Sunday, December 8, 2013

a good book.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review but it’s not because I’m not reading. I’m definitely not reading as much as I was when I could do it at work (I don’t think I’ll make the last 45 books to reach my Goodreads goal of 500 for the year.) But I still do squeeze in at least a chapter or two a day. My method however has changed drastically. There was no physical way to pack 6 months’ worth of books into my one suitcase to come to Thailand with me so my mom generously loaned me her nook while I was gone.

I have a love hate relationship with that nook. While I do love having books and access to so many in one relatively tiny location I desperately miss the smell and heft and physical, tactile experience of reading an actual book. Also, I decided to work through the books she already had on there before I branched out to the library or trying to buy something new so my selection process has shifted as well. Instead of having free range to choose whatever I want or reading the latest and greatest and working through my TBR pile I’ve been doing a bit of re-reading that I rarely allow myself time to do and reading books I might otherwise not have read. It’s kind of nice to switch things up a bit. (But I do miss my YA and picture books!)

The first series I ventured into was written by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Michaels. (Her real name is Barbara Mertz but you may have heard me talk about her before under her other pseudonym, Elizabeth Peters.) EP tends towards the historically set, more in-depth mysteries set purely in the human realm. She’s probably most well-known for her Amelia Peabody, female Egyptologist, series. BM always has a touch of the supernatural in her stories. The writing isn’t as sophisticated somehow but they are still great cozy mysteries. I was sad to learn that Ms Mertz passed away earlier this year. I mourn the loss of all the books she won’t have a chance to write. But she was quite prolific, with more than 65 titles under her belt, so there is plenty for me to read and re-read for years to come.

This series follows a couple of characters throughout several years with each taking turns acting as main and supporting characters. The stories can be read independently but it’s most fun to read them in order and watch the relationships progress and shift over the years.

In the first book, Ammie Come Home, we meet Ruth, a middle-aged heroine living in Georgetown with a visiting niece, Sara. She ropes herself into hosting a séance at her hundreds-year-old home. But things take a dark turn when a presence settles on Sara during the event and refuses to let go. It’s up to Ruth and Pat (Sara’s professor and eventual love interest for Ruth) and Sara’s boyfriend Bruce to figure out what the ghost wants to bring peace back to the home and its inhabitants.

The second volume, Shattered Silk, also takes place in Georgetown. This time we meet Sara’s younger sister, Karen who is in the middle of a nasty breakup. She’s housesitting for Pat and Ruth and basically wallowing in self-pity and derision. After a few encounters with an old flame and a mean girl from her past (and with the help of Pat’s eccentric mother) she learns to stand on her feet again and decides to open a vintage clothing store. This is more of a straight-forward mystery. No supernatural encounters.

The final installment, Stitches in Time, published in 1998, is probably my favorite of the three. Here we meet Rachel, a grad student who is struggling to find a topic for her thesis and winds up working at Karen’s vintage clothing store. When a bag of old quilts shows up on the doorstep the family gets caught up in a possible theft/murder while trying to figure out who the rightful owner is. Meanwhile Rachel is drawn to a wedding quilt from the collection that seems to have a dark story to tell. When she begins to see and do things not of her own accord she enlists the help of Pat and Ruth to uncover the history of witchcraft and betrayal literally sewn into the seams of the quilt and bring closure to its former owners.

This first book was published back in the late 60s so there are a few things that will date it a bit (feminist quirks and old-fashioned attitudes of the men being most predominant). The second wasn’t published until the mid 80s so we’re still a tad dated but our feminist sensibilities are a little more on track for this one (once Karen kicks the no-good husband to the curb). The final installment, published in the late 90s, is obviously the most modern of the three. In each we’ve got a female protagonist coming into her own with the help of an unlikely but strong support system, yet the ways and means are a little bolder in each successive story. If you’re not too hung up on that sort of thing you’ll not have any issues as the stories themselves hold up quite well. Grab a cup of tea or cocoa, curl up in front of a fire and enjoy some spooky chills while you read these light, gothic-flavored tales.

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