Tuesday, July 2, 2024

The June Book Report

June wasn't the banner reading month I'd hoped but I was pretty satisfied with those I read. The list includes two memoirs, three good mysteries and one I wish had been better than it was.


"A Question of Belief" by Donna Leon

The next in Donna Leon's Brunetti series (I think this is #19 but I might be off a digit) finds Brunetti fighting off the oppressive heat of Venice in the summer while informally looking into two cases, one of which turns into a major case when a murder takes place.

The first comes to him via Inspector Vianello, whose aunt has been sending money to a television/online astrologer and Tarot reader. He is quite certain that the man is taking money under false pretenses and is a fraud and he asks Brunetti if he can help arrange some surveillance to ensure that his aunt is not being taken advantage of.

The second is presented by one of Brunetti's friends who works for the city. Information that has come to him through a colleague indicates the latter was concerned about the number of legal cases, assigned to a particular judge, were having lengthy delays -- some several years. Their guess is that the judge is taking bribes to delay the case, which would be to the client's advantage. 

Meanwhile, Brunetti and his family are due to leave the searing heat of Venice for a vacation in the mountains. As they go off on their train north, he has people checking on the potential scammer and elements of the other case.

But as he arrives, he receives a call that the fellow working for the city and had concerns about the judge has been murdered. Called back to Venice, he and his team are searching for a murderer -- and trying to outwit the scammer. 

I'm not describing this as well as it reads! I've read all the previous Brunetti book and I have to say I enjoyed this one tremendously. It sounds more complicated than it is and would be a fun one for a new or continuing reader.

"Shy" by Mary Rodgers with Jesse Green

If you're not a theatre fan, you may not know the name Mary Rodgers. But you might know her most popular work, "Once Upon a Mattress" or the book or film "Freaky Friday." And you probably know the work of her legendary father, Richard Rodgers, who wrote the music for such shows as Oklahoma!, "South Pacific," "The Sound of Music," "Pal Joey" and many other standards. 

"Shy" is her memoir, published (with co-author Jesse Green, theater critic for the New York Times) after her death. And while she may have had many neuroses, being shy is not one of them -- at least in the telling of her life in the theatre.

The book is written in Rodgers voice from copious notes taken by Green in lengthy conversations with Rodgers over several years. He typed and prodded as she talked and in the end, they decided to use the type script as the raw material for the book. And as they met, she eventually began to decline physically, urging Green to get beyond the notes and conversations and start writing. "Make it funnier," she told him. "Make it meaner!" 

And then the meetings, due to her failing health ended.

Green writes, "The stories 'Mary' tells in this book are the stories she told me. They are often in her exact words, albeit cherry-picked from multiple conversations separated by months. When the words are not hers, they are, at her suggestion, my best ventriloquizing of them; she encouraged me to think of 'Mary' as a fictional character of my own devising but one who happened to have lived within a true, if unusual story." 

So, the book is written in Mary's voice, with Green behind it at times (and always in the informative and fun footnotes.)

She is extremely candid about her celebrated parents (I think Charles would feel better about Prince Harry's memoir if he read "Shy") but while she says she loved but didn't like her parents, it isn't a hatchet job. It's an honest look that reflects the frustrations many young people go through. When credit is due, she gives it and she certainly had admiration for her father's genius. Perhaps his greatest gift to her was a training in music that began as a child and while she never reached his legendary status, her body of work was extensive. 

She shares her life and more or less (95 percent, she and Green say). That life that included a marriage to her gay husband (the father of three of her children) and his later abuse, along with her fear of leaving him during those years of the 50s where life for women was more complicated. She recounts her deep friendship with Stephen Sondheim, forged as children, including their "trial" marriage (which didn't work). Her time working on "Mattress" and it's production, work with Leonard Bernstein on the celebrated "Young People's Concerts," and more is chronicled. 

So, too, is her second, successful marriage to Henry Guettel, the tragic death of their son, and her pride in the work of her son, Adam Guettel, a Tony-winning composer of several hit Broadway shows.

"Shy" is a fun memoir and a thoughtful one, clearly defining the evolution of a woman through countless insecurities despite privilege. It is a look at Broadway's upper crust and a personal life during times when there were numerous social challenges and changes. Green's informative footnotes add to one's depth and understanding of some of the names and events she mentions, making for a fun combination. It's a shame that Rodgers died before publication. I think she would have been pleased. Highly recommended.

