Saturday, August 7, 2021

July Books

Hi everyone. Happy weekend.

Once again it is time to post my reading/listening list for  last month's books. If books and reading are not your thing, never mind my post. I write this post for those of you who enjoy reading a book post. I also write it for myself for future reference. If you like book posts, then this might be a post you'd like to read.  So here you go. Read on if you're interested.

July was a good reading month with a couple of long books, although not quite as many mysteries as I usually read. 

My first listen for the month was a book a few of you have mentioned on your blogs. It sounded like a good story  if you love a  classic style mystery, and I do,  so I looked it up on Audible (where I get audiobooks).  I found out it was one of their freebies. Freebies are always good.

This is the only mystery written by Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne. It was originally published in 1922, and it takes place at an English country house. There is a small gathering of people at the Red House when the owner's  brother returns from Australia. It isn't long before this brother is found dead inside a locked room and the owner, Mark Ablett, has gone missing.  Although the police are involved, Milne chose to create his own Sherlock Holmes style detective by the name of Antony Gillingham to gather clues and tell the story.  Gillingham's Watson is his friend Bill, who happened to be staying at the Red House when the murder occurred. 

This  is a nice classic mystery story with  an interesting twist. I won't say too much to give it away. Too bad Milne didn't write any others with Gillingham as the detective since it would have made a nice series. I'm not sure I thought the narrator of this audiobook version was the best for the story, but he was OK to listen to. 

One of my friends recommended The Signature of All Things on  a joint friend text feed (we recommend good books to each other this way) and then another friend read it and recommended it. When a third friend read this book and  also recommended it on the same text feed, I figured it was time for me to read the story.  Even better was I knew I already had the book as I remembered seeing it on my crowded bookshelves back in April when I did some purging.  Sometimes if I don't get to books quickly, they get put on the shelves. I am glad this one was rescued from a dusty life on those shelves.

I really loved this book. It is set mostly in the 1800's and is the account of Alma Whittaker, a fictional woman botanist. Although Alma is a made up character, Elizabeth Gilbert based her on many actual women who did botanical research  during this time period. Women during this period were not believed to be skilled enough to do science, except perhaps some polite botany, as it was called in the book. 

 With all my summer garden visiting this year, this book fit right in. It was a joy to read, although it was about 500 pages and not the quickest of books. I felt like I was immersed in a garden adventure reading this story. I love books that I can get lost in and where the characters become real, even if they are just the author's creation. I highly recommend it.

After listening to The Red House Mystery, I went on to listen to this story, West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge. This story is written as a fictional memoir of an elderly gentleman in a nursing home who helped bring the first 2 giraffes to the San Diego Zoo as a teenager.

The giraffes in this story were real, and the novel is based how they arrived from New York to the zoo in California in 1938, even though this story is more about Woody Nickel, the main character of this novel. I was curious about the real giraffes that arrived in 1938 and found this great article about them. If you are interested you can read it here: Zoowalks: West With Giraffes.  But I will warn you this post gives away somethings from the book, just in case you want to read this story and be surprised.

I did enjoy the book, but it took me awhile to get into it. I think I was either hoping for something different (not sure what that was), or maybe it was because I found it hard to relate to Woody Nickel,  at least at first. I don't blame the author for that; it was more my personality and the one Woody has in the book. I kept getting mad at him. A lot. 

The book was well written, full of action, and did a great job at showing what America was in 1938. It was a good story overall, and  I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars, but if you read it you might like it better.  I'm glad I listened to it; it was a well done story,  but I wish it captivated me more than it did. 

Firestorm is the 4th National Park mystery  in Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series. It is an oldie, first published in the 1990's.

Like the other 3 books in this series I've read, I spent the first 50 or so pages thinking the book is not starting off very much like a mystery, and then it suddenly picks ups and  becomes  a good one. I guess my one complaint about the author's writing it is takes her a little too long to get to the murder, although she does set a really nice scene in those  first pages. This scene is particulary important to this story.

In this story, Anna (who is a National Park ranger) is sent from where she is stationed at Mesa Verde National Park (in Colorado) to Lassen National Park (in Northern California) to work as an EMT with a wildfire brigade. With the scenes of wildfires and  a killer on the loose, this story has some terrifying moments. I found it hard to put down but also sometimes frightening to read. 

The gist of the book is this. There has been a murder among several  EMTs and firefighters that are stranded in the wilderness around Lassen National Park. They need rescuing from the burnt out forest after a firestorm came through. Until the weather changes or the blocked road can be cleared, they are not able to be rescued, and the person who has been murdered was discovered dead with a knife in their chest. 

This is another recommended book in this mystery series. 

Last summer I read Connie Willis's novel Doomsday Book. That book is the story of some people who have created a time travel machine at Oxford University in the middle of the 21st century. In this first of the series book, time travel takes us back to the 13th century and unfortunately an encounter with the bubonic plague.  That book was one of my favorite reads in 2020.

The second installment of this series is this book, To Say Nothing of the Dog. This is another oldie, first published in 1998.  In this book, time travel has become a common thing for historians at Oxford University. The book starts off with the main character, Ned Henry, looking for a rather obscure object in Coventry Cathedral right after the Nazi bombing. However, due to too many trips back and forth across time, he needs a rest and an escape from certain people in the present, so he is sent back to Victorian England for a few weeks "to rest".  Never mind someone has broken a law of time travel, and Ned must fix the situation.

What a fun story. Whereas Doomsday Book was excellent but  also a bit dark at times, this book made me smile a lot and even laugh out loud a few times. It is not to be read with a serious bent. I loved it, and it was the perfect read for summer. Just enough going on to keep me enthralled, not a heavy plot, and chapters ending with something  curious to make you want to read the next one right away. 

