Sunday, September 3, 2023

August Books

 Hi everyone. It's Sunday, part of the long Labor Day weekend if you're in the US. This is the end of the summer "season" here in the US, which is in many ways sad. But perhaps if you're tired of the heat, humidity or rain, you might be looking forward to autumn. I will miss summer. Yet I also love fall so I am looking forward to many things about it, which hopefully will include less wet weather than we had this summer. 

I'm back today with another book post, this time my August reads. I managed to finish a lot of books this month, especially a lot of mysteries (but not all mysteries) so I'll warn you today's post is a bit on the long side. 

My first book for August was this Audible edition of Cosmos, the classic by Carl Sagan.  I haven't read this book for a few years, and I thought it was time for another visit.  In June and July I didn't do a whole lot of listening to books, mainly because I wasn't doing as many activities where I could put  on a book and listen.  When I started this book at the end of July, I was hoping I would do more listening because otherwise this book would take me all of August to get through. 😏

This book was originally published in 1980. And yes, in some ways it is a bit dated, but if you haven't ever read or listened to it, you might want to add it to your reading list. Sagan does an excellent job telling the story of the cosmos and of our relationship to it. And although I don't remember  this part from my last read, he keeps reminding us of the Earth's climate warming and its effects. He wrote this book over 40 years ago too.

Sagan really brings home science for the average non-professional-astronomer reader. Although this book focuses mostly on space/astronomy, he also delves into biology, natural history, history, mythology and plain old everyday life. For example, if you listen to the chapter on Venus, you learn a lot about the various ways people saw Venus for hundreds of years. You'd also learn what it would be like to be on Venus, which means not even seeing the sun for  all the clouds that cover the planet. 

This particular version is read by the actor Levar  Burton  (you may know him from Reading Rainbow and as LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation), and he is an excellent narrator.  Sagan's wife Ann Druyan  reads her introduction; Neil deGrasse Tyson reads his forward.

This book, because it is very detail laden, might  be tough to absorb if you only listen to it.   I have a paperback version that I’ve read a couple of times so it didn’t bother me just to listen and maybe not catch all of the details. 

Carl Sagan died in 1996, and it is too bad, for I would have loved to see  whether he would have written an updated version to this book had he survived. 

My first actual book this month was this spy biography of Elizabeth Bentley. Bentley joined the American Communist Party back in the 1930's and that lead  her to becoming a Russian spy. 

Bentley studied Italian, French and English while attending Vassar back in the 1920's. She didn't come from a wealthy home, and her mother, whom she adored, always used to say that democracy meant the rich got richer and the poor barely survived. Hearing this growing up must have helped shape some of Bentley's views of the world. Add to that, while in college Bentley majored in Italian, and she  spent a summer studying in Italy during Mussolini's rise. As the author states, being a visitor meant that she never really knew what was going on with Mussolini as dictator, but she was still able to pick up on some of the ideals that were being forced onto Italian society.

During the 1930's and the depression, Bentley struggled to get by. It was no wonder with this background that she joined the communist party since in the 1930's At that time many  people thought of it as the American Communist Party. They believed it would bring better times to the country.  Of course it ended up not being the unique American communist party, and as people discovered what Stalin was actually up to, interest in the party waned. 
That is only the start of Elizabeth Bentley’s story.

In the 1940's, after rising in the  ranks in the American based Russian communist party, Elizabeth Bentley went to the FBI and gave a list of her connections. These were basically a who's who of communist spies in America. From then on, her life would be changed forever. In many ways this is a sad story because she had some fame for being a former communist spy, but  because  she had this notoriety, she had a very difficult time making herself a new life after she passed on her information to the FBI.  

However as a reader, this book is fascinating. 
Thank you  Aimeslee for recommending this book.  I really enjoyed it!

I very much enjoyed the first 2 books in this mystery series by Eva Bjorg Aegisdotter  that I read last month. That meant I  wasn't  going to wait very long to read book 3. 

