Summer 2021: Another Riffle of Reviews!

 I want to blog, I really do.  Everything has just been getting away from me so fast!  I'm gearing up to go back to work, which means lots of fun meetings beforehand.  

I've officially changed some of my 20 Books of Summer list!  I just can't read it all, but that's OK.  And so, here is my second riffle of reviews...

Summerbook #14: Millions Like Us: Women's Lives During the Second World War, by Virginia Nicholson.   The UK seems to have an even more endless and voracious appetite for books about WWII than we do here in the US, which is no surprise.  This book collects the stories of many different women; Nicholson is trying to give us a portrait of the incredible number of ways women lived and worked during the war.  So we have Wrens, WAAFs, land girls, decoders, housewives...Vera Lynn and Vera Brittain.  Nicholson also covers how women managed under wartime conditions -- not just drawing lines up the backs of their legs, but cooking on the ration, keeping everybody clothed, living in crowded conditions after being bombed out, and the tremendous strain on relationships.  It's a fascinating read.

Summerbook #15: The Little Grey Men, by BB.  I think Chris at Calmgrove first let me know about the existence of BB; I'd never heard of these stories.  BB was Denys Watkins-Pitchford, a naturalist and illustrator, and he wrote this delightful story about the last gnomes in England, who live on the banks of a Warwickshire stream.  Cloudberry, an adventurous sort, went up the brook to find its source two years ago and never returned, so the other three decide to set out on a journey to see if they can find him.  They build a boat with paddles and set out past the mill, through the dangerous Crow Wood -- will they ever find Cloudberry?

The story is packed with minute observations about animal and plant life, and covers three seasons of the year.  It's just charming, and a lovely book to read.  If I'd known it existed, I know my oldest would have loved it at a younger age.

Summerbook #16: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk.  I didn't forget that it's Women in Translation month!  I've been saving this Nobel-winning novel for a treat.  Published in Polish in 2009, it arrived into English in 2018 and won the Nobel Prize in Literature soon afterwards.

Janina Duszejko, an old woman who once worked as an engineer and now teaches English in the village, lives in an isolated rural area near the Czech border.  She spends her time sort of patrolling the countryside, keeping an eye on things, and she really hates the local scofflaw hunters.  When those same hunters start turning up dead, she is sure that the animals are taking their revenge on their killers.  Her eccentric take on events draws the reader into a very unusual murder mystery.

Summerbook #17: Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir.  I've heard so much praise for Andy Weir's third novel, after the wild success of The Martian and the not-so-popular Artemis -- I was looking forward to reading it.  Project Hail Mary does not disappoint, and in fact I think it's better than The Martian.  I could barely put it down, I read it in just a couple of days, and I keep re-reading the ending!

He wakes up in...a pod sort of room, with robot arms hovering over him.  He can't remember who he is, or what he's doing, but there are two other beds with dead bodies in them.  He's the only survivor, and as he gradually figures out that he's in space, on a spaceship, with a job to do, he realizes how much depends on his success.  Project Hail Mary is a desperate attempt to save the Earth by investigating conditions at Tau Ceti, and we get the dual story -- what's going on now, and how he got there (in flashbacks, as he remembers).  Fan-freaking-tastic, I'm telling you.

Still Life, by Louise Penny.  My co-worker and I have many tastes in common, including for classic mysteries.  She loves Louise Penny, who I'd never heard of, so eventually I got around to reading Penny's first book.  In a remote area of Quebec, Jane Neal has been killed, apparently by accident.  She's the kindest, most beloved person in town and surely nobody would want to kill her?  Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is investigating, and pretty soon it becomes clear that something more is going on.

In the words of my co-worker, Louise Penny is 'entertaining and intelligent.'  The characters are beautifully drawn, and I love the Québec setting, in which French and English culture and language are always just a little bit at odds.  I will definitely be reading more Louise Penny!

In fire news...well, it's all bad.  The Dixie Fire is now the largest in California history; it's burning through Lassen National Forest (a beautiful place to hike) and threatening yet another little town, Susanville.  It just isn't stopping at all.  Every day, the sky is overcast in yellow-gray -- it's hot and humid, and the light is wrong.  You'd think we'd be used to it by now (and by 'we' I mean Californians in general) but I don't think we are.  It makes everybody feel awful, and of course those of us who have been more personally hit by the fires feel a whole lot worse.


  1. You read three very absorbing books--Drive Your Plow, the first Louise Penny (there are many more!) and Project Hail Mary! I love all of these.

  2. Yeah! I was very happy with this pile of books. :)

  3. First of all, I'm so sorry that the fires are still causing real grief in California, even as our attention is switched by the media to the fires in Greece and (though we hear less about it) in Turkey. That must be so dreadful to have as a persistent danger now. Do you think the sceptics have realised yet they may have been wrong about man-made climate change?

    A lovely range of books here. I'm glad you enjoyed the fantasy by 'BB' -- it wasn't at all what I was expecting when I started it -- but your mention of the new Andy Weir reminds me I still haven't got round to The Martian, though I've watched the film. In an ideal world time would stop stock still while we read, which would give us enough 'borrowed time' in our lives to read all we wanted to!

  4. I know the feeling about wanting to blog but it just not happening. 20 Books of Summer has been a real push for me to keep up though, so I'm happy with that even if I don't quite write all my reviews in time.

    The fires must be awful. It was bad enough when there was a major fire near where I live and they got it under control in a few days, but the smoke reached so far. I can't imagine it going on so long.

  5. Wild fires on one side of the country and floods on the other - nature is clearly in charge right now.

    Welcome to the Louise Penny fan club! I've read more than half of them now and the setting plus the characterisation of Gamache i=is what draws be back every time.

  6. So sorry to hear your fire news again this summer (our news has been so Covid-heavy this winter, we've barely heard any world news). Doesn't bode well for our summer though!
    Stay safe xo

  7. Jean, I didn't realize you are a fellow Californian. I feel like the southern part of the state has been spared from fires this year and I look with so much empathy at the northern part. I get what you mean about the light being wrong...eerie. I hope everyone's lungs survive.

    And happy rest of the summer and going back to work!


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