Busy week on the work and home front translates to slower week on the reading front. The recent standard pattern – slow and sporadic during the workweek, sustained and productive on the weekend – held true again, although this time the weekend was devoted to a tome. But one thing at a time.
I spent most of the workweek over The Lark, which was absolutely delightful, lovely and fun. And as has felt par for the course lately, very odd that it took almost a full week to finish, but I chalk that up to fitting it in around everything else during the week. I just don’t have the attention or the time reserves from Monday through Friday. But I did wrap this up early on the weekend and absolutely loved it. And a relaxing, restful read like The Lark set me up nicely to tackle a tome from my Classics Club list – Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. After devoting ample reading time to it over the weekend, I’m just about halfway through and feeling motivated. (Right away, I thought to myself, I can see how this book must have been a huge influence on Colson Whitehead – the magical realism elements are strong.) Not sure what’s next, since I still have a few hundred pages left to read in Invisible Man and I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but it will be something comforting, I think.
No Instagram photo this week! My weekend was nothing to write home about – rain, rain, more rain, and some errands.
When Steve booked a full day with Felix, our guide to the best of Monteverde, we were given a list of different options for activities to do. We knew we wanted to hit Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and we briefly considered doing something non-hiking and non-birding in the afternoon, just to mix it up. But because hikers gotta hike, and birders gotta bird, we dismissed that idea pretty quickly. The most appealing afternoon activity was, predictably, another hike with plenty of bird-spotting, this time in Reserva Curi-Cancha, another of Monteverde’s best spots.
Curi-Cancha had more open spaces than Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which was mainly wooded trails. There were plenty of wooded trails in Curi-Cancha as well, of course, but mixed in were some beautiful vistas.
Masked tityra! A very cool find.
Even the trails were a bit wider and more open at Curi-Cancha than they had been at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. (That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing – both parks were equally beautiful. Just an observation.)
Leaf-cutter ants! These guys are so adorable and hardworking. They’re my favorite ants by far – definitely better than the ones that come investigate the anklebiters’ trails of snack detritus.
The hummingbirds were a highlight of Curi-Cancha – like at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, they were everywhere. Here we also had the extreme treat of seeing two hummingbirds in their nests! The nests were about the size of a teacup – darling. And beautiful.
Purple throated mountain glen in its nest!
Another treat at Curi-Cancha – spider monkeys! They were hard to miss – very, very noisy and exuberant, just like the white-faced capuchins in Osa. Seeing monkeys in the wild, though, is just really something special.
I didn’t get any really spectacular pictures, because they were all moving so fast, and they were so high up in the trees. But just seeing them was incredibly cool!
What a red-letter day this was! Steve and I were so grateful to Felix for sharing his favorite spots with us. We loved learning from his expertise on the birds of Monteverde, and even more we loved hearing about his personal experiences and life growing up in Costa Rica. Definitely a day that we will remember forever.
Next week: a different kind of Costa Rican forest experience – breakfast in the treetops! – and another of Costa Rica’s legendary birds.
I love visiting indie bookstores and will try to duck into one (and buy a book – or several!) anytime I am in a new city, or even familiar stomping grounds like my much loved previous neighborhood of Old Town Alexandria. Of course, as a reader and a traveler and a lover of bookshops, I have a running list in my head of famous indies I’d like to get to someday – Powell’s in Portland; Tattered Covers in Denver; the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC, and so on. And Parnassus Books, the famous Nashville indie founded by Ann Patchett, was definitely on that list. So when my team at work decided on Nashville for one of our periodic weeklong offsite meetings, my first order of business was to scan the schedule and figure out when I could squeeze in a visit to Parnassus. Monday afternoon ended up working out the best – I arrived in Nashville on an early flight, put in some time working at our downtown corporate office, and then, with a couple of hours left before the rest of my teammates arrived and we reunited for a late dinner, grabbed an Uber down to Parnassus.
I was surprised to find the legendary bookshop a nondescript storefront at the cusp of the suburbs – all the more magical, then, knowing that there were treasures inside.
First view when you walk into the store – did I do a little dance? Yes, yes I did. I’d left myself a good hour and a half for browsing; this was my one planned solo activity of the week. Cue excitement.
