Shhh. The Lady Is Reading.

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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? .

Cover of Rosalie Knecht's novel Who Is Vera Kelly?
A new kind of spy novel.

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.

Cover of Elizabeth Strout's novel Anything Is Possible
Strout’s follow-up to My Name is Lucy Barton

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.

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36 thoughts on “Shhh. The Lady Is Reading.”

  1. I read The Dry on our way to Australia last month and really like it. I agree with the nothing or everything with books. Checking out the Cloud Library.

    1. Hope you have good luck with Cloud Library. I first started using it when I was a week away from a book club meeting and was still 200th or so on the “holds” list for the book. I’ve used it quite a few times since.

  2. I use the Cloud Library as well, although right now I’m trying to get through a stack of books on my night-table (and maybe some on my coffee table as well. Oh, and on the dining table) and stay away from the library’s temptations until I get closer to caught up. . .

    1. Before I went to New Brunswick, I had all my holds organized, most on “pause” for various dates after I came home from Mum’s, and then three magically appear as ready for pick-up when I was way down on the list. It’s hard to avoid the feast or famine syndrome:) Still… nothing better than a few good books waiting for you, unless they all have to go back to the library.

  3. I have been having the worst time finding books I like – I hope my drought ends soon, and I’m going to go look for the Anne Cleeve books to change my luck.

    ceci

  4. I can completely relate with your feelings
    Force of Nature is still waiting on my table,but recently I was “infected” by somebody 🙂 with WJ Burley’s Wycliffe mysteries……..I’m on Wycliffe and The Quiet Virgin (and Cornwal….)
    I really loved Ann Cleves (and there will be next book-new series- this year-yay!), all of her books you’ve mentioned plus Palmer-Jones mysteries
    I’m also reading John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood,a non-fiction,incredible story about rise and fall of Theranos start-up
    Vera Kelly has catched my attention, as read-worthy-I’m glad that now I have the confirmation
    Ah,books….it is pure luck that Wycliffe is not expensive either……
    Dottoressa

    1. I saw that she has a new series… yah! I was afraid after winding down her Shetland series that she might be going to retire. Stu wants to know if there are Croatian novelists that are translated into English. Even if we can’t get them before we go, I will shop for them there. I always do that when we travel.

  5. Cosette Pathak Pathak

    I have read everything you have mentioned, with the exception of the Inspector Ramsey books. Elizabeth Strout is a favourite. We share an interest in the same writers. I am currently reading Jane Harper’s The Lost Man.
    Does your local library have the Shetland series on DVD?

    1. I’m looking forward to the next Jane Harper. We’ve seen all the Shetland series, on TV, and through the library, and loved them! And the Vera series, too. Love the scenery and the vistas in both.

  6. Jane Harper’s third book The Lost Man is brilliant.
    Have you tried Peter May? His Lewis trilogy is superb, wonderfully evocative setting in the remote Scottish island of Lewis.

    1. Peter May is one of my favourites. His Lewis Trilogy is brilliant, isn’t it? I’m looking forward to the next Jane Harper book now. You’re the second person to mention it. Thanks.

  7. Wendy from York

    That’s the only problem with a really good book – it’s hard to follow up . Sometimes I try a book of short stories until I’ve settled down again & Penelope Lively’s Purple Swamp Hen was better than most . I liked the two Jane Harper books , especially as the Australian setting was new to me . I’m enjoying Gillian Galbraith’s crime mysteries set in Edinburgh . Also tried Michael Bussi but gave up , read the ending & was glad I did . Non fiction recently was Alan Bennett’s memoir , Keeping on Keeping on – love his writing & can hear his voice as I read it . I have a few poss really good ones waiting on my kindle ( like Kate Atkinson’s latest ) but mustn’t read them on holiday as I’m no company at all then .

    1. I remember reading Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader years ago. I though it was wonderful. We also saw his “Lady in the Van” in London in 2000, with Maggie Smith as “the lady”… what a treat. I’m the same way when reading a good book on vacation… hate a good book to be interrupted by anything, even a holiday.

