Saturday, August 6, 2022

July Books

Hi everyone. Happy weekend.

Today I am writing my monthly post about the books that I read and listened to during July. As I have said before, I write this to help me keep track of what I've read. I know books are not everyone's thing, but I also know some of you enjoy reading about them. 

July was an interesting mix of books for me that included some mysteries, some classics and some new authors too.

My first listen for July was this classic from Willa Cather. Except for some short stories back in my college days, I hadn't read much of this author until a few years back  when I read Oh Pioneers and My Antonia. I loved both of these books, and I've wanted to read more of Cather's works since then. 

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from a book titled Death Comes for the Archbishop, but this book was a pleasant surprise. It is set in the 1800's (1851 from what I read when I looked up the book as I didn't catch the exact date during my listen) in New Mexico.  Father Jean Marie Latour becomes  the archbishop of Santa Fe.  Although New Mexico  is a US territory, it  is still Mexican and Native American in customs. The Bishop is French by birth, but has been a priest in the United States (Ohio and Michigan) before being sent to New Mexico.

I loved the story of New Mexico told in this book. It was  filled with both good and not so good people, hot sun and snowstorms, and traveling on horses or burros for days between settlements with the diocese.  I loved how Cather described the little Spanish outposts and the Native Americans, and she even included a few historical figures too.   I know I am  a little biased as I write this because I have visited that state several times, and one thing I liked was the name recognition of places I've visited and how this novel takes me  to those places long before I ever visited them.    The archbishop and his friend the priest were real people (Jean-Baptiste Lamy and Joseph Projectus Machebeus), although this is a fictional novel based loosely on their lives, and not, at least as I read this story, a particularly religious focused book.

I didn't know that some lists put this novel in the top 100 American best books ever written. I didn't read it for that, but I can see why it might be placed there.

 The first book I read last month was The Guest List by Lucy Foley.

 A wedding is being held at a newly renovated inn on what was a deserted island off the coast of Ireland. And there's a storm  to darken the atmosphere. As the reception  progresses, a staff person thinks she sees a body outside of the tents. In the midst of this reception and death, the power keeps flickering on and off. 

This sounds like  the perfect setting for a murder-thriller type of  story. The story focused on some of the main characters. I liked how the story pops back and forth between these people, each of them telling their own view of the events.  However, one of the 2 negatives  for me  was that I didn't really like any of these people.   ( I did read in the back notes of the book that Lucy Foley likes to create unlikable characters.) 

That leads me to my other negative.  I was more than half way through the book without a whole lot of suspense other than "circumstantial" or emotional baggage clues before the story picked up.  Yet when the story did pick up, it really did surprise and shock me. I've never read any of this author's work before this book, so I  didn't realize what could be coming. It would have been easy  not to finish the book and miss the best part of the story.  I will say by the ending the author really did have me fooled.  

Overall, this story was  good for a  hot afternoon (or 2) on the hammock book. Will I read another of the author's novels? I'm not sure. After finishing this book, there is a part of me that wants to know if and how Lucy Foley can twist another story around so masterly.  Yet I'm also not sure I need to read the same type of story over again. But I must say, this story does stick with you, especially if you haven't read anything like it before.

Sometimes it is good to listen to a book by a new author and not have a whole lot of expectations about the story. I had never heard of Susanna Kearsley before reading about The Shadowy Horses in a sale blurb. And it is  also sometimes  good to listen to or to read a book that doesn't require a whole lot of work from you as the reader. For me this is especially true when I listen to a book because I only listen to books while I am doing other things, and if the book is too detailed laden, I miss too much listening to it. Plus, let's face it, in the heat of summer you sometimes don't want to work too hard with a book. 

Verity Grey is a young  30-ish archaeologist who goes to Scotland for a job digging where the 9th Roman Legion might have fallen in battle  almost 2,000 years ago. The truth is the dig is happening not because of any actual evidence, but because a young boy saw the ghost of a Roman soldier walking through the field. 

And then Verity starts seeing and hearing ghosts This book (according to the author's blurb) is part Gothic mystery, part romance, full of archaeology, and laced with some history. It is set in coastal Scotland, (Eyemouth, an actual town not far from the border with England) so I  enjoyed all the "new words" that are part of the Scottish vernacular and how the author added lots of local details to the story. 

I'm not a big romance reader, but I did find that the romance was merely a small part of the bigger story. I knew who Verity would fall for early in the story, but then the author basically got right to the point and didn't lead the reader on a chase through various romantic starts and stops.  The book also introduces lots of other characters and events, and so honestly, I'm not sure I would even call this book a romance. 

This book was a light, enjoyable listen.  I  enjoyed the story of the dig, liked the characters, and the mystery of the 9th Roman Legion. And I even enjoyed the ghost story, as it gave the story a little more historical "color". Yes, how it wrapped up was a bit predictable. There was never really any question about how the story would end, but I liked the overall story enough that I picked up another book by this author on the last Audible sale, and at some point I will listen to it.