"Once Upon a Tome" by Oliver Darkshire

This non-fiction book takes readers behind the scenes of Sotherans, one of London's antiquarian bookstores, as seen through the eyes of its young employee, author Oliver Darkshire. As it begins, Oliver is a new apprentice, completely unfamiliar with the world of old books. The short chapters follow him through his apprenticeship, learning the business and some of the quirky people -- customers and employees -- that are part of it.

Readers will travel with Oliver to dusty attics and dank estates to evaluate book collections (often with limited, if any finds), learn about some of the sellers who bring in boxes of books that are either not old enough or in good enough condition to purchase, bits about book binding, mold and paper, and all the curiosities of a very old bookshop (started in the 1700s) and some of their bizarre finds.

He shares his observations and reminiscences in a glib, sometimes snarky/sometimes sarcastic, but always honest way with a good deal of humor. As he ventures through dark, dank cellars and meets a variety of eccentric people, one gets the idea that the antiquarian book business combines both a skill in recognizing the real finds and the perils of operating a store that may have something for everyone -- if a) if can be found and if b) they can afford to purchase, once it is!

This book isn't for anyone. It helps to be interested in the subject and not everyone is. Sometimes it seems a bit like ground traveled earlier. And I confess, after a bit I put it down to read "Shy," which was more fun (and had bigger, darker type and this was post-cataract surgery). That said, it's easy to pick up at any time, for while it isn't written in essay form, each chapter handles one basic topic and it's easy enough to get back in the swing of it.

"The Evil that Men Do" by Jeanne M. Dams

I picked this one up because all the other books on my summer reading pile were packed for the lake. This is another in a series of Dorothy Martin mysteries, all set in England. Dorothy, an American living in England and married to a Brit, is a woman of about 70. She loves mysteries and always seems to involve herself in one. Her husband, a retired police constable, has long given up trying to keep her out of his own investigations.

To be honest, this series is not my favorite and the reason is Dorothy. Or, more specifically, how Dams writes Dorothy. And I think the reason is that I'm close to "Dorothy" in age. I have a cat like Dorothy does (though they don't figure into this story), I love England. And you know I love mysteries. I should like her a lot. But she edges too close to the meddlesome ditzy type and I really don't like to think of myself that way! (Or for that matter, think of women in general in that way.)

That said, as Dorothy Martin mysteries go, this one is pretty good. The premise is actually pretty solid, as is much of the mystery. While vacationing in the Cotswolds, Dorothy and her husband, Alan, meet a young man who seems very worried, even frightened, about something. When he disappears the next day -- and a local farmer is found dead -- Dorothy and Alan are pulled into the mystery. Soon, another person goes missing and the search is on. 

The relationship between Dorothy and Alan is sweet, sometimes a little too much so. But together, they manage to beat the police to solving the crime. Of course, Dorothy gets into danger. Of course Alan manages to get to the right place at the right time. 

In other words, if the leading character was a little less "Dorothy" and a little more real, I would have liked it a lot. And that's MY issue with the character -- not yours. You may find Dorothy delightful and the plot loaded with fun. So, I don't want to totally knock it without owning up as to why. And as I said -- the plot is decent and a good puzzle. And yes, I'll probably read another Dorothy book, but not right away.

"The Heron's Cry" by Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves writes a good mystery and this entry in the "Matthew Venn" series is a worthy addition to her canon. While Venn doesn't have the long history of her "Vera" and "Shetland" series, this has the potential to go the distance.

Venn is the Chief Inspector in Devon, working with two subordinates, Jen and Ross. When a dearly loved and respected doctor who investigates medical issues for Patients Together, an advocacy group, is found murdered in the glass blowing workshop of his  daughter, Eve, the team is called in. Eve, along with fellow artist Wesley, rent rooms from a philanthropist/developer who also lives on site, along with the couple who maintain the property. 

Soon another character in the story is found murdered and as Venn and his team gather facts they realize that the first victim may have been investigating too deeply into a past death, originally presumed a suicide. The cases are clearly connected -- but how?

Venn, whose husband Jonathan runs an arts center in town is an interesting character, was raised in an evangelical sect from which he has escaped. His restrictive upbringing contributes to his reserved manner and way of seeing the world, along with how he approaches his cases. His relationship with his mother, from whom is he distant despite living in the same town, offers an undercurrent adding depth to both his character and to Jonathan's.

Cleeves is a wonderful writer and this one is a page turner. Her books read fast -- which is both a plus and a minus because I always miss them when I finish!

