In the High Peaks

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer

Ashton Hall was my 7th read from my 20 Books of Summer List, and it was a definite winner for me. It’s a new title, published in May, I believe, yet I’ve seen and heard very little about it, surprisingly. I dreaded coming to the end because it was so hard to let go of the characters and their story.

Hannah and her nine-year-old son Nicky travel from their home in New York City to spend time with a close relative who has been severely ill. Christopher is elderly and lives in an apartment that’s part of a sprawling historic manor house in Cambridge, England, which dates back to the Tudor era.

It’s a perfect time for Hannah and Nicky to leave some of their personal problems behind and engage with a new, exciting place. Historical research is ongoing at the manse. Nicky, in his post-dawn morning explorations, makes a discovery that startle the historians, opening a window to the history of the house and its inhabitants dating back to the 1500s.

Yet the historical aspects never take over the story of the main characters in the present. The relationships that develop in the present are compelling and very well-drawn. There is no time travel in this book, nor does it shift back and forth from present to past to present, and so on. The time is consistently set in the present. The story that unfolds gradually about the past is fascinating, however.

Hannah is a strong character, struggling with her role as a wife and as a mother, who had to put her ambitions on hold to devote herself to raising her son who, though brilliant, has significant challenges.
This novel was never trite, never stereotyped, but remained fresh and genuine throughout. I want to give it 5 stars, and it was for me, but a definite 4.5 overall.  Atmospheric! Oh, and a wonderful Golden Retriever named Duncan.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Woman in the Library and Trailed: One Woman's Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders


     I thoroughly enjoyed both my 5th and 6th books from my 20 Books of Summer List. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, an Australian mystery novelist, is set in Boston (and Cambridge), particularly in Back Bay, a beautiful part of the city known for its Victorian brick and brownstone townhouses with a few mansions thrown in for good measure. Back Bay has always been an upscale neighborhood. It’s close to the Boston Public Library, a gorgeous building, and it’s there that the first scenes of the book take place. Four supposed strangers meet in the venerable Reading Room of the research library, and become quickly connected after they hear a woman’s piercing scream outside the Reading Room. One of the four is Winifred (Freddie), an Australian novelist who is lucky enough to travel to Boston via a fellowship that allows her to reside in a beautiful building in Back Bay. This story is a mystery within a mystery. The relationships among the four “sleuths” are lively and fun to watch unfold. I recommend it. 

     Some of you may know Sulari Gentill as the author of the Rowland Sinclair series of mysteries set in 1930s-early 1940s Australia. I don’t know if they are published here or not.

     My 6th read was a new book of true crime, Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by the journalist Kathryn Miles. In 1996, two highly skilled wilderness hikers, both young women, were brutally murdered in the Shenandoah National Park (two hour’s drive west of Washington, D.C.) The case has never been definitively solved. Miles’s research found that the majority of reported murder and rape victims in national wilderness areas are female, despite the fact that women are a minority of backcountry travelers.

     Miles makes an undeniably plausible case that the man believed to have committed the murder of these two women is innocent of the crime, and posits another man, a serial killer, who was never connected to this case. The backstory of the two women’s lives was fascinating. I was also very interested to learn more about how the science of forensics has changed over the past 26 years and how it has not. The story of the FBI’s mis-handling of the case was well portrayed and infuriating, but Miles does make a strong case that federal, state, and National Park Service forces are seriously under-funded and under-staffed, and also suffer from woefully insufficient training. I was quite awed by much that she brought to light and the research and writing was excellent. I think much of my interest in this book stems from my keen interest in wilderness areas.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

I Was Hijacked This Morning :) 20 Books of Summer

 I imagine that many of you who have engaged in The Twenty Books of Summer in previous years know what it means to be hi-jacked off your course. I must confess I'm getting nervous, just a bit, about my list--especially the fact that my city library an hour to my south has not ordered books due to be published in July, which are on my list. Phooey! That might mean substitutions--probably will mean that. And now that I fully accept that that may be the case, it is okay. I have LOADS of books that can be substituted. So why do I worry? I guess I'm just a person that likes things to be hammered down.

The Hijacking: I was reading online about the new memoir by the MSNBC news anchor Katy Tur, Rough Draft, and instantly became intrigued by the subject of her previous book, her first, her memoir about her journalistic duty for NBC to cover Donald Trump in his 2016 campaign, from and all around 40 states for 380 days. So, suddenly, I was compelled to find a copy of this book. The need for instant gratification rained down on me! (Yes, a very rainy day today.) I was able to download, via the New York Public Library, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur. Voila!  So this morning, after vacuuming and laundry, I read over a quarter of this title. I'm so glad I did. And I'll read on quickly to the end. It's an exploration of a young journalist's immersion, her day-to-day life, covering a CRAZY presidential campaign. Highly recommended! Also, it's only 222 pages, thus a quick read. And I KNOW! We're sick of it now, aren't we? I thought I was, but her personal experiences fascinated me. Could not put it down. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Midcoast by Adam White and This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub


Enjoying my Twenty Books of Summer very much.  Midcoast and This Time Tomorrow are my third and fourth books read on my list.

I ripped through The Midcoast by Adam White, his debut novel, eleven years in the making. Every time I turned around this past week, there it was, lying on the couch-side table, ready to be picked up and devoured, which I did, happily. “Compulsively readable” would be the blurb I would stick on its cover.

But, mind you, I must add a caveat—the first 40 pages made me question my decision to read this book. I floundered and worried all through the beginning, “Am I going to have to retire this book?”

 After a slow start, I needn’t have fretted. From then on, I zoomed through to the conclusion. The Midcoast is set in the coastal, very rural community of Damariscotta, Maine. The narrator Andrew grew up in the community, and though he attended prep school and college elsewhere in New England, he returns to raise a family. He ultimately devotes himself to investigating a crime family of sorts, people who have been part of his life since his youth. I have lots more to say about this novel, but worry about spoilers. Sigh!

I just finished This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub, my fourth book from my 20 Books of Summer list. Overall I can say that I liked it, but I kept finding myself wanting to connect with it more, and I had been hoping to love it, given its subject matter of a good father/daughter relationship. At the beginning of the novel, Alice is forty and works as an admissions assistant in the Upper West Side private school that she once attended. Her father is very ill. She longs for a closer connection with him, and miraculously, travels back in time to her sixteenth birthday. There is a lot of time travel in this book, but I would say that it is not a “time-travel genre” book. I loved the depictions of the Upper West Side, my favorite place to hang-out in Manhattan.