The Best Books I've Read

The Best Book I Read This Month: Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson

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The best book I read this month is one I'm still reading (shhh...don't tell!). It's the latest in Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks series, which is set in the fictional town of Eastvale in Yorkshire, England.

In this latest installment, called Sleeping in the Ground, Banks and his team must solve the mystery of a mass shooting at a local wedding. As I read, I'm learning a lot about U.K. gun laws. And, yes, there was the mandatory reference to the epidemic of shootings in the United States.

The book is the 24th in the series. (I started the series at book 10.) What keeps the series fresh is Robinson's treatment of his characters. In Sleeping in the Ground, recent changes in Banks's life have him off-balance. He was recently promoted, and he's not entirely comfortable with his new rank or his new office. He is also mourning the loss of a childhood friend while at the same time, dealing with an old flame who reappears in his life. Through these twists and turns, Robinson is forcing his leading man to grow and change.

Banks's supporting cast is equally engaging. In fact, I like two of them--Annie Cabbot and Winsome Jackman--more than I like Banks. Both feature prominently in this story (Jackman is one of the victims of the shooting), and I enjoy how they, too, have grown as the series has progressed.

The story (so far, at least) stands on its own, so it's not necessary to read the whole series to understand and enjoy this one book. But I am enjoying it more because I know the history of the characters and can see layers in their interactions as a result.

 

The Best Book I Read This Month: Henna House by Nomi Eve

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The best book I read this month was an unexpected pleasure. I'd never heard of it before it was chosen by my book club to be our July read. What a gem I would have missed if they hadn't!

Henna House by Nomi Eve was a little slow to start but ultimately proved to be a rich, engaging read. It took me a while to get through the first 70 pages. I raced through the last 70.

Henna House tells the story of a Jewish girl growing up in Yemen in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, starting with her youth in a rural Yemeni village and ending with her immigration to the new state of Israel.

While the Holocaust does figure in the story's epilogue, it is not a central component of the story. That in itself was remarkable. So many works of literature about Jewish characters are stories of the Holocaust, and while it is important to remember the Holocaust,  the Jewish experience is so much more than that one event. It was refreshing to read a book that not only reflects part of that broader experience but also speaks to the diversity of the global Jewish population.

Bonus Recommendation: Savage Liberty by Eliot Pattison

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This month, I was equally transported by another book, too: Savage Liberty by Eliot Pattison. Liberty is the fifth book in Patterson's Early America mystery series, and by far the best. Set a few years before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Savage Liberty incorporates many historical figures who made their names during the Revolution--including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Ethan Allen. But at the center of the story, as in the rest of the series, is Highlander Duncan McCallum and his Haudenosaunee friend, Conawago. (The first book in the series, Bone Rattler, explains how their paths crossed and their friendship formed.) Together, they seek answers about the sabotage of a merchant ship and the murders of rangers who served during the French and Indian War.

What I especially love about this series is that Pattison shows the diversity of the colonial population. His stories are populated by more than just white men.  And while I would like to see more women in these stories, I am grateful for the inclusion of a variety of Native American cultures and colonial settlers, including, in this story, a Jewish character.

The Best Book I Read This Month: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

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Another slow reading month, thanks to my impending move and other life challenges. I read one meh book whose title I can’t remember and I read a book that will stay with me for a while: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi.

Set in Afghanistan, Hashimi’s book centers on a women’s prison and on one prisoner in particular: Zeba, who is awaiting trial for the murder of her husband. Like Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, A House Without Windows focuses on the lives and challenges of women in Afghanistan—but that is where the similarity ends.

 Hosseini’s book was stark, dark, and violent. Looking back, I can see clearly that—even though it’s about two women—it was told through the male gaze.

A House Without Windows, on the other hand, is a story of women told by a woman. It doesn’t grab and shake you. It lulls you in, tells a wInding tale, at times seems to lead down the garden path, until it reaches a satisfying conclusion.

It’s not a perfect book—there was one plot twist in particular that seemed too pat, too coincidental—but it was an engaging, effective mystery and a welcome glimpse into a country that seems to have been largely forgotten by the media and general public.

The Best Book I Read This Month: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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I had a hard time getting back into reading this month, what with all the house sale/moving drama going on at the moment. I usually manage a book a week, roughly, but in the past 5-6 weeks, I’ve read a grand total of 2 books. Thankfully, one of them was a spectacular read: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein. 

The Pearl Thief is a prequel to Code Name Verity, one of my all-time favorite books. I love and adore Verity, and I was worried Pearl Thief wouldn’t live up to the promise of its sister. Thankfully, it did. I was just as swept away as when I read Verity.

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Code Name Verity is the story of two friends, Queenie and Maddie, as their friendship develops and is tested during World War II, when one of them is captured by the Nazis. Each friend narrates half the book, so we get the story from two different perspectives. It's a stunning work, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Pearl Thief tells the story of Queenie's life before the war--when she's a teenager in Scotland in the 1930s. She's just as high-spirited, this time teaming up with local Travellers to solve a murder mystery on her grandfather's old estate. (That sounds far more Nancy Drew than it really is.) We even find out how she came to be known as Queenie.

The book combines three of my favorite things: a mystery, Scotland, and Julia Beaufort-Stuart (Queenie). It's a fun read, far more escapist than Code Name Verity, but a worthy companion, nonetheless.