"Drawing Conclusions" by Donna Leon

As I make my way through the Guido Brunetti series of mysteries by Donna Leon (who is revoltingly prolific in what she turns out), we find our Venetian police commissario baffled about the case of a woman who apparently died of a simple heart attack. There were, however, faint bruises on her collarbone, neck and shoulders that indicated that she might have been shaken. Did that bring on the heart attack and if so, who was responsible?

Brunetti decides to investigate a bit more and learns that the woman (beloved by all who knew her) was a volunteer for an organization that helped battered women find safe houses. Could this have played a role in her death? 

As so often happens in the Brunetti series, he is often confronted with moral questions, and on occasion, these have no resolution or an uneasy one -- often due to the pandering of the Venetian justice system which can be a bit less than fair when the right (or, more likely, the wrong) people are involved. The satisfying conclusion of this entry also has a bit of a focus on right and wrong/legal or illegal, and as I found myself pondering along with Brunetti in the final pages, I was glad we had reached the same decision.

All Leon's favorite characters are here -- the trusty sidekick, Isspectore Vianello; the cyber-hacking secretary, Signorina Elettra; Brunetti's boss Patta and his smarmy assistant, Lieutenant Scarpa and of course, Paola, Brunetti's professor wife and superstar cook. It's a book that moves quickly, perhaps one of Leon's shorter offerings, but just as rich and good for it.

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Buttercup said...

Huge fan of Ann Cleeves. I've especially enjoyed the Matthew Venn series.

Tom said...

...being such a poor reader, I don't think that I'm read 6 book in my entire life.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

I enjoy reading memoirs and historical fiction. I probably would like the one by Mary Rodgers. Very interesting that her father wrote the music for South Pacific which Is one of my favorite show and The Sound of Music which I'll be seeing this weekend at a local theatre groups! I would probably enjoy Once Upon a Tome as well. Thanks for the reviews!

Karen @ Beatrice Euphemie said...

Great reviews - I think I would also like the Mary Rodgers memoir, my favorite genre. My Mom and I would share memoirs about celebrities and the royals and then spend wonderful evenings discussing them over a glass of wine. Our own little book club. Miss those days... I think I would like 'Once Upon a Tome', also. I have a small collection of vintage books that I love and it would be an interesting job, I think, to work in that field. Hope you are having a good week - Happy 4th! xx K

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Thanks for the reviews, Jeanie. I am staggered by Tom’s comment above. Truly.

Barwitzki said...

My God - you're good. Thank you for your insights into your books...
I have an audio book on: Thomas Mann, Confessions of the Impostor Felix Krull.
Kind regards to you.
Happy reading for you and thank you for your literature recommendations.
Hug Viola

eileeninmd said...

Hello Jeanie,
Great reviews and two authors that I love to read Donna Leon and Ann Cleeves.
I did read and enjoy all their mysteries. Happy 4th of July! Take care, enjoy your day!

My name is Erika. said...

I see Donna Leon has even another book coming out. You are right she is so prolific. But good too. I liked reading about your biographies since I didn't recognize the name Mary Rodgers and stories about bookshops are always great. I see there are a few of those recently published too. And I read that Matthew Venn a few months ago. It's a good one. I have one more (to date) in that series to read. Then I need to get back to the Shelands I think, or maybe Vera as I've never read any of those. It's always fun to or read about your books. Have a wonderful July 4th too. Are you home or going back to the lake? hugs-Erika

Boud said...

Another Leon? I put it on hold at my library, thank you. She's reliably good.

gigi-hawaii said...

No, I never heard of Mary Rodgers, but I am so fond of Richard Rodgers' work. I just love his musicals, especially "The Sound of Music," which still resonates with me after all these years!

Pam said...

As usaual I don't read much in the summer.....right now, I am just tired of UTIs, affects of the meds, heat, so come bedtime, I am all ready to curl up with whichever fur babe wants to curl up with me and go to sleep!

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Shy sounds like it is quite juicy. I did not read The Spare but had heard that was quite juicy so this must be extra juicy is The Spare kind of pales in comparison in terms of being a tell-all. It sounds like she had a challenging life between the dynamic with her parents and then her fear of leaving her husband. Yikes. Thank goodness for the freedoms most women have these days.

I will be passing through your neck of the woods next week! I fly into Detroit on Monday night, so 5 meetings in Detroit that day and then another batch of meetings in Grand Rapids the next day before flying home. I'll wave to you! Too bad I won't have any downtime to see you, although I'm thinking you may be up at your cottage anyways? We are heading to my parents' tomorrow morning and will come back on Sunday.

thepaintedapron.com said...