  8. Hi Sue,
    Have you read the Australian author Liz Byrski? I have always loved her books and as I find that you have the same taste in british tv programs and books as I have I am hoping you will enjoy her writing as much as I do. I love it when you recommend books I go straight to my library app and within minutes of reading your post I have the book on my ipad, so thank you so much for your lovely posts and I do love the new format, I find it so much easier to read. Another book I will just add in is The daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday, I have become fascinated by the Stoics and I only wish I had read this at 24 instead of 74!!!
    Warmest wishes Carol

  9. I’m in a reading pothole at the moment, I listen to audio books in the evenings/and when I can’t sleep, but I can’t settle to reading actual books at the moment (which is a problem as I have my two bookgroup meetings next week).

    I second enjoying Jane Harper’s books, loved the Peter May Lewis trilogy, we have Vera on our uk tv and I’m not a fan, but I absolutely ADORE Douglas Henshaw’s Scottish accent and Shetland.

    We can get BorrowBox app from our local library here in Hampshire, which covers audio and ebooks though there are usually long waiting lists for anything new and interesting. Thus I ended up recently listening to “Amy Wingate’s Journal by Marcia Willett” which was a random selection and I loved. The voice of the narrator is so important in how I view the book, I find some voices so irritating I have to stop listening, but presumably we don’t all find that or these people wouldn’t be employed.

    I have very much enjoyed Slow Horses by Mick Herron, there is a whole series based on the doings of Slough House, a dead end dumping ground for disgraced and flunked MI5 spooks and their arch washout, the torpid Jackson Lamb, a burnt out field operative who supervises from a gloomy garret of an office on the top floor. It falls into spy/thriller/crime genre (if you read it, get through the slightly slow start – it gets much better, fabulous even).

    1. I’m the same with books I will listen to. The narrator is as important to me as the book. I always preview the book, and if I find the reader’s voice annoying, as I do some, I won’t buy it. For instance I love the Miss Silver books on tape, even though the plots are a little staid, because I adore Diana Bishop’s reading voice. I will look for that series by Mick Herron, thanks for suggesting it.

  10. I know you already know and love Barbara Pym, and Excellent Women is one of my very favourite books in the world. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it. Have you ever listened to it on Audible? I tend to choose audiobooks that are already my favourites in print; it’s fun to slow down and really savour the language. I recently listened to Excellent Women (I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately) and it was wonderful!

    1. Oh my… that sounds wonderful. Thanks, Denise. I love Excellent Women. I recently listened to Sense and Sensibility all over again because Rosamund Pike was reading it and she was so good.

  11. I listened to the Rosamund Pike recording of P&P and thought it was wonderful. I’ve listened to a couple of other Austen novels read by Juliet Stevenson, and she is also really good.

  12. Struggling at present to find anything. Am, however, reading a charming book about wrens which appeared in the house at Christmas. Lovely looking, beautifully produced and full of interesting facts. Recently read a bizarre historical novel and tried to read a piece of quintessential chick-lit which was so bad it made me want to shout. There is a limit to how much nonsense you can stand, even as a time-waster. Both books managed to portray women in a way that I just don’t recognise – either as totally humourless but ultra-womanly or just plain bloody stupid and hapless, only to be rescued by a man. Lordy.

    1. I’m laughing at your comment because I always get “shouty” at books like that too. My husband just laughs at me. Honestly… who writes this crap? And who buys it?

  13. Always enjoy your pieces about books and learn so much from them and the comments. I also find it’s either feast or famine with books to read and have withdrawal symptoms when it’s famine! I recently read Where the Crawdads Sing that I picked up as a result of reading your blog and thoroughly enjoyed. Currently struggling with Ninety nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret and don’t think I shall bother to finish.

  14. I’d like to suggest books by author Archer Mayor. Described as police procedurals, I find them to be a nice combination of crime and mystery. Most are set in Vermont, and he cares as much about his characters as he does the story. I met him at a book signing a few years back and he’s got an interesting history and a great sense of humor. And a great backlist: his latest novel is #29!

  15. thank you for your book suggestions. i am embarassed to admit i live in australia but havent read any of the australian authors anyone has mentioned… off to the library for me!

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