Thanks for all the wonderful birthday wishes and lovely comments on my last post! Life is indeed good (this blogging community is part of that reason!). So far, 70 doesn't seem any older than the days, maybe years before! Maybe even better!)
This summer's reading has (as always) focused a bit on my favorite genre, mysteries. But never fear! This wrap up includes a collection of essays, a wonderful novel and a behind-the-scenes look at one of my all-time favorite musicals.
Let's start with a light one!
Hanged for a Sheep - Frances and Richard Lockridge
I love the vintage covers on this series by the husband-and-wife writing team. I even love the characters, even though totally daffy Pam North (who takes center stage in this book) is way too ditzy for me. The character probably worked well in the 40s and 50s when the series was written but even a contemporary non-feminist would find her a bit too much in 21st century America!
Nonetheless, the books are fun. This one finds Pam being invited to stay with an aunt while publisher husband Jerry is out of town. Her aunt thinks that she is being poisoned, probably for her inheritance. Which of her relatives could it be? Naturally, Pam will take it upon herself to investigate and there will be another murder to add to the mayhem before it's all over.
France: A Love Story - ed. Camille Cusonano
The Soul of Discretion - Susan Hill
Susan Hill writes a series about a British detective, Simon Serrailler, who lives in the cathedral town of Lafferton. Long single, Simon has recently moved in with Rachel, a woman who first appeared in two books prior to this one. His sister, Dr. Cat Deerbon, is adjusting to her life as a widow, frustrations with her job and three children, all experiencing growing pangs. Cat is concerned that her stepmother, Judith, is experiencing physical abuse at the hands of Cat's father, Richard.
In this entry, Simon is sent undercover to help solve a series of child pornography cases, all grisly and perplexing. As he seeks more information, his sister, the emotional center of this series, is struggling with her personal and professional life and Rachel, herself a widow and now abandoned in a way by Simon, as he can have no contact with family or friends, takes a leap into a new career.
This is a fascinating series (and I do recommend reading them in order; the character development here is key) and I heartily recommend it. This is the grittiest of them all to date but well worth the time.
A Gentleman in Moscow -- by Amon Towles
This is one of those books everyone read a year or two ago. I read it this summer and I don't know why I waited. It lives up to all the hype, from my perspective. Set in Moscow after the Revolution, the plot focuses on Count Alexander Rostov, who, rather than being sent to Siberia, is confined to house arrest for life in the Metropol Hotel, a glamorous, glorious place that in time the course of his "imprisonment," will serve as home or stopping place to dignitaries, actors and journalists.
The book follows Rostov's life for six decades as he adapted to his situation, making friends with the chef, seamstress, concierge and others, eventually serving as head waiter and having a liaison with a famous actress and forging a friendship with an 11 year-old girl who changes his life. The characters are exquisitely drawn, the history fascinating and the writing charming and elegant. I'd love to see this one as a film.
The Comforts of Home - Susan Hill
Friends in High Places - Donna Leon
Follies: Everything was Possible - Ted Chapin
This book isn't for everyone but it was definitely for me -- my favorite book of the month. It is for you, too, if you love and are fascinated by Broadway musicals, any musical. But it is especially for you if you are a fan of the music/lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, the producer/director Hal Prince or choreographer Michael Bennett.
This book steps behind the scenes of one of my favorite musicals, "Follies," as followed by Ted Chapin -- now the recently retired executive director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization but then a college student serving as a production assistant on the show and keeping a journal as part of an independent study. Chapin was with the show from some auditions through opening and kept detailed records of conversations and his observations for working with the celebrated trio, along with stars Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Gene Nelson and John McMartin as well as the shows designers, orchestrators and supporting acting company. It's a fascinating look at what went into what was at that time the most expensive musical ever and one that has become a cult favorite. If you are fascinated by theatre, this one is definitely for you.
The Blood-Rimmed Tide -- Rennie Airth
Scotland Yard detective John Madden has retired from the force and is living a contented life as a farmer with his physician wife Helen in 1930s England. But the discovery of the body of a young girl near his town brings him back into contact with his Scotland Yard friend, Angus Sinclair as it appears that an elusive serial killer is moving around several areas targeting early teen girls.
Once again, Rennie Airth builds a strong plot, a devilish character and a remarkable partnership as he weaves a mystery well worth your reading time. (Recommended to read this series in order; this is the second book.)
"The Body in the Transept" and "Trouble in the Town Hall" - Jeanne M. Dams
I haven't decided if I'm going to read all of Jeanne M. Dams light and cozy "Dorothy Martin" mysteries (there are plenty of them -- at least a dozen!), but they make a quick and pleasant diversion in the mystery line, especially after something pretty grizzly or more complex.
Dams' protagonist, "Dorothy Martin," is an American woman, recently widowed. (The time period isn't clear but the books were written in the 1990s). After the death of her husband, she has decided to continue their plans of moving to England and have settled the fictional cathedral town of Shrewebury. So, you have the "fish out of the water" set up -- American widow in a close knit, small British town.
In the first book, Dorothy finds a body in the transept of the cathedral on Christmas Eve. It is that of the greatly disliked canon of the church. There is no shortage of suspects and Dorothy takes it upon herself to investigate, rather like a modern day Miss Marple with quite a collection of over-the-top hats, her signature style.
"Trouble in the Town Hall" finds her more settled in the town. The core of this story is historic preservation and development. Again, Dorothy is at hand when the body is discovered and again, there is no shortage of suspects.
I know I"ll read a few more of these but Dams has written plenty. Not great literature but a good break in the action and rather fun.
I'm behind replying to comments as I enjoy Art Camp! More on that soon!
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