This series is set in Iceland, in particular a small city called Akranes, just north of the Reykjavik. Elma, the book's main character, is a detective. This time the team she is a part of is searching for the person who started a fire in the bedroom of a house. A 20 year old man is found dead in the room. He is the son of the couple who owns the house (it was his room), and he has a twin sister. Parallel to this story is the story of Lise, an au pair who is working for the family of the dead man's friends.

As this story progresses, it diverts a bit more towards the au pair and the family she works for. This is a story where, when you think you’ve figured out the murder, you end up being taken someplace else. In a masterful way though. You should probably read these stories in order, not that the mystery goes from book to book, but the main characters lives progress. I did suspect some of the ending, but not the complete story, nor how different characters played into it. Once again Aegisdottir does not disappoint. 

My next read was another book in the Maggie Hope mystery series. 

You may have noticed that I have been reading a book or two from this series each month. I don't  know if I will get through all 10 (to date) by the end of the year, but I am certainly trying too. This fictional World War 2 series should be read in order; this is book 5 in the series.

This time Maggie Hope, the main character in this series, is heading with Winston Churchill's circle to Washington DC. Since the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor, the US has now joined the war, much to Churchill's happiness. Not that Churchill wants war, but England is struggling and needs more American help. Since the US has now declared war,  he will get that help.

This story is fiction, but Churchill did make the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic in December of 1941 and spent the Christmas  holiday in Washington. 

What I love about these books are the characters, the history ( with some fictional twists), the mystery stories, and the depth of these novels. They are easy reads with a lot going on. 

 In this particular story I feel like I am actually back in World War 2 in the city of Washington DC. Susan Elia MacNeal does a great job comparing  how much Americans had during late 1941 compared to what was available in England that was already  at war with Germany.  She catches the spirit of the holiday, the city and the characters also. I very much enjoyed this book.  I like how it continued the story started in book 1, and how the story didn’t repeat itself  just in a different place or time. Each one of these books had its own unique story. It was a great addition to the series.

My next listen was this mystery  by Anne Glenconner. This is my third book by this author I've read or listened to this year, and I for one am happy Glenconner actually started writing because she is a very good writer. 

Holkham is the family home where the author grew up, and the main character in this mystery could be the author herself. Her name is Anne, and she is a teenager away on family business when she is called home because her grandfather  has died. 

This story jumps back and forth between Anne at the time of her grandfather's death and Anne as a younger child living with her grandfather at Holkham Hall.  During this part of the story, Anne's parents are in Egypt, and it is the Second World War.   As the story jumps back and forth, you realize that events that happened during the war are still affecting the hall and the surrounding village even though  in the "newer" parts of this story, it is  the early 1950's (when the grandfather dies).

 I recognize many parts of this mystery novel from the author's autobiography.  As this is fiction, many parts of this story are not true, but this book is  based on people,  places and events from the author's life. There's a great epilogue chapter that explains what's actual and what is not. This is  a well written and very well put together mystery. You don't have to read the autobiography to enjoy this book either.

I finally broke down and bought a Kindle over Amazon Prime day in July. I don't know what took me so long because I love it!  My only issue is that it has no color so some books wouldn't work, but  for reading books, it is fantastic, especially in bed at night. 😀 Along with my purchase I received 3 free months of Kindle Unlimited. I figured I'd try out a few mystery series that are available on Kindle Unlimited, and this  book, One Lost Soul,   by J M Dalgliesh is one of those new series. 

This British classic police mystery is set in the Norfolk area of England. A teenage girl's body is found on the top of a cliff by the shore. Tom Janssen and his youthful sidekick Eric, as well as Tamara, the police detective help sent in from Norfolk, look to discover the who and the why of the  murder of Holly Bettany. She was a girl with lots of promise in her future, but as the book progresses, you realize she was also a rebellious teenager.

This author writes a suspenseful mystery that built up to an exciting "killer reveal". I liked how there weren't too many suspects, and I also liked how the author surprised me at the end. I enjoyed this book, and I hope to get to the next book in the series while I still have Kindle Unlimited. When I looked there are 14 books in the series, so I may end up having to borrow or pay to pick some up if the stories continue to be as good as this one. 

