Sunday, July 31, 2022

July 2022 Reading Highlights Include New and Old Favorites

I managed to get away for two weeks in mid-July, a road trip through parts of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Iowa that I explored for the first time. All in all, I drove just over 4,400 miles but, thanks largely in part to audiobooks, I still managed to read ten books during the month. I find that I more easily absorb audiobooks of the mystery/spy thriller type, so my July reading largely reflects that: 

  1. Devil's Peak - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel #1 - South African
  2. Blank Pages - Bernard MacLaverty - 12 memorable short stories from an excellent Irish author
  3. Thirteen Hours - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel #2 - Two American teens run for their lives in South Africa
  4. The Trawlerman - William Shaw - Alex Cupidi #5
  5. Back of Beyond - C.J. Box - Standalone set in Yellowstone
  6. The Ranger - Ace Atkins - Introduces the Quinn Colson series
  7. Seven Days - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel series #3
  8. Cobra - Deon Meyer - Benny Griessel series #4
  9. The Splendid and the Vile - Erik Larson - WWII history (1942) focusing on Churchill, Hitler, Goring, and Roosevelt
  10. The Bomb Maker - Thomas Perry - crazy bomb-maker tries to wipe out entire LAPD bomb squad
My newest "favorite" writer is South Africa's Deon Meyer, whose books are translated into English from the original Afrikaans. I read the first four books in Meyer's Benny Griessel series, and I highly recommend them to fans of the police procedural genre. The books have a great feel for what life must have been like in South Africa soon after all the big political changes impacted that country - especially what happened inside the big police departments there. 

The old favorites I revisited this month were Ace Atkins (finally read the first Quinn Colson novel), William Shaw, and Erik Larson (finally read the remarkable The Splendid and the Vile). In addition, I read the relatively disappointing Back of Beyond by C.J. Box and the wonderful The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry, an author I'm appreciating more every time I read something of his. 

I'm not sure where my reading will lead me next month, but I find myself wanting to spend some time reading books on 19th century American history, along with revisiting some of the classics from the likes of Austen and the Brontes. I've purchased four books in the six-book set by Andrews McMeel Publishing that includes beautiful new editions of Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Little Women. Each of the books is illustrated by Marjolein Bastin and include realistic facsimile inserts true to the period and story. Bottom line is that the books are all so beautiful that I consider them to be individual pieces of art. 

Let's see what happens.

Friday, July 01, 2022

June Reading Highlights and One Disappointment

June worked out pretty well for me as I continued to explore Mick Herron's work, read the latest from one of my all-time favorite authors, and read what I think is the definitive biography of my favorite singer, Merle Haggard. 

It's kind of hard for me to believe that I only so recently discovered Mick Herron's "Slough House" series of novels and short stories because I've now read three of the books. The series is a rather cynical look at international espionage and those who spy for a living, and I've enjoyed reading all three books - and I'm looking forward to reading the series all the way through. 

Merle Haggard is unfamiliar to lots of people who don't believe they have anything in common with real country music (not that watered down stuff called country today...that's not even close to being music, much less authentic country music). But if a person were forced to listen to only one singer for the rest of his life, Haggard would be a good choice. The man was a musical genius who combined his wonderful voice and songwriting skills with his life experience to create some of the most beautiful, and meaningful, music ever recorded. Haggard's life story is so unusual that Marc Eliot's Merle Haggard bio, The Hag, reads like a novel at times.

It was nice to catch up, too, with Anne Tyler again via her latest novel French Braid. This, like most of Tyler's work is an understated look at a Baltimore family over several generations. It's impact begins to hit the reader about three-quarters of the way through, and by the novel's end I found myself truly caring what would happen to these people.

So, these are the ten books I completed in June:

  1. Dolphin Junction - Mick Herron - collection of short stories & novellas featuring his series characters - uneven, but fun
  2. The Hag - Marc Eliot - maybe the definitive Merle Haggard bio
  3. Dead Lions - Mick Herron - "Slough House" #2 - excellent story about Soviet sleeper agents who "wake up" after two decades
  4. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly - Harry Bosch #5 in which Harry reconnects with ex-FBI agent Eleanor Wish and they marry
  5. Death Be Not Proud - John Gunther - memoir of a father who watched his son fight a brain tumor for 15 months (1947 death)
  6. Hidden Depths - Ann Cleeves - Vera Stanhope #3 (2007)
  7. The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery - Amanda Cox - heavy-handed Christian novel with boring final third
  8. The List - Mick Herron - Novella, "Slough House" #2.5 
  9. French Braid - Anne Tyler - Gradual changes in family-tightness over four generations of a Baltimore family 
  10. Nightfall - David Goodis - New York noir classic from 1946
I have to say that I was disappointed and bored by The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery but that was more my fault than the author's because I didn't do my homework before getting well into the novel. If I had, I wouldn't have begun it at all because it is part of a genre I try to avoid: "Christian novels." My distaste for these novels has nothing to do with personal faith; I simply find the vast majority of them to be very heavy-handed and predictable. And, as a result, boring.

Nightfall is a 1946 novel that could serve as the blueprint for the entire noir crime genre with its very dark, almost surreal, setting and the way that all of the main characters (cops and crooks, alike) seemed to be doomed in one way or the other. I've been a fan of David Goodis novels ever since reading Dark Passage a while back, and this one is even better than Dark Passage in my estimation.

I spent the last couple of days in June immersed in Deon Meyer's Devil's Peak but didn't finish it up until today, so it will go down as a July read. I only discovered Meyer a couple of weeks ago when I saw that he was featured on the cover of the current issue of Mystery Scene magazine. Meyer is a South African novelist who is translated into English from Afrikaans, and he is brutally honest about the culture in which he lives and writes. I'll try to add something more about him later as time allows.

I hope you are all doing well these days and that things, tough as they can be, are at least slowly returning to the life we so used to take for granted. Still busy here as always, but hoping to speak with you guys soon.