Our monthly round-up of favorite reads for the summer months, or winter if you're down-under, plus a few movies to help us through the extreme weather.
As an antidote to the high summer heat and humidity that have settled over Maryland, we recently watched Where Eagles Dare, a 1968 action movie set in World War II. I first saw it many years ago, and I've seen it once or twice since, but not recently, and I was curious about how well it's held up. (This because we'd recently watched another WWII movie from the same era and it was pretty bad.)
But Where Eagles Dare still rocks! Based on a novel and screenplay by Alistair MacLean, a favorite author of mine for many years, it's fast paced and full of twists and turns. It features a very handsome and enigmatic Richard Burton, a very young and very deadly Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure, Burton's love interest and fellow agent, a woman who is as skilled with a machine gun as Clint.
The plot has a group of British commandos going to a Nazi mountain fortress to rescue an American general who knows the D-Day plans, and they have to get him out before the information can be tortured out of him. Eastwood is an American Army Ranger who is along for reasons that become clear at the end (when he says something to the effect of 'next time you Brits have a party like this, don't invite me.' <G>)
But what really makes this movie so suitable for summer viewing is the setting. The Schloss Adler is on a mountaintop in Southern Bavaria in deep winter with snow, ice, and biting winds galore. The only access by cable car sailing high above the icy slopes. Delightful! Recommended for all heat waves. <G>
I've been reading a lovely book called The Giants Look Down by Sonja Price. It's a first novel and is one of the most original and interesting books I've picked up in a while. The heroine, Jaya, born in Kashmir, is determined to be a doctor like her father but a devastating natural disaster robs her of her family and her future. The scene then shifts to Scotland as she embarks on a new life. Both the scenes set in Kashmir and Scotland are beautifully and evocatively described, and the Kashmiri background in particular is unusual and fascinating. Jaya is a lovely heroine and I was rooting for her to succeed against all the odds. It's a fabulous debut book.
I was also lucky enough to pick up a pile of books at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference last week and can't wait to dive into them! One of them, The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick, is perfect summer
reading, with a heroine taking on an old cottage and discovering the secrets it has held for generations. I love Cornwall and Liz's books are so evocative that I can imagine I'm sitting in a rocky cove, gazing out over
I’ve been reading The Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, which is absolutely fascinating. It’s just the sort of non-fiction I love, as it weaves together important specific discoveries and personalities with an overview of the world and society at the time. The author, Laura J. Snyder, has also written another book I enjoyed (The Philosophical Breakfast Club, which is about the men who changed science in England) I think she’s both an elegant writer and a lively storyteller—something that doesn’t always go hand in hand in non-fiction.
This book is a wonderfully provocative exploration of art and science—Leewenhoek invented the microscope and Vermeer pioneered the use of optics in art (it’s thought he used a camera obscura in creating his luminous paintings.) The 1600s was the height of the Scientific Revolution, where empirical observation became the rallying cry for all those interested in understanding the world around them. She talks not only about how lenses helped see the world in a way the naked eye can't perceive, but also why Holland became a hotbed for creativity in art and science. It was a truly “eye-opening” book, and I highly recommend it!
I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction and mysteries lately. So I picked up Swimsuit Body, A Cypress Bay Mystery, by Eileen Goudge through Netgalley because I enjoy Goudge’s writing and it seemed to be a lovely combination of both. Although this is labeled a mystery, it’s so much more: a travelogue of the northern California coast, a tongue-in-cheek satire on Hollywood, and a wonderful insight into friends, small towns, and alcoholism. The solution to the mystery is in her well-drawn characters more than forensic evidence, a fact I appreciate. And while the heroine is a little too bold at times, she’s always smart, and she doesn’t pull her punches when it comes time for someone to pay. I loved the fabulously strong writing.
It's turning out to be a busy summer, so the reading hours have been fewer than I like! Currently I'm reading Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett - an English cozy set in a cozy English village, with twists. American Kate Sharp is a film location scout and her company is helping to set up a new production of Pride and Prejudice. Kate--a huge fan of anything Austen--goes over to England not to look for settings this time--but to find her boss, who has inexplicably disappeared. She follows a very interesting trail of clues - why he's vanished, what became of him, who's responsible - that takes her around the English countryside and into nooks and crannies of village life far more mysterious than she anticipated. Well written, with likable characters, a setting that beautifully evokes the heart of England, good pacing and a smart mystery that keeps you guessing, this is a good mystery, the start of a series. I'll definitely return for more.
It’s been hot and it’s been hectic this month. I feel very ambition-less.
I’m reading Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon which is Book Two of the Dresden Files. This is the werewolf book. I may possibly have read this one before, or maybe I saw it on the TV show. In any case, the series is always an exciting read and this is turning out to be one of my favorites.
I also rewatched all the Dresden file TV series because I was reading the book so I am just filled to the gills with Jim Butcher. Nice.
Moving along to a second series book from a favorite author. I seem to be playing it safe this month.
Elizabeth Peters is an old, reliable favorite. I’ve moved right along in her Amelia Peabody books, (reading them very slowly as great treats,) and have now arrived at He Shall Thunder in the Sky.
Ramses is a young man, now. For philosophical reasons he’s not joining the army to fight in the trenches in World War I -- not a popular choice in Cairo. Is he doing his part another way ...?
(no SPOILERS here ...)
I've also been reading cosy mysteries -- the Toni Diamond series are by Nancy Warren. Set in the South, the protagonist is Toni Diamond, an ambitious make-up "home saleswoman" for the "Lady Bianca" cosmetic company. As the blurb for the first book says "Imagine Columbo in a lavender suit, with fake diamonds and big hair. The first story—and the first murder—takes place at a Lady Bianca convention, where consultants from all over the US gather.
I loved these books -- there are four so far and I'm waiting for more. They're clever, warm-hearted, funny (I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments), sharply observed and very entertaining. The murders are ingenious, the characterization is delightful, and there's even a sexy detective and a blossoming romance. Highly recommended. And the first book, Frosted Shadow, is free.
I've also been reading more in the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (science fiction) and am continuing Jennifer Ashley's Shifter series.
And now we open the floor to our readers. Tell us what you've been enjoying this summer! We're always eager...hungry...for new books to devour!