They had two shelves dedicated to bookseller recommendations and books “picked and penned by Patchett.” Now that I am looking at this picture, I’m really regretting not picking up one of those gorgeous hardcover editions of Bel Canto. Well, next time.
The children’s section was in the back, suitably reached through this cute little door with miniature Grecian columns – a playful nod to the name of the bookstore. There were a few little kids who gleefully ran under the portico as I browsed. Adorable… I wished I had my own anklebiters with me, because they’d have loved it.
Suitably for Nashville, they also had a big and well curated music section. Not sure if it was the twinkle lights, the star lanterns, or the general vibe, but the whole place seemed to sparkle.
Now, to what I know you all want to know: what did I buy? Enough that I needed this cute tote bag to carry it all. Don’t mind if I do. Here’s (most of) the haul:
A pretty good haul indeed, don’t you agree? After making sure I took in every shelf in the fiction, poetry and children’s sections, I picked up:
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor – I’ve already read this and had my eye on collecting the Virago editions of Taylor’s books, but I couldn’t resist this NYRB Classics edition (I’m starting to build up quite a collection of those).
The Windsor Knot, by S.J. Bennett – This mystery starring a sleuthing Queen Elizabeth caught my eye awhile ago; it looks cute, and I was still feeling a little weepy about the Queen.
Theater Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild – Another one I’ve had my eye on for awhile. Kathleen Kelly recommends “the shoe books” and we all know Kathleen Kelly is never wrong. (Yes, I know she’s not real. Don’t harsh my mellow.)
How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons), by Barbara Kingsolver – I had no idea Kingsolver wrote poetry! After flipping through this at the poetry shelf and reading a few selections, I decided I definitely needed it for my own.
Unlock Your Storybook Heart and Flower Crowns and Fearsome Things, both by Amanda Lovelace – Every time I go into my favorite indie, Old Town Books, I find myself browsing Lovelace’s poetry. It was time to finally pick some up for my shelf. Flower Crowns and Fearsome Things is not pictured above because I’ve already finished it and now I can’t find it. It was gorgeous; highly recommend.
Still Life, by Sarah Winman – This just caught my eye with its striking cover; I don’t know much about it other than that it’s about World War II and art and portions of it take place in Italy during and after the war. Historical fiction isn’t my usual jam, but this one sounds good!
What fun to visit Parnassus and treat myself to more than an hour of book shopping! I don’t think I’ve gone to a bookstore and just puttered around for a long time in ages – probably not since COVID. It felt good. And whet my appetite for more bookshop visits to come.
So, a decent reading week – got through a few books, and enjoyed them all, and you can’t ask for more than that. I’ve noticed a pattern recently: I’ll spend the entire workweek plodding through a book twenty pages at a time, and then rip through three in short order on the weekend. It’s funny how that changes; sometimes I read more during the week and less on the weekends, but right now that’s the structure of my days. Don’t know what to do with that – nothing, really – but it’s interesting to me.
Anyway, after plodding through September Moon all week, I finished it up on Friday evening and then immediately ripped through Just William in two sittings. I was done with Just William in time to take a new book, The Lark, in my tote bag for the kids’ swim lessons on Saturday, so it really did fly by. Just William and The Lark are both delightful, but now I’m back in that weekday pattern of reading a little here and a little there. Well, I’ll get there eventually. When I finish The Lark, I have my eye on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
Then, finally, still enjoying having more time for audiobooks now that I’ve got my podcatcher in shape, I finished up The Pale Horse on Sunday while running errands. I’ve heard that it’s one of Christie’s weakest mysteries, and that may be true, but I still really liked it. The solution was a total surprise to me, which is always fun. It’ll be a minute before I get to another audiobook, because I’m working my way through the final set of podcast back episodes that I still have (The Slightly Foxed Podcast) and then planning to listen to a dramatization of Persuasion as a birthday treat to myself (that one’s on Audible, but I don’t count the dramatizations as audiobooks).
We went apple picking this weekend! That’s a must-do fall activity for me. We always wait too long, but this year it seems we timed it well, because there were four varieties still picking and plenty of apples on the trees. Pies ahoy!