After reading so many mysteries set in this area of England, I now also really want to visit and see the Norfolk area for myself.  It sounds like a lovely spot.

A couple of people have read and recommended this book on blog posts. It's been a while since I added this to my to read list, and I'm not sure who it was that recommended it. If it was you who recommended it, thank you for giving me the heads up. I really enjoyed this book.

Michel Bussi is a French author, and her mystery story is set in Giverny, France. The same Giverny where Monet lived, painted and had  his garden.  I listened to this novel, and the narrator (Joan Walker) does a fantastic creepy voice. This book caught my attention immediately, and it was hard to put down.

This book starts with a murder of a man who is found with a postcard of one of Monet's paintings in his pocket. The author introduces 3 women to us. One is an older woman who often watches the world from her apartment window. One is a young "middle" aged woman who is the local school teacher, and finally one is a young girl who is an artist prodigy.

And for a nice bit of parallelism, this man was “killed” 3 times.  He was stabbed, hit on the head, and drowned. This story goes back and forth between the 3 women and the police inspector as well as his partner.  I must say the parts with the inspector and his partner have some great conversations that definitely  made me smile. And one of those 3 women is a really creepy character.

And then, when you think you have this all down, there is a HUGE twist!

I liked that this book was a unique take on a police procedural murder mystery. I liked the characters too, not that I would want them to be my friends, but they make interesting reading. And I liked the creepy voice the narrator could use when needed. This is a recommended read if you'd like a mystery that's a little different.

It was then time to head back to Iceland for the latest installment of the Forbidden Iceland mystery series (that I mentioned earlier in this post as well as in last month's books). This is book 4, and I was surprised to find it was a prequel to the other 3 books. 

A very wealthy extended family has rented out an entire hotel for a family reunion. And during this reunion, someone dies. You don't exactly learn who that is until the end of the book. This story becomes quite the thriller with just a bit of police procedural tossed in. As the cover states, this book was hard to put down.  Luckily the author focuses in on just a few people, although the others are mentioned, and it was easy to follow along through the many unexpected twists and turns. 

Aegisdottir’s story  telling just gets better and better. I did miss Elma, the main character in other 3 books, who is only briefly mentioned at the end of this one. It  does mean you could read this book out of order. I very much enjoyed this series, and I look forward to the author's (hopefully) next release. 

Working Monday and Tuesday mornings at the lake has created a lot of extra reading time for me, so for my next book I decided to read another Kindle Unlimited book. I was going to read a thriller my daughter recommended,  but my last book,You Can't See Me, was so dramatic that I wasn't ready to dive into another emotional novel. Instead I read The Malvern Murders

I didn't expect this book to be quite so light. Not that that is a bad thing, especially after my last book. I guess I would call this book more of a cozy style mystery. It is the 1880's and Inspector Ravenscroft has messed up another case in London. Ravenscroft said it's because of his asthma.  His boss decided to give him some time off to get his health issues under control and suggested Ravenscroft go to Malvern to take the waters.

On the way to Malvern, Ravenscroft meets a man who invited him to dinner. When Ravenscroft arrives for dinner, his  host is found dead at his desk in the study.  Because  this village is so tiny, Ravenscroft gets put on the case once they find out he is a detective. 

For me, this wasn't a terrible read nor was it an amazing read. Yet it was a very enjoyable story.  I wished it had more  details about Victorian life and more details about the case. It did have a few twists and turns to make it interesting. And the ending had a nice little lead in to another one of the books in this series.This being book 1, sometimes it takes an author a bit to get on a roll, which means I will most likely try another one of these books.  I did like the characters, and it certainly kept my interest. Plus it was a quick book to get through also. 

I've seen the latest film based on this book (and perhaps earlier ones-if there are earlier ones? I just don't remember), and I might have even read this book before since I took it off my bookshelf. If I did read it, it's been  many many years since that time. I'm glad I pulled it off my bookshelf though because this story is one of Christie's classics.  I also read that this book is the most read murder mystery in history.

