Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Summer Readin', Having a Blast"

With apologies to the Grease soundtrack for the title of this post, but summer reading is indeed a joy. I allow myself to read just for enjoyment during the summer, with little pressure to read academic or edifying books. There's just nothing as relaxing as settling into a beach chair, toes dug into the warm sand, and opening a novel of suspense and/or mystery.

I'm engrossed in Anne Perry's latest Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel (see above) which takes place in the hallowed halls of Buckingham Palace. I have read every book in the series except for the one immediately preceding this newest release which will be the next book to order from the library. These novels are set in Victorian England and involve Thomas Pitt, a discreet police officer, and his wife Charlotte, who is of noble stock, or was until she married a policeman. Their spunky maid, Gracie, also figures into many of the books, this one included. Charlotte and Gracie are clever women, helping Thomas behind the scenes in solving many murders during the reign of Jack the Ripper. Perry's attention to detail, beautiful writing style, deep character development, and surprise endings make the Thomas Pitt books one of my favorite mystery series.

Before picking up Perry's latest, I enjoyed the latest novel by Mary Higgins Clark, whose books I have read since high school, starting with her first, Where Are the Children? and proceeding to A Cry in the Night which I was so engrossed in during my senior year of high school that I hid it in my lap, disguised under my Algebra II book, so I could finish the last few chapters. After staying up until 3 AM reading, I had to find out how it ended, and I still think it's her most masterful book, a tale of psychological suspense that thrills and chills at the same time. Over the years, her books have become somewhat predictable, and I've been able to figure out the culprit fairly easily. Her latest book, Where Are You Now? is quite good, but definitely isn't her best. With the exception of her nonfiction books and short story collections, I've kept up with MHC throughout the years, trusting her books to allow me an escape for a day or two.

This summer I also read The Life of Pi for Logos, our monthly literary gathering at church. It was an intriguing book, but definitely not a favorite. If you'd like to read my response to it, just click here. Logos is also discussion Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well which I am planning to read on Saturday for Sunday's meeting at which we'll watch a film version and discuss the play. We had hoped to get Old Globe tickets to go see it on stage, but they no longer sell their $19 tickets and the least expensive we could get would cost $36 per seat -- way out of our price range. I also read and somewhat enjoyed The Celtic Riddle by Lyn Anderson. The only thing really going for it was its Irish setting, but otherwise it wasn't terribly interesting or suspenseful. I slogged through it but won't be reading any more by Lyn Anderson if I can help it.

However, much of the summer was spent reading take-offs of Jane Austen's works. Shannon Hall's Austenland was an interesting look into a fictitious modern-day reenactment resort in which women assumed the clothing and manners of a Regency lady and immersed themselves for three weeks in the world of Jane Austen, with male actors hired to play Regency men who danced with and courted the female resort guests who paid handsomely for this trip back in time. In this novel, we follow a thoroughly modern young woman in her early thirties and unmarried who is given a trip to this resort as a bequest in her aunt's will to help rid her of an obsession with Mr. Darcy. Her experiences with the type of women who paid for such elaborate make-believe and with the men who played the roles of Regency gentlemen are interesting, to say the least, especially if one is familiar with Jane Austen's works and especially the 1995 A&E production of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, to whom this novel is dedicated. The novel has a similar bite of satire as Austen's own works, but with a modern sensibility.

Early in the summer I discovered a mystery series based on the characters in Austen's novels written by Carrie Bebris. As I thumbed through the library sale cart always near the front door of our local library branch, I unearthed, among the dilapidated romances and worn sci-fi novels, a title that caught my eye: North by Northanger (2006). When I flipped the book over to read the synopsis on the back cover, I was surprised to find that Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy had somehow become keen solvers of mysteries. I paid my dime for the book, which was in nearly pristine condition (I judged that it had been read only once), and gobbled it up over the next few days. The mystery was indeed interesting, and the way the author drew in other Austen characters made it even more so. The writing is a bit uneven, awkward and transparent at times, but good enough to make the book work. I soon ordered the previous two books in the series from the library: Pride and Prescience (the first in the series, 2004) and Suspense and Sensibility (2005). The books were amusing and somewhat interesting, so I think it was a dime well spent in purchasing the first book. The author has taken some time off as the fourth book in the series will be published later this year.

So summer reading, that penchant for escapist thrillers and suspenseful novels, draws to a close as our school year approacheth on Monday. Yet, what could be better than curling up with a wonderful novel in front of a roaring fire with a cup of tea and my favorite velour blanket? Winter reading definitely comes in a close second to summer reading; don't you agree? And winter, with its cold and stormy days, provides just the right atmosphere for a good mystery. Right?


CC said...

The Buckingham Palace Gardens book sounded so great that I went out to Vroman's and found a copy. I felt that I had struck gold when the second book down was a copy that had actually been signed by Anne Perry at Vroman's! Happy reading. Carmen

Susanne Barrett said...

Very cool, Carmen! I've read the entire series with the exception of the one preceding Buckingham Palace Gardens which I now have on order through the library. It's best to start from the beginning of the series if you can.

And feel free to call or e-mail about homeschooling ... I just updated the homeschooling list on the sidebar with what we're using for this year.


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