Thanks for the reviews Jeanie, I'm going to look at Donna Leon's books, they sound interesting to me~

Rita said...

I do so love reading your reviews. That you were able to read this many books while recovering from cataract surgeries is truly amazing! Hats off, lady! :)

Bill said...

What a list, Jeanie. I just requested the audio book of The long call, I never read or listened to an Ann Cleeves book but the Venn series sounds interesting. Have a great day.

Divers and Sundry said...

I love Donna Leon! I've recently started reading again so have hope I'll be reading the ones I have on my tbr shelf soon 👍

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Thanks again, Jeannie, for sharing your reading list. I really wanted to read Jeanne M. Dams after reading your review, unfortunately the local library has nothing, not unexpectedly, but frustrating. Years ago, I read the Inspector Brunnetti mysteries, but it;s been awhile so maybe if I see these latest ones I will return to them. Right now, I have a couple of Agatha Christie mysteries as I haven't read many. I enjoyed the vera series by Ann Cleeves but haven't warmed to her later series. Maybe I will try an audio book version in future.

DUTA said...

I would be interested to read about Rodgers' daughter as the father was such a great composer and musician! He might have had some kind of influence on her.

Joanne said...

I don't typically read memoirs of people I don't know but Shy sounds like such a good book.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

The Mary Rogers book sounds especially fascinating. I find it interesting that she "loved but didn't like" her parents. Good for her, in not trashing them.

This N That said...

I still don't know how you find the time.... Good for you!

Mae Travels said...

I really enjoyed your reviews today! What a great reading list. I should read more in the Vera series (or watch the TV version).
best, mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Sandra Cox said...

Nice selection here. You can't go wrong with a good mystery:)

Debbie-Dabble Blog and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

I am always amazed at how much you get to read...I am just about done with everything that I needed to do in the wake of Joe's passing...So now I hope to be able to try to establish a new routine and figure out what my new life will look like...Thanks so much for stopping by!! I hope you have a lovely July 4th Holiday!!
Debbie_dabble Blog

Iris Flavia said...

Wow, you do read a lot!!! And they all sound so interesting, too.
Atm I read so much at work.... when I´m done with that I´m "done" with that ;-)
Twice I didn´t realize it´s German what I read!!!! I laughed and took a break.

ashok said...

Great selection of books

Arti said...

Happy July 4th, Jeanie, from your blog friend above the 49th. Have a great summer by the lake and a rewarding reading season! 😉

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

You do read a nice range of subjects each month. Mary Rogers sounds really interesting as I liked her father's work. I think it's hard to grow up with famous parents.

Carola Bartz said...

The Ann Cleves sounds very interesting! I think I will look out for that one. As always, your book reviews are interesting, Jeanie. Thank you! Hugs - Carola

Memphis Bridges said...

Thanks for sharing your list and linking up with us! As a fan of musical theater, the Shy book sounds so interesting.

Pam Richardson said...

As always, thank you for your well written book reviews. I know that I would enjoy Mary Rodgers book, “Shy”! I hope you enjoyed the 4th, Jeanie!

anno said...

Six books!!! And you call this a slow month? Seems to me, you did very well... You know I adore anything by Ann Cleeves. I've been slower to warm up to Donna Leone's work, but maybe I need to give it another try?

My attention these days is totally shot. Maybe something with short, topical chapters, like Once Upon a Tome might be worth a try? Or maybe I'll go with that juicy memoir -- looks like a good time!

Thanks so much for your reviews! I always find something new and interesting in these posts....

Debbie said...

i understand tom's comment...some of us are not readers and that's ok. i can't read because i have lesions on the part of my brain that controls my memory. medically, it is impossible to read a book if you can't remember what you read 2 pages or 5 pages before, it's a medical problem. one never knows why someone can't do something, or maybe why a person does not enjoy something. maybe tom enjoys things we don't or spends his time doing something other than reading. i WISH i was a reader, but i am not.

this is a great post for those who do read, i am sure they find it very helpful!!

Lowcarb team member said...

Many thanks for the reviews here, Jeanie.

All the best Jan

Lisbeth said...

Some good detective stories there. I see you are ahead of me when it comes to Donna Leon. She is great. I have not read the other authors, not even Cleeves, which seems to be a loss. Have to try her out one day.
Darkshire sounds interesting and I will look for it.

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