July was a slow month for reading. Some of this was because I am now working again, albeit from home, and have less time available but mostly I think it is because of the theme I chose for my 12 in 12 Challenge which was Two World Wars. I chose this because so many books I had waiting to be read seemed to be set in or around the conflicts but I didn’t take into consideration how depressing it can be reading book after book featuring death, bereavement, wounds, mental health issues and people generally being pretty horrible to one another. It was easy to put the books to one side and I had to be in the right mood to pick them up again. Lesson learned – future themes will have more variety. I had been considering a theme about dystopia and end of the world novels but have decided that that might even be worse !
For August, then, my theme is Women about Women. All the books I read for the challenge will be written by women about women. There is some fiction but also a lot of biography. I have about 25 books which match this theme so I am hoping that it will be easy to read twelve in the month even though some may be longer than others.
In July I read my 200th book of the year. This was Brooklyn Graves by Tess Stein and was given to me free by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for a review; both the reading and the review are very overdue. This book is a reasonably routine crime novel featuring a young mother who works in a number of jobs including one at the local museum. At work she is involved in researching the letters of a woman who worked as a designer in the early days of Tiffany, in stained glass production. This involves her with a deeply unpleasant historian and possible skulduggery at a local cemetery. At home an old friend has died and his family want to know how it happened. Eventually the two strands of the story come together. It is a perfectly competent but not great crime novel – I’d probably give it three stars. I am not enthused enough to seek out others in the series.
I did read other books than those for my challenge this month and here is a selection I think worth looking at :
- The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman is a mixture of true crime and social commentary. The book is set in a small, very poor, town in Texas and involves the case of a young couple who murdered their three small children. The author tries to put the case in context by talking about the poverty in the area, the inadequate education of the couple, folk beliefs about evil and untreated mental health conditions. She then moves on to see how the town and the area reacted to and dealt with this hideous crime. It’s a desperately sad book and a reflection on how modern society fails the vulnerable, the adults as well as the children. Definitely worth reading.
- A Very English Affair by Richard Davenport-Hines is about the Profumo scandal and what it shows us about life in post-war Britain. At least, when I bought it I thought that it was about the scandal but a lot of the book is actually about the social conditions of the time and includes an incredible amount of detail about people and events that are mentioned only once. I found this hard going and I had to wait until the last quarter of the book to get any real details about the affair. Not gripping but if you already know more about the period than I do you may find it illuminating.
- The Collector by Nora Roberts is a totally different change of pace. It is novel about a woman who lives in New York and who witnesses a murder in the next tower block when she is apartment sitting. She becomes involved with the brother of the victim and they both have to find out what is happening before the murderer finds them. This a is fast paced and cosy type romantic suspense novel which I very much enjoyed – few authors do this sort of book better.
- Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker is a biography of one family – parents and twelve children. Of those, six developed schizophrenia. The book looks at their family history, what treatments were available, possible causes of this phenomenon and its effect on all the family. This is riveting reading and written with the full cooperation of the surviving family. It has few answers but it raises some very important questions.
- From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris is one of her Sookie Stackhouse novels. Don’t read this unless you start at the beginning of the series with Dead Until Dark. Sookie is a telepath and she numbers among her acquaintances and family shape shifters, vampires, werewolves, a weretiger and fairies. Her world is a complicated one and Sookie is much in demand because of her skills which means that she is involved in all the various politics and infighting between supernatural creatures. This is, as the whole series is, an excellent and truly enjoyable read.
- Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch is also about supernatural affairs. The hero of these books, of which this is the second, is Peter Grant a PC in the Metropolitan Police who is learning to do magic. You are again wise to start at the beginning of the series with Rivers of London. In this book Peter becomes involved with a ghost or similar which is killing jazz musicians in London. This is a gentle but absorbing read and Peter is an amusing narrator. This is a series to enjoy.
I hope there’s something here that interests you – Keep reading ….