You know how it goes. You can’t find a decent book for weeks, maybe even months. So, you whine and complain about that. You start books, toss them aside, maybe even finish a couple out of desperation. Then you have a good old whinge with Hubby about how bad they were.
Then somehow the spell is been broken. The reading drought mysteriously ends. It’s raining books all of a sudden. And you find six, or even ten, engrossing, well-written books in a row. Books that draw you in, and which you put down only with great reluctance. Books that make you go, “Shhh… I’m reading,” whenever anyone tries to make conversation.
The first droplets of my drought-ending rain began when I decided to check out Ann Cleeves’ back list of books on Amazon, and I found a whole series of books with which I was unfamiliar. Cleeves wrote her Inspector Ramsey books before her wonderful Shetland series featuring detective Jimmy Perez, and before the series with the irascible Vera Stanhope. I love Vera.
Inspector Stephan Ramsey isn’t as quirky as Vera, nor as complex as Jimmy Perez, but his exploits are entertaining, and the books are really well written. I found it took a bit to warm to the character of Stephen Ramsey in the first book. He’s a loner, quiet, meditative, plodding even. But now that I have, I’m loving the series. I’m on book five of six already. And since they were published in the nineties, they’re very inexpensive to order for my Kindle ap. You can’t get the series in hard copy anymore, but they’re all still available as e-books and you can find them here.
In the midst of reading old Ann Cleeves books, I ordered a new writer from the library. I first read about Rosalie Knecht in an article written by Sarah Weinman, a former student, and now a well known writer herself. In the article, Sarah lists her choices for “best thrillers of 2018.” Hubby and I tried a couple of the books on the list, but they were too dark for us. I didn’t finish one of them. Hubby persisted; he’s more dogged than I am. So we were a bit gun shy (no pun intended) when we came to Knecht’s book. But we both loved Who Is Vera Kelly? .
Who is Vera Kelly? flashes back and forth between Vera’s troubled childhood in the late fifties in the U.S., and her career as a CIA operative in sixties Argentina. One critic describes Vera’s exploits in Buenos Airies, after a coup overthrows the government and she tries to flee, as James bond-ish. But he couldn’t be more wrong. There are no heroics here. Just lots of wonderfully well-written realities about the failure of spy-craft, and the CIA in particular, to achieve its goals. In his review in The New York Times, Charles Finch describes the book as “a cool, strolling boulevardier of a book, worldly, wry, unrushed but never slow, which casts its gaze upon the middle of the last century and forces us to consider how [the CIA] might be failing us still.” I wonder if Knecht has plans for more books featuring Vera Kelly. I certainly hope so.
After Who Is Vera Kelly? I read Elizabeth Strout’s sort-of-sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton, which I read, and wrote about, last year. Anything is Possible is an odd book, with no discernible plot line, but wonderful character development, and beautiful writing. Strout sets her novel in Lucy Barton’s home town in Illinois, and in each chapter she fleshes out a different character, many of whom are mentioned by Lucy’s mother in her gossipy ramblings in the earlier book.
Strout’s book captivated me. I love novels which explore the minutiae of every day lives. Her characters are typical of small towns. They are both victims and perpetrators of cruelty and compassion, they show vulnerability and bloody-mindedness, extend kindness, and sometimes demonstrate insight and wisdom. Lucy herself is a constant background character, but she only makes an appearance in one chapter. But as Elizabeth Day says in her review in The Guardian, that “astonishingly written chapter…is worth the cover price alone.”
A week or so ago, I read my second Jane Harper book. I loved The Dry, and her next book Force of Nature sees a return of Harper’s character federal agent Aaron Falk. I enjoyed the plot, and how it unfolds, even if the characters are slightly reprehensible. The book tells the tale of a group of corporate types on an outward-bound-ish, team-building adventure in the Australian bush. Of course things go very wrong, and the group returns minus one of its participants. The plot starts with their return, and unfolds as police and park wardens search for the lost woman, at the same time as it tells the story of the adventure as things go wrong, and then even more wrong. I liked the book. Harper is a good writer. She’s no Elizabeth Strout. But who is?
By the way, I found Elizabeth’s Strout’s book and the Jane Harper novel through an ap called the Cloud Library. If you have a library card either here in Canada or in the States you should check out their website here. If your library is part of the network, you can access free “express” e-books through the free Cloud Library ap. The “express” books are only available to borrow for a week. I’ve read quite a few new books this way.
So, yeah, it’s been raining books for me for the past couple of weeks. And it’s been wonderful. A reading respite from winter. I’ve read captivating books, enjoyable books, and mildly comforting books. Some of these books, even though they may describe murder and mayhem, have been a lovely distraction. And some have even reaffirmed my faith in the value of kindness and compassion. Now, you can’t ask for any more than that.
I will say, though that being captivated, engrossed, or otherwise down a reading rabbit hole makes me think I should get a sign made up. A big, yellow sandwich-board sign with big black lettering, that I can prop in front of my chair to alert unwary passers-by.
And which says… “Shhh. The Lady Is Reading.”
How about you, my friends? Any good books you want to add to my list? My pen is poised.
All the books I’ve reviewed are available at Amazon. Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht (here). Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (here). Jane Harper’s The Dry (here) and Force of Nature (here)
I now have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. So if you buy the book by clicking one of the links below I will earn a commission, at no extra cost to you. NO worries if you don’t want to do that. None at all.