Monday, July 31, 2017

July Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
January Reads 
February Reads 
March Reads 
April Reads 
May Reads 
June Reads


This month I went into in full-on summer reading mode. No poetry. No nonfiction. No literary fiction. No catching up on magazines and literary journals. I didn't even read The East Village Inky when it came in the mail. I'm actually a little embarrassed by that giant pile of (eleven!) books up there. Did I do anything at all besides read this month?

You know how this got started. I made a skirt. Then I read Crocodile on the Sandbank, because I had recently acquired my own copy, and because it matched my skirt, and because why not? Then I ordered copies of three of the next four books in the series (I had a copy of the fourth) and plunged in, going much faster than I expected, because soon I caught up to a hole in my collection (I already owned most of the later books, but only a smattering of the early and middle ones) and began combing used book stores, where I was not only able to fill in the gaps, but also scored a signed copy of one (true confession, I did already have a paperback of this particular volume, but at seven bucks, I could hardly pass it up). While I was still searching for a copy to fill the last gap in my selection, I took a detour and read another Elizabeth Peters book, from outside the Amelia Peabody Series.

So, what is my deal with these books? My mom was a long-time reader of Elizabeth Peters, nom de plume of Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels. The Barbara Michaels books are tales of suspense with supernatural elements and Gothic themes (crumbly old manor houses, ghosts of dead children, etc.). The Elizabeth Peters books are classic who-done-its, with a lot of humor (and history) thrown in. The Amelia Peabody series, which is the most extensive collection of an Elizabeth Peters character, is about a "lady" archaeologist, beginning in the Victorian era and on to the 1920s over the length of the series.

When I was in high school, I picked up one of my mom's paperback books, Search the Shadows by Barbara Michaels, and was immediately hooked on both Barbara Michaels and Egyptology. I read most of both Barbara Michaels's and Elizabeth Peters's books over the next few years. It took me a little longer to get into the Amelia Peabody books, but once I got the sly humor and satire of of our dear, unreliable narrator, I kept up with the Peabody-Emerson family's penchant for trouble ("every year, another dead body") as each volume was released. When I was home on maternity leave with M, I reread the series (up to 2001) while nursing the baby. I reread them all again three years ago (picking up a few I had missed along the way), in order of publication, which is not in order of chronology, so it was a little confusing, but still thrilling. This time I'm reading them in chronological order, which is very satisfying. I really do think they get better every time I read them. I cried through the whole last chapter of The Falcon at the Portal, even though I knew what was going to happen.

These books are not only rollicking good fun, they're suspenseful, funny, wickedly satirical, informative (about ancient Egyptian history as well as Victorian and Edwardian behaviors, norms, hypocrisies and fashion), and relevant. The history of occupation (by the Ottoman Empire and then the British Empire) in Egypt and surrounding countries as well as local tribalisms and religious fanaticism explored in the books all play into today's troubles in the Middle East. And the characters are just so engaging. I really can't say enough.

So now I come to the latest edition. Ms. Mertz /Peters/Michaels, died in 2013, leaving the Amelia Peabody series at 19 volumes (plus a companion book of photos and history of Egyptology in the Emerson/Peabody's time period), with 19 other books published as Elizabeth Peters and 29 as Barbara Michaels, which really *should* be enough for any reader, but…we always want more, don't we? So, I was thrilled that one final Amelia Peabody book was released this summer.

It was written by Barbara Mertz's friend and colleague in mystery writing, Joan Hess, based on copious notes written by the former, with help from other friends and colleagues. I bought my copy earlier this week, with great anticipation. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. The dialogue feels off. The characters not quite true. The pacing, the phrasing, the whole thing like a photo that's not quite in focus. I keep telling myself to think of it not as an Elizabeth Peters book, but as a Joan Hess book, but I'm not entirely convinced. The good news, though, is that since this book is #14, I have six whole more books to read after I finish, all written by the one, the only, the true Elizabeth Peters.

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