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Reading Recap: July 2018
At the end of every month, I take a look back at my reading journal and share the books and my thoughts on them here. The comments below are excerpts from my full reviews on Goodreads; you can always keep up with my reading in real-time over there.
I realized when I looked at these books all together that (a) summer is obviously my season for reading series; and (b) reading these books was like going on a world tour and time traveling, all at the same time and all from my favorite summer spot: lying upside down on the bed with both electric fans pointed on me. With these books, I went to Victorian England; Tangier, Moroccan; suburban Australia; Russia and Washington, D.C.; post-WWII France; and the mysterious Czech town of Kutna Hora and the nearby Sedlec Ossuary.
I hit a little bit of a slump toward the end of the month and had trouble deciding what to read next—and I almost abandoned The Black Angel a few times because it’s so dark. Read on for all the details.
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger | 4 stars
This book was just the distraction from the real world that I needed: Victorian England, werewolves, vampires, adventure, and impertinence. Our heroine Alexia’s got a lot of pluck, and her romance with a titled werewolf is kind of irresistible. I was expecting a madcap adventure, similar to the Veronica Speedwell series, but it’s more in the romance genre, I think. There was a lot of making out! I think the books in this series will be perfect when I need an entertaining palate cleanser between heavier novels, and I gave it four stars because it succeeds very well at what it is: straight-up fun.
Favorite highlight: “Well, you are a werewolf, Scottish, naked, and covered in blood, and I am still holding your hand.”
Tangerine by Christine Mangan | 3 stars
I was attracted to this book because of its setting in Tangier, Morocco—but hesitant because I don’t tend to enjoy books populated completely with unlikeable characters and unreliable narrators. This novel has TWO unreliable narrators—former best friends who’ve had a mysterious falling out that’s gradually revealed throughout the story. The setting is deliciously compelling and ideal for the story. I didn’t care for or care about any of the characters; they are all quite shady and untrustworthy, which made it difficult for me to be emotionally engaged. But it was mostly entertaining and very stylish; it would make for a gorgeous film, and I appreciate that the author Christine Mangan painted vivid pictures of Tangier in my imagination.
Favorite highlight: “It is in these moments—when the air is thick and hot, threatening—that I can close my eyes and inhale, when I can smell Tangier again. It is the smell of a kiln, of something warm, but not burning, almost like marshmallows, but not as sweet. There is a touch of spice, something vaguely familiar, like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom even, and then something else entirely unfamiliar.”
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak | 4 stars
The Book Thief is on my list of all-time favorites, and although this book didn’t grab my heart as firmly, I really enjoyed this story of a group of shiftless 20-somethings who discover their hidden depths of strength and character. The premise is very compelling: after inadvertently thwarting a bank robbery, our hero Ed receives mysterious messages—written on playing cards—that inspire him to take action that influences everyone around him. I LOVE novels that present adventurous situations that make me wonder how *I* would react in the same situation. What would I do if I found the Ace of Diamonds in my mailbox with an address and time inscribed on it?! There are plenty of characters to root for in this sweet story, but it has some teeth, too. It explores many of my favorite themes: loyalty, friendship, found family, birth family, the various kinds of love… it’s both very readable and very rich.
“She soon says, ‘You’re my best friend, Ed.’
‘I know, ‘ I said. You can kill a man with those words. No gun. No bullets. Just words and a girl.”
The Other Woman (Gabriel Allon, #18) by Daniel Silva | 4 stars
I’m a long-time fan of Daniel Silva and look forward to the new Gabriel Allon novel every summer. In 2015, I re-read the whole series in order, in anticipation of the release of The English Spy. Over the last 18 years, I’ve developed a lot of affection for the growing international cast of characters in Gabriel’s orbit: his Israeli team, his wife, the bigwigs in other foreign intelligence services, even the pope and *his* people.
The beginning of The Other Woman was a little slow, and I was worried that Daniel Silva was finally losing some of his magic. But about 30% into the story, it took off, and I was hooked. This installment in the series is lacking some of the emotional depth of previous books—one of my favorite parts of these stories is how emotionally involved Gabriel often becomes with the subjects of his schemes, and that was diminished in this book. Gabriel’s beloved team and family make only cursory appearances in this installment, and I missed the camaraderie of the team quite a bit; I wish there’d been more interaction and behind-the-scenes with his found family. But the backstory is fascinating and the operation—involving Russians, Brits, and Israelis on US soil—is a page-turner. I could barely read it fast enough!
Favorite highlight: “Charlotte was a socialist—a communist, even—but her commitment to the revolution did not extend to public transport.”
Prussian Blue (Bernie Gunther, #12) by Philip Kerr | 4 stars
I’ve read all of the Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novels, and this one—that continues to explore ex-cop Bernie’s post-WWII life—was an engrossing read. The structure is awesome: Bernie is coerced into a mission by now-Stasi, used-to-be-Nazis and during the course of his travails in 1956, he reminisces about a case from 1949. The chapters alternate between the two time periods, drawing parallels between the cases, the people, and their motivations… making the painful point that no matter the labels, the uniforms, the decade, the behavior of evil remains the same. Along the way, Bernie’s innate sarcasm and charm ensure that even in his darkest moments, there’s room for a wry smile—and his gooey-soft inner-heart is one full display.
Favorite highlight: “I’d always thought there was plenty of time to do a lot of things and yet, now I really thought about it, there had been not a moment to spare.”
The Black Angel (Charlie Parker, #5) by John Connolly | 3 stars
I love the concept of this series: detective novels with one foot firmly in the supernatural world. In his introduction to this book, author John Connolly explains that this was the novel that really set the direction for the rest of the Charlie Parker series. I was drawn to it because a big chunk of the action is set in the Czech town of Kutna Hora, a picturesque medieval village that’s also home to the Sedlec ossuary, a.k.a., the bone church.
Things to love:
—the rich descriptions of Kutna Hora
—the flashbacks in time that ground the present story in dramatic events of the past
But the first section of the story—the contemporary mystery around the disappearance of a prostitute—is really ugly. The whole thing felt joyless to me, and I believe that’s by design. Our antihero Charlie is dealing with some Heavy Shit in his personal life. I did not connect with any of the characters, but the setting is fantastic.
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