 Because I enjoyed this novel so much,  I've also decided to try some other Connie Willis books, including the rest of this time travel series.

After Alice Fell was my next listen (after West with Giraffes). I picked up this fiction/mystery story off of an Audible daily deal because it was a) set in my state of new Hampshire,  b) said to be a Gothic mystery tale and c) under $3. The overall reviews for it were OK, some gave it 5 stars and others a 1 star, really nothing great, but since I do like a nice Gothic style mystery, I decided to try it. 

Marion's (the main character) sister Alice has died while in an institution for the mentally handicapped. The institution says it is suicide, but Marion believes it is murder. I like how this book was set shortly after the American Civil War; it gives the book some good historical atmosphere. And it definitely has a mysterious and dark overtone. It ended up being quite the thriller. I actually quite enjoyed the story, even if I did find Marion a little too fixated on her sister's death. She would have been a better detective if she'd been more subtle about it.  

Surprises do abound, but I don't want to give anything away. I do recommend it.

And lastly, with bee keeping filling some time, I also splurged and picked up some bee natural history books to read and add to my collection. Thank you  David for recommending these next 2 books. 

I haven't finished reading The Lives of Bees, but I've really learned a lot so far. It is interesting to read books about bees themselves, and not directly related to the process of bee keeping.

This final book is something I found while searching on Amazon. I have lots of bumblebees in my gardens, and as I noticed not all of them had the same traits, I wondered more about them also. This is a well done guide to various species of bumblebees as well having a brief introduction to their lives.

Hope you found some inspiration, or at the very least something to  that caught even a little bit of interest. As usual, I always look for recommendations too.
Thanks for stopping by.


CJ Kennedy said...

Such an eclectic range of books. I think I'll look into the time travel books. Fixing something that has gone wrong with the time continuum is right out of Doctor Who. Today sounds like a good day to enjoy a book from the hammock or sun room.

Valerie-Jael said...

Hi Erika, you've been reading some great books. I listened to the Red House mystery, too and enjoyed it. Glad you are studying bees, I'm sure it's an enormous field to learn. The signature of all things reminds me of Bohme's Signatura Rerum which we had to study at school many moons ago, although his theories weren't correct. I'm off for an afternoon nap here, so I'll wish you a great day! Hugs, Valerie

one irrational bean said...

I always enjoy seeing what your reading and come away with some ideas for future reads, which is already a really long list. I’m reading West With Giraffes now. I am about 120 pages into it. It’s a slow read, but I find it interesting in terms of history and Belle Benchley. Plus I just love giraffes. Happy reading and keep cool the weekend. Looks like great weather to be on the water.

Divers and Sundry said...

I was so excited to see that Milne had written for adults and that I could read it online! It's a shame it was his only mystery novel. The real-life story of those giraffes is fascinating. I can see how it would lend itself to having a novel written around them. I keep meaning to read more Nevada Barr. I look forward to regular library trips being part of my life again. Connie Willis is a genius! I don't read much non-fiction, but I have a soft spot for natural history and travel narratives. Thanks for these recommendations.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Hello Erika: I am glad to see that you also bought "Bumble Bees of North America". Sheila Colla, the last author listed is a local entomologist, and before the dark days of COVID made a presentation to our naturalists club and signed my book. I always pass on your list of books to my wife since she reads far more fiction than I, but a book we have both read recently and enjoyed very much is "Miss Benton's Beetle". If you are looking for a good read, I highly recommend it. Thanks very much for the link to my blog. Enjoy the weekend.

Jeanie said...

Wow -- you have been a prolific reader! I had never known Milne wrote a detective story. While lots of the books sound very good this is the first one I would be adding to my list! Can't wait on this one!

DVArtist said...

I wish I had the time and the eyes to read again. You are fortunate that you can. Have a nice weekend.

Iris Flavia said...

I´m still not done with the one book... well, apart from Freddie, of course, that I started last month! You are a fast reader (and I get distracted by my sport and internet...).

craftytrog said...

A great selection of books Erika! I'm still working my way through the Sookie Stackhouse True Blood books. Once they're finished, I have Margaret Attwood's The Testaments lined up.

kathyinozarks said...

Hi Always enjoy seeing your reading list as your books and authors are all new for me. Happy Sunday

sheila 77 said...

Hello Erika, I nearly missed this and I always enjoy seeing what you have been reading, always a varied mix. I was interested in the A.A. Milne mystery, that is a good recommendation. Isn't it annoying, though, when you finish a good book and the person has not written any others in the same genre. Another one you showed was by Nevada Barr and although I have not read any Anna Pigeon novels it struck a chord and I went to our bookshelf (the crime section!) and discovered "Mountain of Bones", an Anna Pigeon novel written in 1995 so I have transferred it to my to-be-read pile, thanks for that.
I appreciate the way you show the book covers which makes your carefully written synopsises come alive. It must have taken ages for you to write this blogpost and take and show the photos and it is very much appreciated, thanks.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I actually read that Milne story before. I knew it sounded familiar. I love any mysteries. Each of your books sounds good, but I think the Milne book is my favorite this month. Of course, I would like to read the Gothic tale of Alice, too. Thanks for sharing all of these this month.

Empire of the Cat said...

Interesting to see the AA Milne book in your list as I have recently read a book that included that book in a list of books of perfect murders! You might actually like that book if you haven't read it before. It's called Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, about a bookseller working in a Mystery bookshop in Boston. He writes a list of books for his bookshop blog, all of them almost perfect or perfect murders, and then the book goes on from there. Elle xx

nwilliams6 said...

I forgot how much I love your book posts! I definitely want to read a few of these. So fun! Thanks for sharing again (I know I say that a lot but I love your posts). Hugz