Books & Blog: July 4, 2020

Books:

  • A Pilgrimage to Eternity, Timothy Egan
  • Yes, I’m That Guy, William Sanderson
  • Hello, Summer, Mary Kay Andrews
  • The Hunting Party, Lucy Foley
  • Black Plumes, Margery Allingham
  • The Dower House Mystery, Patricia Wentworth
  • The Belting Inheritance, Julian Symons
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
  • Eight Perfect Murders, Peter Swanson

My church book group has been reading A Pilgrimage to Eternity by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Timothy Egan. Egan, an American, undertakes a trip by foot over the Via Francigena, once a traditional pilgrimage route to Rome. Along the way, Egan is joined by his son, then his daughter, then his wife. This is a travelogue, a personal religious history, and a history, rolled all into one, and we all enjoyed Egan’s observations and his battle with blisters.

I got a pleasant surprise recently when Hal checked my post office box and found that William Sanderson had sent me a copy of his autobiography, Yes, I’m That Guy. I’m sure you remember Sanderson from “True Blood,” “Deadwood,” “Newhart,” and many, many more movies and television shows. I was even more surprised to read he used to punch people in the face, not infrequently. But Sanderson’s reminiscences are interesting, wry, and definitely worth reading.

Mary Kay Andrews has been my friendly acquaintance for many years, and I was very happy she sent me a copy of Hello, Summer. I wasn’t sure it was a genre I could get into – a beach book? But she can write so well, I was into it in a few pages. It’s part mystery, part a story of a woman (Conley Hawkins) coming back to her grandmother’s house because she has no place else to go, part a commentary on the waning of newspapers. Most of all, I felt I knew the characters and the town immediately. Felt like coming home.

The Hunting Party is a whole different kettle of fish. A gang of friends gathers on New Year’s Eve at a remote Scottish Highlands estate, rented for the occasion. It’s a tradition with them, and they fall into their old relationships. But this time, tensions are unbearable and nothing goes as they expected. Isolated by a blizzard, one of them is murdered, and they are all suspects. Very tense! And I was anxious to find out whodunit.

Black Plumes by the great Margery Allingham is not one of her Campion books, but a stand-alone. However, it’s set in an art gallery, a familiar element of Allingham’s writing. Written in 1940. Patricia Wentworth’s The Dower House Mystery (1925) is not a Miss Silver, but it’s really fun. Widow Amabel Grey desperately needs money to fund her daughter’s trip to Egypt (you have to read this passage to believe it) and accepts the challenge to live in a haunted house to raise the money. Not too surprisingly, terrifying things begin happening to Amabel right after she moves in. The Belting Inheritance, a mere youngster published in 1964, was written by Julian Symons, much-lauded British crime writer, and you can tell. Seen through the eyes of the Wainwright family’s youngest member, the saga of ancient Mrs. Wainwright’s illness, the arrival of an assumed-dead claimant, the death of a family retainer, all combine to form a complex and riveting story.

I really can’t describe A Darker Shade of Magic. In Schwab’s world, there are four Londons, and they are all different, some more, some less. Kell, an Antari, can travel between them . . . but he doesn’t follow the rules for doing so. There is treachery all around him, and various colorful people who help or hinder him. A good read, for sure.

Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders is a masterly crime novel. There are twists and turns, some you can see coming . . . and some not. Malcolm Kershaw sells mysteries and knows the genre well. Apparently, a blog he wrote years before has become the basis for a series of murders, and the FBI wants to know why.

In addition, I’m rereading the Jodi Taylor St. Mary’s books, because I need them right now. I’m about halfway through the series.

 

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Here’s what’s making me happy right now, besides books:

  1. I’m watching “Longmire” again on Netflix. Well written, well-acted, from Craig Johnson’s great book series . . . it’s just so much fun. I was zooming through “CSI” and will probably finish it, but I had my surfeit of seeing all the women extremely skinny and wearing tight pants. And a disproportionate number of the corpses are affluent attractive white people, to my modern eyes.
  2. Our family. We’re seeing more of them, since we’re not seeing anyone else. You may know that I have three adult children, one of them married, and two grandchildren, who are both healthy, intelligent (sometimes scarily so), and beautiful.
  3. Working hard on ignoring things I can’t change.
  4. Keeping in touch with friends via email, Facebook, telephone, Zoom.
  5. Getting some great surprises, like William Sanderson’s book and Mary Kay Andrews’ novel. Both great reads. I also have one of MKA’s cookbooks! She can cook, she can decorate, she loves flea markets and yard sales, and she can WRITE. There’s no end to her talents.
  6. Trying to feel glad instead of upset that many of my professional organizations are in varying degrees of uproar. “Me, too” is just as prevalent in writing circles as it is everywhere else. But things sometimes have to be shaken up before they can settle down to being better.

I hope all of you have developed similar systems of keeping your balance in these perilous and unprecedented times.

Charlaine Harris