After a few warm, blissful and adventurous days in Osa, it was time to see a different ecosystem and a different part of Costa Rica – up north to the mountains of Monteverde, and Costa Rica’s famous cloud forests. After a very bumpy ride (literally bumpy, over rough dirt roads studded with rocks – an adventure!) we arrived at our hotel in Monteverde looking forward to a fun adventure the next day.
Steve had booked a private guide to take us through Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Reserva Curi-Cancha.
Ready to spot some birds!
Our guide, Felix, asked us about our goals for the day. We told him we were avid birders and would be excited to see as many birds as we could, but that we were especially keen – like everyone – to see the resplendent quetzal (not the national bird of Costa Rica, but one of the most famous avian residents of the country).
Hiring a private guide was well worth it – can’t recommend highly enough. Felix knew the cloud forest like the back of his hand, and was able to point out more birds than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams. By way of just a few highlights…
I can’t remember exactly what these two were (have it written down somewhere). I think of them as Yellow and Brown Fluffball and Some Kind of Dove.
This is a black-faced solitaire – this bird was one of Steve’s favorites of the entire trip. It had an absolutely beautiful, haunting song.
Lesson’s mot-mot. This picture does it no justice – the colors were so vibrant.
Costa Rica has dozens of species of hummingbirds. We saw them every day, and it never got old – and never got boring to try to identify the different species. This one is a coppery-headed emerald hummingbird, a species that is endemic to Costa Rica. I couldn’t get over the colors of its feathers – like a little jewel.
We saw the hummingbirds all over the park, but the park also had a hummingbird garden – a little courtyard with multiple hummingbird feeders scattered around. There were at least five different species of hummingbirds (probably more) zooming around. SO cool.
Felix showed us the highlights of the park on a macro – waterfalls! – and micro – cool tree fungus! – scale. And he pointed out coffee beans (far right, above) which was very cool to see, as fans of good coffee.
All right, all right. I know what you want to know: did we see the quetzal? Early in our hike around the park, Felix stopped short and called our attention to a sound off to our right – the quetzal’s call! We scurried from path to path (very grateful that Felix knew the park so well, because we would have been hopelessly lost) trying to figure out where the quetzal might be. At one point, after the call seemed to have moved from our right to left, Felix groaned, “That quetzal is playing with us.” Finally, we spotted:
The quetzal was a female. I was bowled over by how beautiful this bird was – the striking black and white tail feathers, the shimmering green wings, the flash of red belly, and the beautiful black eyes, so gorgeous. We gazed at her through Felix’s scope, taking it in turns to look through the viewfinder and jump up and down.
As exciting as it was to see the female quetzal – and we assured Felix that we were happy with her – he assured us that the male was even more spectacular, and we kept looking for him. (At one point we thought this female might be joined by a male we heard calling nearby, but apparently he already had a girlfriend.) We continued dashing around looking for a male quetzal and finally…
A male quetzal! Or at least, a male quetzal’s butt. We set up the scope and patiently waited for him to shift position.
There we go! That’s the glamour shot we were waiting for. Have you ever seen a bird like this?! I was staggered.
We actually saw a second male quetzal later in the day – lucky, lucky indeed! Everything that we found so spectacular about the female quetzal was dialed up to eleven in the male.
What a morning! And this was just the first half of our day – we headed off to grab lunch with Felix (traditional Costa Rican plates at the park cafe, so delicious) and then off to our afternoon destination, walking on air after our encounters with the famous resplendant quetzals.
Two warnings! Spoiler alert, because it’s impossible to talk about Ruth without divulging important plot points. And also, I am going to get political.
Elizabeth Gaskell was well known as a writer with a social conscience, if a bit of a heavy-handed one – this is the author of North and South (or as I like to call it, Pride and Prejudice and Union Organizing) after all. In Ruth, one of her less well-known novels, she takes on the theme of the “fallen woman” and the unfair, unjust, inhumane fate faced by women and girls who were “led astray” in Victorian times.
