In the High Peaks

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.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

20 Books of Summer: The Tsarina's Daughter and More

 I find it's a challenging juggling act to manage the reading for my Twenty Books of Summer. First of all, I must say I'm definitely enjoying myself as I plow through my fourth and fifth book from the list simultaneously. But I also have two other books on the list, borrowed from the library and sitting on my book pile, and I've got to pace myself or hurry up or something. One thing I won't do is plow through a book so fast that I don't care what I'm reading. I draw the line there. So what if a book is overdue for three or four days? So be it. 

Okay. My second read for the List was The Tsarina's Daughter by Ellen Alpsten (2022). Here's my take:

Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova, the second daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife (who ruled as Catherine I after her husband’s death), is the focus of this sweeping historical saga. Elizabeth (Elizaveta), by her 22nd birthday, is the only surviving child of Peter the Great, who, after a lifetime of family tragedies and challenges to her survival, managed to become Tsarina of all the Russias. But this book is not about her life as the ruler of Russia. It is about her childhood and young adult years amidst the riches and extraordinarily perilous and tumultuous Russian court that makes the story. What I enjoyed most about this 477-page book was all that I learned about the early 1700s in Russia: the latter half of Peter the Great’s reign, about Catherine I, and all the struggles waged after her death, as one relation after another fought amongst themselves, sometimes to the death, as to who will become tsar or tsarina.

For me, what’s valuable about reading good historical fiction, is the way it leads me to dig into learning more about the history of an era. In 2018, I bought The Romanovs by Simon Montefiore, which is a scrupulously detailed history of the Romanov Dynasty from 1613-1918. I’m finding I’m really interested to read the actual history of the difficult era following Peter the Great’s death and the power struggles that ensued.

If you like reading absorbing, vast historical novels about Russian history, you will really enjoy this book. The story line is strong, and the intricate descriptions of life during this time period are very well done.

Next up:  The Midcoast by Adam White.