With the holidays finally behind me, I jumped back on the reading bandwagon this month, and thanks to a couple storms and a well-placed vacation, managed to read several titles. This month’s reviews feature three very different fiction books, one recommended non-fiction title and one DNF (with a big caveat).
Note: If you are interested in the book, you can click on the photo for a link to Amazon.
Atomic Habits by James Clear: One of my hopes in 2022 is to develop better systems with regards to work and a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, Atomic Habits was the first book I picked up post Christmas. (Thanks Captain Pete for the present!). While this book won’t help me make better choices, (the siren call of hot fudge sundaes remains my weakness), it did give me a ton of good information for setting up routines for when I do. What this book does is break down the science behind how habits are formed. Once we know how habits work, we can then set up systems for successful change. For example, replacing that after dinner cigarette with a healthier after dinner treat or building more exercise into our day. Think of it as Habits 101 for the psychology geek.
The best part of this book is that it doesn’t expect you to make drastic lifestyle changes. In fact, the title of the book refers to making tiny changes that, when taken in aggregate, amount to a whole lot of results. (Clear illustrates this point with a fantastic story about the UK Cycling Team.)
My only wish is that Clear had taken the psychology one step further and looked at how the science interacts with different personality types. Not everyone responds to the same type of motivation. For those truly interested in making lasting change, they might want to combine this book with Charles Durhig’s The Power of Habit and Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies.
The Last Dance of the Debutante by Julia Kelly: If you watched my videocast Off the Shelf, then you heard Renee, Donna and I gushing over this follow up to the Last Garden in England. Set in Britain in the late fifties, Last Dance follows the fictional Lily Nichols, who becomes one of the last debutantes to be presented to Her Majesty Elizabeth II. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story as Lily not only navigates the complex rules of society, but discovers who she is as a person. Throughout, Kelly sprinkles just enough mystery and scandal to keep the story a page turner. There are a couple big plot twists that caught me by surprise as well.
The Marvelous Monroe Girls by Shirley Jump: Switching gears, The Marvelous Monroe Girls by my pal Shirley Jump is a fun, light, romance-women’s fiction hybrid, perfect for a vacation beach read or for a rainy winter’s day. Jump is an expert at writing snappy dialogue so one of the pleasures of this book is the witty repartee between the main characters. While mainly a romance, the book also focuses on issues like depression and broken family dynamics without being morbid.
Fans of Hallmark movies and friends-to-lovers romances will truly enjoy this.
A Brief History of Time Keeping by Chad Orzel: This was my Did Not Finish book for January. My husband is a clock freak so I thought it would be fun to learn about the history of time keeping so we could chat.
As much as I wanted to though, I simply couldn’t get through this book. I know it sounds cliched but in this case, it was definitely me, not the book. I simply couldn’t warm up to the topic. Chad Orzel, a professor at Union College, clearly knows his stuff, but the info is presented very academically. I prefer my history and non-fiction to have a little more narrative and a little less physics.
Orzel does get bonus points however for putting all the hardcore science info in shaded sidebars and encouraging non-science readers to skip them. I applaud him for realizing that not everyone is as into physics and math as he is.
Over all, I’m sure the book will be interesting to a certain audience. Just not me.
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont: And finally, we get to my most complex review of the month. Oh how I wanted to like the Christie Affair. Especially after I didn’t enjoy Marie Benedict’s take on the same subject.
The book is about Agatha Christie’s famed 11-day disappearance in 1926. Following a nationwide manhunt, the author was discovered at an English spa under an assumed name. She claimed temporary amnesia. Others believe she was trying to punish her unfaithful husband, Archie. (She last name she used at the spa just happened to be the same last name as his mistress, Nancy Neele.)
While other books (like Benedict’s) focused on Christie and her husband, de Gramont takes a different tact. She tells the story from the point of view of Archie’s mistress, a fictional character named Nan O’Dea. It’s a bold and intriguing idea that unfortunately stumbles for one very big reason. Well, two reasons really. Agatha and Archie Christie.
See, Agatha and Archie – and his mistress – were real people. By creating a fictional mistress with a fictional backstory and motives (not to mention a fictional love interest for Agatha), de Gramont rewrites history. Look I know that what happened in 1926 is a mystery, and I know that historical fiction is fiction, but I want my fiction grounded in reality.
De Gramont is a brilliant writer, and the idea of a famous author disappearing without a trace makes for a fascinating story frame. Had this book been entirely fiction, I would be singing the praises of its brilliance. Sadly, instead it feels like an attempt to jump on the historical fiction bandwagon by using Christie’s name.