When the reader first meets Ruth Hilton, she is a young seamstress – an orphan, around fifteen or sixteen years old, whose absentee guardian has apprenticed her to a dressmaker and punched out. In the dressmaker’s studio, Ruth rooms with an older girl, Jenny, who is a warm presence and a steadying influence. At the opening of the novel, the apprentices are working around the clock to finish outfitting the upper middle-class women of their faded industrial town for a local ball. Gaskell is clear that the ball (like the town) is nothing to write home about, but to Mrs Mason’s young apprentices, it’s the marquee event of the season. Mrs Mason, a greedy and looks-obsessed woman, chooses the four best-looking (although she says she is picking the “most diligent”) of her young apprentices to work as on-call seamstresses fixing small tears and pulls for her customers during the ball. It is there, in the seamstresses’ anteroom, that Ruth first encounters Henry Bellingham.
Mr Bellingham is a rich, irresponsible, and selfish young man. He notices Ruth immediately – her beauty is of a particularly striking kind – and makes it a point to get acquainted. One Sunday evening, out for a walk to visit Ruth’s old home after church, Ruth and Mr Bellingham are delayed and Ruth is caught by Mrs Mason, who immediately assumes that Ruth has been acting wantonly and shaming her establishment. In one fell stroke, Ruth loses her home and her job. Cast out without any money, and disclaimed by her guardian, she has no one to turn to but Mr Bellingham, who convinces her to accompany him first to London and then to Wales. In Wales, Mr Bellingham falls ill and is retrieved by his mother. Ruth is left alone, an outcast, and pregnant.
Most young girls in this position – Ruth is sixteen – would end up either in prison or in prostitution (likely to be followed by prison). Ruth, heartbroken, is determined to end her life – but she is rescued by Mr Benson, a Dissenting minister on vacation in Wales. Mr Benson’s progressive Christian principles will not allow him to leave a fellow creature in distress, and he convinces his sister Faith to join him in his quest to save Ruth. Together the Benson siblings concoct a story about Ruth’s being a young widow and bring her home with them. In time, Ruth welcomes a baby son and carves out a life for herself in the village. She becomes governess to the two youngest daughters of Mr Benson’s wealthiest parishioner and devotes herself to a modest life of Christian piety and her own redemption.
Ruth’s peace is not to last. Mr Bradshaw, her wealthy employer, decides to dabble in politics and put forth a candidate for Parliament – and the candidate ends up being Ruth’s former lover, Mr Bellingham, now going by a different name. Mr Bellingham recognizes Ruth and sets about trying to ensnare her again. But Ruth is different now: a mother, with people who depend on her, and more power and agency in her own life. In a spectacular act of courage – knowing that Mr Bellingham could, with one word, destroy her life and snatch her son from her – Ruth refuses his advances, although he wheels and cajoles.
She did not answer this last speech any more than the first. She saw clearly, that, putting aside all thought as to the character of their former relationship, it had been dissolved by his will – his act and deed; and that, therefore, the power to refuse any further intercourse whatsoever remained with her.
(I love that. It’s such an act of power, to decide that when someone has rejected you once you hold the power to decide not to let them back in your life.)
Ruth stands up to Mr Bellingham, but eventually her past does catch up to her and she is betrayed by a local gossip. She decides to leave, to spare the Bensons and her son the humiliation of associating with her, but in a revolutionary (for Victorian times) argument, Mr Benson convinces her to stay.
‘Nay, Ruth, you must not go. You must not leave us. We cannot do without you. We love you too much.’
‘Love me!’ said she, looking at him wistfully. As she looked, her eyes filled slowly with tears. It was a good sign, and Mr Benson took heart to go on.
‘Yes! Ruth. You know we do. You may have other things to fill up your mind just now, but you know we love you; and nothing can alter our love for you. You ought not to have thought of leaving us. You would not, if you had been quite well.’
‘Do you know what has happened?’ she asked, in a low, hoarse voice.
‘Yes. I know all,’ he answered. ‘It makes no difference to us. Why should it?’
Why should it? Well, this is Victorian England. Being a “fallen woman” or even a young girl who is unfortunate enough to be “led astray” inexorably fates a woman – and any baby she is unlucky enough to bring into the world – to the doom of being cast out from society forever. The blame falls all on the woman (or girl, more often), and none on the man – despite his unequal power and unfair advantages. The stain of illegitimacy is borne entirely by the innocent baby who happened, through no fault of his or her own, to be born out of wedlock (and on the mother, of course). Ruth was seduced by Mr Bellingham when she was sixteen years old, orphaned and without a friend in the world. (It’s clear she would never have tumbled to disaster if her mother was alive, or even if she had an older girl to guide her. Ruth’s warm and wise roommate, Jenny, had fallen ill and been taken home by her mother. As it is, the only person who has shown her any affection in months is Mr Bellingham.) Ruth is a teenager who was guilty of nothing more than being unlucky and a bit of a people pleaser, but she is deemed a “depraved woman” and cast out of society forever while her rich seducer goes on to live a cushy, luxurious life and eventually end up in Parliament. Figures.