The Road Through Miyama was published in 1989. My copy 
 smells wonderfully almost ancient with that slightly musty used book smell.  

This book describes Leila Philip's (the author) time as a potter's apprentice in the south of Japan in an area that is known for its historically Korean pottery. Leila came to the area to work with a Japanese artist who moved from Tokyo to Miyama to become a potter himself, and she not only worked with him, but lived with him and his wife during her apprenticeship.

I wish I had read this book before visiting Japan because even though it was written many years earlier than my trip, the insights into Japanese culture were well done. I also enjoyed the author's take on the family she lived with, and all the well respected older women of the community she interacted with. I wonder how different Miyama would be if this story was written now (in 2022) or if someone did an apprenticeship right before covid began. That is, if the potteries in the area still remain because in the 30+ years since this book was written, as things could and probably  have changed. I enjoyed this book about an American traveling and living in Japan, and I particularly liked the focus on culture and art.  I also liked how the author focused on Miyama as a community. I'm glad Plilip only mentioned but didn't digress from the story by talking about side journeys she took while being an apprentice.

Last summer I read 8 Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. That book was a murder mystery, and as that story progressed it named and discussed 8 perfect murders that occurred in other published mystery stories. Strangers On A Train was one of those 8 books mentioned in Swanson's novel, and the 5th of those 8 mysteries that I have since read (or reread). In this case, I listened to the story.

Two gentlemen meet on a train trip  going west from New York. Guy Haines is an architect, going to get a divorce from his wife in Texas. Charles Anthony Bruno is a man whose hobby is  to do things that push the limits. For example, one of Bruno's push-the-limits thrills was to commit a robbery, not that he wanted the item he stole, but just to say he had committed a robbery. After a night of drinking, Charles Bruno suggests to Guy Haines that they should each carry out a murder and kill someone that the other person "wishes" was dead.

When a murder happens, the suspense begins. What happens after that murder is what keeps you tied to this novel.  I will say there were a few places I thought the overall story could have moved onward a bit faster, but just when I thought it was going to stall out, something big happened.  This book is definitely a classic, and the suspense still holds today. I can't say I guessed how things would wrap up.  

This book was read by Bronson Pinchot who did an excellent job. Strangers on a Train  by Patricia Highsmith was published in 1950, and it was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's film by the same name. 

The last actual fiction book I read in July was The Wall by Mary Roberts Rhinehart, published in 1938 and was a best seller that year.

Mary Roberts Rhinehart was an American author who was often referred to as the American Agatha Christie, or at least the introduction in my copy of this book says that. The introduction also says that unlike Christie, Rhinehart's popularity as an author died out after the author's death in 1958. In my pursuit of reading classic mysteries, I thought it was time to read one of her books. I chose The Wall since it is set on a resort island along the New England coast.

Marcia is at her family's summer home, which is now hers due to the death of her parents and her buying out her brother Arthur's half of the house. The story begins with Arthur's ex-wife Juliette showing up. For reasons that go beyond me but do make good mystery reading, Marcia allows Juliette and her maid to stay with her. You can probably guess Juliette is trouble right from the start. And that hold true even in death.

This is a very good story  expertly told through Marcia's eyes. It does have a feel of an Agatha Christie novel, although I think a slower read than most Christie books are. This is a novel where you have to read every word carefully or you end up going back a couple of paragraphs to see what little detail you missed. At almost 400 pages, it took me awhile to get through it. It is a good story though, and  I am going to keep my eye out for some more used copies of Rhinehart's mysteries because I like how she carries her story along.

And I finished off July's fiction picks by listening to a few short stories by Agatha Christie.

These short stories don't generally develop the suspense that Christie's books do, especially when, as all of these were, the story is less  than or just over an hour long.  Then again, short stories are short, and  Christie does a decent job with them. I enjoyed how King of Clubs was read by David Suchet, who played one of the best Detective Poirot's on TV.  Philomel Cottage was my favorite story; it didn't have any of Christie's detectives in it and really did leave me guessing. I also liked how I could listen to one story during a drive to wherever I was going and be done with it. 

It was good for a change to break up longer stories (that I usually listen to) with a slightly different writing format.

And I did read one art book.

I'm interested in making a few mosaics for my garden. One thing I really want to make is a mosaic wall hanging for my screen porch. I've done some mosaic work, but not a whole lot, especially for making something that would be out in the elements.

I picked up this used craft book off of Amazon. I like how it's completely focused on making mosaics for the outdoors. Of course you could also use it for indoor pieces too.  It has great information and some interesting projects too, including a couple of wall pieces. I also liked how Mark Brody explains how you  could use mosaics on pieces already made, like pots, chimineas or other garden ornaments. I'd give this book high marks for explaining and describing exactly what I was looking for. I hope this month (August) and I do some mosaic making.

