The Battle Lost And Won and The Sum Of Things by Olivia Manning. These are the second and third books in the Levant Trilogy, but I’m going to treat them as one, since all three books really read as one – I can’t imagine reading one without the other; the context would be all skewed. In general, the Levant was very similar to the Baltic trilogy. Manning does a great job setting the scene of wartime Egypt for the colonialists, and she is able to do so with very little explanation, yet you pick up the gist of what is going on. In these two books, Harriet is becoming very disillusioned with her marriage, and rightfully so. Guy puts her last, because he sees her – albeit jovially – as part of him, with the result being that she basically never sees the guy. She likes to work but can’t find any employment. Guy wants to send her back to England because she is sick, but at the end of the second book, she decides not to get on the boat and instead goes to Palestine, where she eventually meets up with her friend, Angela and Angela’s companions. We do also still follow the events of the young officer, Simon Boulderstone, who gets injured and is working hard at recovery. They are odd books but very good. I enjoyed them even though I find them hard to write about. I read that she resented the success of Lawrence Durell, who she knew in Egypt, and whose Alexandria quartet was received with much more acclaim, as the work of male authors is wont to do. And I do think her trilogies are better.
Giant of the Senate by Al Franken. I adore Al Franken and find him hilarious, so this book did not disappoint. It is all about his run for the senate, the month-long recount he endured, and then his time since spent as senator. He writes here and there about Trump, although I think most of his book was completed before Trump “won”. Despite his career in humor, Franken was always interested and involved in politics, and had a radio show for several years that discussed leftwing issues. Having said that, he –and his staff – felt it was important to show that he was a serious candidate and a serious senator, so he tried his hardest not to be the funny senator. His staff had a phrase – “in the car” – for jokes that he wasn’t allowed to tell. Luckily, he saved a lot of them for this book, because they are hilarious! I kept laughing out loud on the train as I read. He’s very smart and very passionate about the issues and serving his Minnesota constituents. But his wise hilarity is the reason for reading the book.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. This was a very enjoyable read and I was sad when it was over. It takes place in Victorian times and is about a woman named Cora Seaborne, who has just lost her husband to throat cancer when the book begins. This doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad thing, as the little we know of her husband is that he was a sadistic psychopath. So Cora is free now and sets out for the countryside in Essex with her autistic son, Francis, and his nanny and Cora’s companion, Martha. Another main character is Luke Garrett, who is a surgeon who is ahead of his time. He took care of Cora’s husband and has fallen in love with Cora. Cora herself is a scientist, and part of the reason she heads to Essex is because of rumors that a serpent has appeared there: Cora is hoping it is a leftover dinosaur. A naturalist, she becomes odd friends with a clergyman there, Will Ransome. Will and Cora share an instant rapport, which also consists of them debating and arguing science vs. religion. Will’s wife, Stella, is battling tuberculosis. Anyway, all the characters are interesting and well-developed, and the pace of the book is excellent, interspersed as it is with letters from the characters, and constant switching back and forth to different viewpoints. There are glorious muddy walks, socialist leanings, and interesting arguments about what a woman can and cannot do. Cora is wonderfully forthright.
Exquisite by Sarah Stovell. This was a very quick and entertaining thriller, and quite enjoyable on the whole. Alice, an aspiring writer, goes to a workshop held by the famous Bo Luxton, a successful novelist. Alice and Bo strike up a tutoring relationship which becomes something more. All along you get presented with both points of view in chapters labeled either Bo or Alice. Suddenly, things go awry and each woman tells a completely different version of what happened. The reader has to decide whom to believe. It’s a very absorbing read, and while it remains on the surface of things, Stovell does a really good job of keeping the back and forth skipping along and the truth reeling out slowly. It is fun.