Here’s the part where I get political! You have been warned.
Gaskell wrote Ruth to illustrate the spectacular unfairness of society’s laying 100% of the blame on the woman. It doesn’t matter if you are a teenager with your brain still developing and your synapses doing all kinds of weird crap, as we all know teenaged brains do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a poor orphan and you are seduced by a rich man and then left pregnant and alone while he rides off with his mother to eat oysters or do whatever selfish rich Victorians did. It doesn’t matter if you make exactly one mistake in your entire life. It’s not his fault. It’s yours. Ruth has to pay the price for her big mistake: being born a girl.
How barbaric! So glad things are different now. Or are they?
This summer, the Supreme Court ripped away a Constitutional right that women have had for fifty years: the right to control their own bodies and to decide whether or not to subject themselves to pregnancy in a country with embarrassingly high maternal mortality rates. The “forced-birth crowd” (as one of my favorite columnists, Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, so aptly calls them) heaped these coals of fire on the heads of a population in spite of majority support for reproductive freedom, thanks to the votes of two Supreme Court Justices who were confirmed to their seats despite being credibly accused of sexual assault. A majority of Senators didn’t think that forcing oneself on a woman was disqualifying. One expects that Mr Bellingham – with his “service” in Parliament – would find himself right at home in the United States Senate of the 2010s and 2020s.
The fact is, we still live in a world where the consequences of a relationship gone wrong are carried unequally – and often exclusively – by women. We still, deeply shockingly, live in a world where teenagers can be raped and then forced to give birth their rapists’ babies, and then called sluts. Or even in a world where teenagers can have lifelong consequences shoved down their throats in penance for the sin of being teenagers. You’d think we would be beyond a world where one mistake (and what teenager has ever made a mistake?) could ruin a life, but thanks to SCOTUS and Dobbs, we’re not.
One of the criticisms of Ruth that I read in Goodreads reviews was that Gaskell made her heroine so darn perfect. Other than her early error in judgment – being seduced by Mr Bellingham – Ruth is almost annoyingly flawless. While Gaskell, via the Bensons, repeatedly reminds the reader that Ruth is not perfect and has faults, she never actually says what those faults are. Ruth is modest, kind, serene, quiet, pious, studious, and devoted to her baby and to Mr Benson’s church. She’s basically a saint. Of course, she had to be, didn’t she? Gaskell was writing for a Victorian audience, making the unusual case that a “fallen woman” should not be made to pay a lifelong price for one mistake, and that it is spectacularly unjust for the woman to bear all of the consequences and the man – who invariably had all the power – to escape unscathed and go on to be a rich M.P. Ruth had to be perfect, or else Gaskell would lose her audience and her argument.
All I could think throughout Ruth was how unfair it was that a woman could live her entire life faithful to the highest principles of society and then have it all snatched from her in an instant. How one teenaged error could ruin her forever. How everything she does since that moment counts for nothing in the eyes of society (as represented by the judgmental Mr Bradshaw). This is Gaskell’s entire point. But it’s not just an interesting look back at a bygone time. We’re still very much living in this moment. And how shocking that so little has actually changed – of the stuff that matters – that a Victorian novel can so perfectly capture the injustice of our present moment in 2022.
Have you read any Elizabeth Gaskell novels? Which one is your favorite? My heart still belongs to Cranford, tbh.
Well! Surprisingly productive reading week, if I do say so myself (and I do). Last week, I was out of town on a business trip to Nashville – a gathering with my team. We periodically get together for weeklong offsites where we spend most of our time working in collaboration and setting the world to rights, and devote evenings to eating good food and going out. These are such busy, packed weeks that I never get much reading done and I didn’t expect this one to be any different. Apparently it was, though, for a couple of reasons:
Two of the books you see here are audiobooks! Now that I have finally almost cleaned out my podcatcher (that was a project and a half) I can sprinkle in audiobooks, which is so much fun. I finished listening to Mr Mulliner Speaking (read by the incomparable Jonathan Cecil) while getting ready for work in Nashville. And I started The Pale Horse yesterday – feels like a good choice for the beginning of spooky season.