If you have made it this far, thanks for reading through my list. Maybe you even found something interesting. And as usual, I love recommendations (even though my wish to read list is getting quite long because some of you read such great sounding books.)  

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and as always, thanks for visiting.


Divers and Sundry said...

Death Comes for the Archbishop is one of my all-time favorite books. As I give away more and more of my books that one always finds a place on a shelf. Strangers on a Train is good, too, and made the perfect plot for Hitchcock.

I like the idea of a garden mosaic.

CJ Kennedy said...

Looks like perfect Summer reading especially the mysteries on the beach. The Harlequin Tea Set would make a perfect T Day entry. I hope you're staying cool.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I loved Death Comes for the Archbishop, but I was a Cather fan when I was younger and read most of her books. She was a wonderful writer. Some of her stories still linger. You have a great reading list here!

Valerie-Jael said...

You've read some great books, and I'm pleased to see Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith also on your list. I often grab one of my 'old' books and read it in between new ones, it's good to go back and compare how I felt about them then and now. Reading gives us so much pleasure, and like you I like to listen to the books on Audible, too. Have a great weekend, hugs, Valerie

kathyinozarks said...

Another interesting book list-thanks for sharing with us Erika Happy weekend

Iris Flavia said...

LOL. I very carefully, yet quickly overflew this ;-)
I have too many books and your reviews are truly dangerous, making me adding even more.
If you can top Six-Thirty... let me know - I still have the DNA to go through (it wasn´t written as well as the chemistry one). Have a great Sunday, hugs!

Iris Flavia said...

I have to add:
Elle is reading Six-Thirty now (pass me the sodium chloride) and Rain from Adelaide will look for it come Monday :-)

Ingo sadly doesn´t get it. Well, he´s a man...

Thank you!!

The Padre said...

Interesting Post For Sure - I Appreciate Your Appreciation For Book Smells - Not Just For Babies And Puppy Breath - The Mosaic Garden Project Blows My Mind And Would Love To Thumb Through That Sucker - Enjoy The Rest Of Your Weekend And Have A Delightful Week Ahead


Aimeslee Winans said...

Oh Erika, Willa is my favorite writer! I could sit and let her describe any place any time. A fellow Cather fan friend once took a vacay where she toured the scenes of all her books. I was soooooo jealous. Great mystery titles too. I'm not believing the serendipity. I'm right now working on a spread for AJJ about my love for our Episcopal church stained glass windows when I was growing up and using that very book as a photo reference (the arched patio wall plaque). I fell in love with Laurie Mika's mixed media mosaics around 2009 and had a big play at it. Somewhere around here are containers of pre-cut tiles from Dick Blick, lol. I don't cut or score glass if I can help it. Anyway, what a coincidink! XOX

Lowcarb team member said...

Always nice to see what you have been reading ...

All the best Jan

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Before I read your blog post, I wanted you to know I just now got back online. Today I went to Sally's and used her I-thingy to link to Monday Murals. Thanks again for doing such a BIG favor for me. I owe you BIG TIME!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I really enjoyed reading about the books you read this month. I always love a good mystery, and envy your ability to get so many in each month. Mosaics are HEAVY, so be careful if you create something and place it inside your porch. I've created a few outside ones before, but gave them all away. Start collecting old dishes and pick some up at the thrift store if you don't have broken or chipped ones. I look forward to seeing what you create, dear.

R's Rue said...

Thank you for sharing. Happy Monday.

Michele Fawcett said...

It's always so nice to see what others I reading. I find it keeps me To Be Read List always wonderfully long and inspires me to make time to read more. The Shadowy Horses has been added to my wish list :)

craftytrog said...

A wide selection, but the Susanna Kearsley one is my kinda book Erika. I've read a few of her books, can't remember if that's one of them, so I'll check it out on my library app. I do like an audio book, I'm currently reading and listening to the Bridgerton series. Very easy summer reading.
Have a great week.

Carola Bartz said...

Your book reviews are interesting and thorough, Erika. I don't know any of these books, but I think I would like the Archbishop - I do like Willa Cather and I also love New Mexico. Quite some years ago I read a couple novels by Susanna Kearsley and I remember that I liked them. "Gothic" is a fitting description.

Neet said...

Thanks for the synopsis of these books. I have never sat and listened to a book but now you've got me intrigued (my other half does and `I do listen to bits but always have something else I want to do). I think I might delve into one or two of these whilst crafting.
Love Tommy & Tuppence so need to maybe kook at the Agatha books first of all but the one set in Japan has me intrigued, not only for the country but also the pottery as that was my main subject at college - ceramics.
Hugs, Neet xx