Vincent (Vinnie) Plum plays a larger role as he and Stephanie search for office manager Connie Rosolli who has been kidnapped by one of Vinnie’s bail bonds clients. Like most books in a series, Plum’s mysteries are formulaic. But fun. And we can all use that, especially in the depths of January.

What’s on your bookshelf or e-reader? Please share in the comments. Thank you so much for stopping by. I hope we meet here again soon.

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