I was almost done with Ruth at the start of the week, and finished it up over two sittings once I got home.
As for the rest of the books here, I peppered Amanda Lovelace’s insightful poems into my week (definitely need to do that more) and started September Moon – I have the edition pictured above, isn’t it pretty? I’ve read all three volumes of John Moore’s memoirs (published by Slightly Foxed Editions) and loved them, so I’m excited about this. I will say that there has been some dated language, which is always a shame when that happens.
Anyway, lots to do this week – catching up at work and at home after a week of business travel, plus we already have multiple plans on the calendar for next weekend – so I expect reading time to be limited and I’m not sure what’s next after September Moon. Something quick and fun, most likely, and befitting a jam-packed week.
Before work meetings got going in earnest last Monday, I checked off a bucket list item and visited the famous Parnassus Books in Nashville! It was a gorgeous store and I left with an excellent haul.
Also, a bonus picture:
Paddling with friends, always a fun way to spend a weekend day! We met up with some of our neighbors for a paddle on Lake Burke on Saturday. They were in a canoe and we had our kayaks. The best!
Another week of reading in the books! (See what I did there? You see it, right?) It was a slow one – given over entirely to Ruth, by Elizabeth Gaskell, once I finished up Nella Last’s War last Monday. I’m really making a concerted push to finish up my Classics Club Challenge list before my self-imposed deadline of July 23, 2023. Twelve books to go – not including the partially finished Ruth – and I’m down to a lot of doorstoppers and books I’ve been avoiding. Time to get cracking.
Ruth is good but I’ve been finding it hard to settle down to it, for various reasons. I’ve been locked on news coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s death, devoting time my Peloton every day, and a bit overwhelmed at work – all of which combines into a recipe for limited reading time and attention. And now I’m on my way to Nashville for the week (for work, and there won’t be much downtime, but I think I’ve found enough of a break in the schedule to go to Parnassus Books, so watch this space!). To be honest, I’m not excited about the trip: I always love seeing my teammates, and I’ve never been to Nashville so I’m stoked to check it out, but I’ve been traveling so much this summer that I kind of just want to stay home. Well, this is the last trip for awhile, so once it’s over I can settle into autumn in NoVA. I haven’t decided if I’ll be bringing any books with me to Nashville – we’re going to be booked almost wall-to-wall with team-building activities and meetings, and I might just rely on audible and whatever haul I pick up at Parnassus to get me through. We’ll see – it may be a game-time decision.
Going to miss this little ball of energy while I’m away on business all week. Do you like his new goalie gloves?
When we planned our Costa Rica trip, I selected three different areas of the country to visit, with three completely different ecosystems. As we wound down our time in the tropical-warm Osa Peninsula, Steve and I were excited to experience a new part of Costa Rica, with new flora and fauna to explore, but we would miss the gorgeous and vibrant Osa. Our boat was coming to pick us up at 11:00 a.m. to take us to the airport, where we would pick up a rental car and drive up to Monteverde for the next leg of our trip, but we had time for a goodbye walk before we left. I was determined to capture as many images of the stunning tropical flowers as I could.
All these vibrant colors! Orange, purple, red, pink! I couldn’t get enough. We boarded our boat to the airport already scheming up a return trip to Osa – I mean, wouldn’t you?
Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for August, 2022.
The Feast, by Margaret Kennedy – This was under the Christmas tree for me last year, but I’ve been saving it to read in the summertime. The action takes place over a hot week in post-World War II Cornwall. A motley collection of guests gathers at a seaside hotel, unaware that in seven days a cliff will fall on the hotel and bury the building and everyone inside it. That’s not a spoiler – it’s in the first few paragraphs. So the reader is aware, as the days unfold, of impending doom. What you don’t know is who survives, and who dies in the disaster. It’s a horrifying, captivating read and I devoured every word; it will be a 2022 highlight for sure.
Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham – I finally finished this after starting it in July and then walking away from my kindle. Lauren Graham’s novel of an aspiring actress in New York City is light and fluffy, and I did enjoy it – just not as much as I would have if I’d realized when I first picked it up that it was her novel, not her memoir. That one’s on me.
In the Mountains, by Elizabeth von Arnim – This felt like a good choice to read while camping in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it was – although the Black Hills are not the Alps, and South Dakota is not Switzerland. I wouldn’t say it’s von Arnim’s best – far from it – but it was beautifully written and I enjoyed it.
Midsummer Mysteries, by Agatha Christie – To be perfectly honest, I bought this because of the gorgeous cover and I regret nothing. Midsummer Mysteries is, probably obviously, a collection of short stories taking place in summertime. All of Christie’s detectives appear at least once – Poirot and Marple feature, of course, but Tommy and Tuppence have a story, as do Parker Pyne and Harley Quin. As with any short story collection, some of the offerings were better than others, but overall this was a fun way to while away a couple of afternoons.
Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, by Laura Thompson – I was in the mood for a doorstopping literary biography and had this one on my kindle, so I fired it up while hanging out at our South Dakota campsite. It definitely scratched the itch and got me inspired to read more Christie, but wasn’t a perfect read. I agreed with a few critiques on Goodreads: namely that the author focuses too much on Christie’s appearance (especially as she aged) and seems to jump to some conclusions about her still being in love with Archie Christie even after years of marriage to Max Mallowan. Not sure the evidence supports that, but it didn’t diminish the book too much – it was still a good read.
Father, by Elizabeth von Arnim – It’s the month of Elizabeth von Arnim, I guess! Father is Miranda Mills’ choice for her Comfort Book Club in August, so it seemed like a good one to pick up after coming home from vacation and business travel. Although it took me longer than it ordinarily would to get through – blame work stress for that – I absolutely loved it. The heroine, Jennifer, is a “surplus woman” who has devoted her life to supporting her widower father, a famous author. When he unexpectedly brings a young bride home, Jennifer jumps at the chance to seize her freedom. Hijinks ensue, of course. This was so much fun and one I can definitely see myself revisiting in future summers.
Slightly Foxed no. 74: Voices from the Riverbank, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – With fall rapidly approaching, it was high time to carve out an afternoon for my summer issue of Slightly Foxed. Can’t have the fall issue arriving on my doorstep before I’ve read summer’s offering! As always, this was a lovely and refreshing read that did major damage to my TBR.
Five Little Pigs (Hercule Poirot #22), by Agatha Christie – Continuing my tour through golden age crime novels that I somehow missed as a Christie-obsessed teenager: this was a good one. Poirot is approached by a young woman, Carla Lemarchant, who asks him to investigate a long-closed matter. Carla’s mother was convicted of poisoning her father sixteen years before, but Carla is convinced that her mother was actually innocent. Now Carla is engaged and doesn’t want the shadow of her father’s death and her mother’s conviction hanging over her life, and she asks Poirot to get to the bottom of it and confirm the truth for her – once and for all. All of the evidence points to Carla’s mother being guilty, but Poirot quickly determines there were five other people – the “little pigs” of the title – who could have poisoned Amyas Crale. The puzzle is clever as always, but the writing was especially poignant after reading about the demise of Agatha and Archie Christie’s marriage in Laura Thompson’s literary biography. A cracking good read all around.
A Poem for Every Summer Day, ed. Allie Esiri – For some reason, I can never stay on top of reading a poem every morning and evening, despite my best intentions, and I always end up sprinting to the finish line in order to complete the book by the end of the season. It’s not the best way to read poetry, but it is what it is. I enjoyed this one, as with the others in the series – and I’ll wrap up the year over A Poem for Every Autumn Day, so expect that in November’s book list – and especially like the poems selected for particular days of historical significance.
Not a bad month of reading, considering how much traveling and local adventuring I was doing! Squeezing books around a hectic summer on-the-go is challenging but worthwhile. August was a bit uneven, but there were some definite highlights – namely The Feast, and Father. And an Agatha Christie is always in order – Five Little Pigs was a great one. Looking ahead to September, I’ve already knocked out a couple of great reads (so watch this space!) and have plenty more on the stack. It’s nice to look ahead to more routine and more reading time.