Starting with a long weekend and having a week of vacation in the middle, July turned out to be a big reading month for me. And, since I added books as I was reading them, I think this list is complete except for books I read that were primarily work-related.
Bone to Be Wild by Carolyn Haines is part of a series that follows Sarah Booth Delaney, a failed Broadway actress returned to her Georgia plantation home. She's not alone in her rambling home; she has a resident "haint," a former slave named Jitney. This series is a great example of why, though I keep threatening to, I can't quit cozies entirely. Witty, charming, and entertaining, and not at all dark despite being rife with murder. It's got it all.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. So I may have been a smidge skeptical about a mystery whose protagonist is an 11 year old. Glad I dove in anyway though because Flavia De Luce is a delight. She's precocious but not at all tiresome. She's smart and ridiculously overconfident - that's she's oblivious to some of the cross-currents apparent to the reader is a testament to the line that Alan Bradley walks so well.
Six and a Half Deadly Sins by Colin Cotterill takes place in Laos, 1979. A "treasure hunt" by two elderly gents and a woman is kicked off by the discovery of a strangely well-preserved finger in the hem of a traditionally woven Laotian skirt called a pha sin. The story unwinds as the trio travels from village to village looking for clues. I really should learn more about Laos. The political–historical context that emerged was rich and sad, and I'm terribly ignorant.
A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain offers a tremendous fish-out-of-water concept – modern day FBI agent hurtles more than 200 years into the past and finds herself in the midst of a murder investigation. Naturally, she has none of the tools of modern forensics and has to be guarded about what knowledge she shares so as not to upset the course of human discovery. The concept itself kept me reading. Unfortunately, the characters – including protagonist Kendra Donovan – were more in the nature of caricatures, and story itself a little too ripe with genre conventions like the plucky maid, the dashing marquis, and the "brilliant" FBI agent who's torn between her drive for justice and the chance at twue wuvvv. I want to read this story again, written by somebody who can make me believe in the characters.
The Cinderella Killer by Simon Brett takes place before Christmas in a small English town and focuses on a theatre troupe preparing to stage Cinderella. The story itself was fine though nothing special, but I very much enjoyed learning about the conventions and traditions of the British panto. We are lucky to have a theatre company locally that stages a pre-Christmas panto every year, so we've seen a few; they've become a traditional class trip for the grade schoolers around here.
Selected for Oprah's Book Club back in 1998, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage took me into a culture and context very different than my own. As a white woman reading this novel 20 years after its publication, I am hardly qualified to comment on its realism or internal truth. But I will say it felt real, I believed in the characters, and it deals with many issues (poverty, race, individual and institutionalized racism) that remain urgently relevant today.
Dave, an avid cyclist, picked Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy by Tim Moore for himself. Since Tim Moore is never not funny and Dave was in the middle of another book, I grabbed it up and read it first. Thoroughly enjoyable and reminded me that I really should reread his Travels with My Donkey: One Man and His Ass on a Pilgrimage to Santiago because I don't think I've ever read a book that made ma laugh more. I think it's been long enough that it will new again.
Also taking place in 1914, Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart is a delightful take on the detective novel. Three sisters living alone, trying to make a limited income stretch as far as possible when their wagon is crashed into by a powerful businessman in his newfangled automobile. The novel unfolds as the eldest sister tries to get compensated, and we learned about her backstory and what happens next. One of the blurbs on the book jacket says something about how funny the book is (I don't have it front of me), and I'm not sure where that notion comes from, but it is very entertaining indeed.
Fighting Chance by Jane Haddam is one in a series about former FBI agent Gregor Demarkian. Good reads, though I can't say this installment particularly stood out from the others. The good thing was that the main protagonist is only referred to as the "Armenian American Hercule Poirot" maybe twice in the book. In an earlier episode, possibly the first, Demarkian is given this name by a newspaper and it sticks. This just seems so implausible to me - gives way too much credit for literacy to the general public - that it sets my teeth on edge. I know, I'm grumpy.
So good! The Living and the Dead in Winsford by Håkan Nesser had me turning pages as fast as I could. Translated from Swedish, this novel follows a Swedish woman living in isolation in Englad. We find out why. It's riveting. I'd never read anything by Nesser before, and I feel like he is this month's big discovery. Apparently most of Nesser's novels are a series featuring the same detective; this one is a standalone. I hope the series lives up to the high expectations I now have.
Speaking of living up to the hype, Barbara Kingsolver never lets me down. Animal Behavior takes place in Grace, New Mexico. It tells the story of a young woman who moved away as soon as she could, but is drawn back and begins to discover all that was surrounding her as she grew up.
Reading Up a Storm by Eva Gates is a typical cosy. The protagonist works and lives at a library in a lighthouse. Yeah, it sounds pretty charming. And there's murder, of course.
I learned a bit about animal slaughter from In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson. I guess I'll have to be careful how that might bust out in conversation. Apparently this book was first published as Abattoir Blues, which actually is a much more memorable and fitting title - I guess it didn't fly off the shelf.