Hercule Poirot is heading on his way back to England after being called to the Middle East to solve a case. He planned to spend some time in Istanbul, but another case comes up that requires him to head directly back to England. He hops on the Orient Express train,  only to find that shortly into his journey, as the train is passing through the former Yugoslavia, it becomes snowed in. During this time the man in the compartment next to him, the American M. Rachett, a man Poirot believes kidnapped and murdered a baby, is murdered himself.

 Rachett’s death has to be connected to someone on the snow bound train because there are no footprints leading through the snow to show that anyone entered or left the train. But who did it? After interviewing passengers in the dining car, Hercule  Poirot  comes to the conclusion that almost all of the passengers are not telling him the complete story.  This is another good Christie mystery. Christie certainly knew how to come up with unexpected endings, didn't she? 

That's all the books I finished last month. I have started one really long hard cover book (over 1,000 pages) which maybe I will have finished by my next book post. Grin. It's an actual book, not digital, so it's too big to lug around and almost too big to read before bed.  Because of its size, I've been reading it along with all these other books, and since there's actually a few new releases coming out that I am looking forward to, this big bok might not get finished in September either. 😕

Thanks for making it this far through my post. As I write every month, I do like recommendations., even if I don't get to them right away. Enjoy whatever is left to your weekend.


David M. Gascoigne, said...

The Carl Sagan book seems interesting, Erika, and I will check for it at the library. He did a fabulous job in introducing concepts of deep space and the origins of the universe to a wide audience. Imagine, he accepted evidence-based science and revolutionary concepts such as the laws of physics, when he could have gotten all his answers from a much-translated text written by Bronze Age peasants. How revolutionary was that? Hugs - David

Tom said...

...keep reading.

kathyinozarks said...

Good morning, yo find such interesting books to read I have started the Iceland book you shared. thanks for sharing hugs Kathy

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I have the original hard copy of Carl Sagan's book. I also taped (as in VCR) the entire series which was presented one year on PBS. Sadly, my VCR no longer cooperates with my new digital tv, but I still have both the HUGE book and the tapes.

I would LOVE to read some of those books you read, especially the one written by Maggie Hope. It sounds like a great mystery with Churchill as part of the scene.

So glad you shared these wonderful books with us. BTW, I have never seen the film Orient Express, but I read the book years ago and was surprised by the ending.

Valerie-Jael said...

You've read some great books. I read nearly all night because I just HAD TO finish my book, and then I slept very late! Hugs, Valerie

Gillena Cox said...

That's a lot of books. Happy reading hours
My Sunday Smile is HERE


Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

Have you heard of Margaret Truman's Capital Mystery series? She is the daughter of the late President Harry Truman and writes wonderful mysteries. To date, she has written 27. She started writing them in 1980 and the latest one was in 2022. It was appropriately (signs of the times) Murder at the CDC. I've read several of them and really enjoyed them.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I forgot to mention that each of Truman's books stand alone. Each one can be read in any order.

ashok said...

Great book choices

Iris Flavia said...

The first two sound tempting! But somehow I fail to find time to read or am too tired.
How do you manage to read/listen to so much?
To great stories, hugs

Jeanie said...

I love that you have such a diverse selection of books. I see several here that especially intrigue me, including the Glenconner (I liked her first book; haven't read the second, and this sounds fun.) I appreciate good after-notes. (MacNeal does those well, too.) "Clever Girl" is another that intrigues me but they all look like good ones.

Divers and Sundry said...

I remember Cosmos! Carl Sagan was good at bringing actual science alive in the popular imagination.

You make me want to get back to reading. My insomnia isn't as bad as it was for a while, so maybe I'll be able to get back to it. Most of yours sound like books I'd enjoy.

NGS said...

I was just listening to a podcast about Icelandic murder mysteries. Iceland has an incredibly low murder rate (two murders in all of 2021!), but there's quite a number of writers of murder mysteries in Iceland. All your Icelandic noir made me think of this. If you're interested, it was the podcast Criminal and the episode title was "Icelandic Noir."