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Summer Reading

I’ve wandered across a number of book bloggers this last week all posting lists of their (hoped for) summer reads. And, as of last night, I now know I’ll be off for the entire month of July. With this knowledge in hand, I began wondering whether I would set aside time to read, and if so, what books I might like to buy. Given my ‘Wish-lists’ on both Amazon and Chapters-Indigo (the Canadian version of Amazon) are always and ever growing, I am at no loss for choice.

So here are the titles that peeked my interest, 10 very eclectic books:

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown — Vaseem Khan
For centuries, the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess. So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man—and his elephant—can possibly crack this case…

Otter of Death — Betty Webb
While taking the yearly “otter count” at a marsh near Gunn Landing Harbour, California, zookeeper Theodora Bentley sees Maureen, her favourite otter, swimming around clutching someone’s expensive smartphone. When Teddy rescues the device, she discovers a photograph of a murder-in-progress. A hasty search soon turns up the still-warm body of Stuart Booth, PhD, a local Marine Biology instructor.Booth was a notorious sexual harasser of young female students, so the list of suspects is long enough to make Teddy wonder if the crime will ever be solved. But when her friend, Lila, one of Booth’s original accusers, is arrested and charged with his murder, Teddy begins to investigate. This creates considerable tension with Teddy’s fiancé, Sheriff Joe Rejas. He believes the ever-inquisitive zookeeper might be putting her own life at risk, and so orders her to butt out. Concerned for her accused friend, Teddy ignores Joe’s ultimatum. She questions not only members of Gunn Landing’s moneyed social elite, but also the other side of the financial spectrum – the financially strapped young women willing to do almost anything to pay for their college tuition. Alarmed by Teddy’s meddling, Booth’s killer fights back – first with a death threat, then via gunshot.

Hiroshima Boy — Naomi Hirahara
LA gardener Mas Arai returns to Hiroshima to bring his best friend’s ashes to a relative on the tiny offshore island of Ino, only to become embroiled in the mysterious death of a teenage boy who was about the same age Mas was when he survived the atomic bomb in 1945. The boy’s death affects the elderly, often-curmudgeonly, always-reluctant sleuth, who cannot return home to Los Angeles until he finds a way to see justice served.

Naomi Hirahara is the Edgar-winning author of the Mas Arai mystery series, including Summer of the Big Bachi, Blood Hina, Strawberry Yellow, and Sayonara Slam. She is also the author of the LA-based Ellie Rush mysteries, published by Penguin. Her Mas Arai books have earned such honours as Publishers Weekly ‘s Best Book of the Year and one of the Chicago Tribune ‘s Ten Best Mysteries and Thrillers. The Stanford University alumna was born and raised in Altadena, California, where her protagonist lives; she now resides in neighbouring Pasadena.

The Heretic’s Daughter — Kathleen Kent
Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.

Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family’s deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

Star of the North — D.B. John
Star of the North opens in 1998, when a Korean American teenager is kidnapped from a South Korean beach by North Korean operatives. Twelve years later, her brilliant twin sister, Jenna, is still searching for her, and ends up on the radar of the CIA. When evidence that her sister may still be alive in North Korea comes to light, Jenna will do anything possible to rescue her—including undertaking a daring mission into the heart of the regime. Her story is masterfully braided together with two other narrative threads. In one, a North Korean peasant woman finds a forbidden international aid balloon and uses the valuables inside to launch a dangerously lucrative black-market business. In the other, a high-ranking North Korean official discovers, to his horror, that he may be descended from a traitor, a fact that could mean his death if it is revealed. As the novel progresses, these narrative strands converge and connect in surprising ways, ultimately building to an explosive and unforgettable climax.

Savage Liberty — Eliot Pattison
The fifth entry in Eliot Pattison’s Bone Rattler series follows the exiled Scotsman Duncan McCallum along a tortuous path that will lead him to the American Revolution When a ship arriving from London explodes in Boston Harbor, both the peace of the colonial city and Duncan McCallum’s life are shattered. Summoned by his new friend John Hancock to a beach awash with the bodies of the victims, Duncan discovers that the ship was deliberately sabotaged, apparently to cover the theft by French agents provocateurs of a secret document being carried to the Sons of Liberty. Hancock refuses to let him take his evidence to the authorities, for this is 1768 andrelations with the government are so sour that officials are being hanged in effigy. Fearing that the intrigues of Hancock and the Sons might set the colonies ablaze, Duncan relentlessly pursues the truth, only to be falsely charged with treason and murder. To escape the hangman’s noose and restore his honor, Duncan has no choice but to follow a northbound trail of violence and deception while being relentlessly hounded by bountymen and vengeful soldiers. With the help of unexpected new friends, including Ethan Allen, aged natives, and outlawed Jesuits, he survives scalp hunters, imprisonment, and his own spiritual crisis, only to realize he cannot resolve the terrible crimes until he first understands the emerging truths about freedom in the American colonies.

Queen of the South — Arturo Perez-Reverte
Teresa Mendoza’s boyfriend is a drug smuggler who the narcos of Sinaloa, Mexico, call “the king of the short runway,” because he can get a plane full of coke off the ground in three hundred yards. But in a ruthless business, life can be short, and Teresa even has a special cell phone that Guero gave her along with a dark warning. If that phone rings, it means he’s dead, and she’d better run, because they’re coming for her next. Then the call comes.

In order to survive, she will have to say goodbye to the old Teresa, an innocent girl who once entrusted her life to a pinche narco smuggler. She will have to find inside herself a woman who is tough enough to inhabit a world as ugly and dangerous as that of the narcos-a woman she never before knew existed. Indeed, the woman who emerges will surprise even those who know her legend, that of the Queen of the South.

Force of Nature — Jane Harper
Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with? When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path. But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Down the River unto the Sea — Walter Mosley
Joe King Oliver was one of the NYPD’s finest investigators, until, dispatched to arrest a well-heeled car thief, he is framed for assault by his enemies within the NYPD, a charge which lands him in solitary at Rikers Island. A decade later, King is a private detective, running his agency with the help of his teenage daughter, Aja-Denise. Broken by the brutality he suffered and committed in equal measure while behind bars, his work and his daughter are the only light in his solitary life. When he receives a card in the mail from the woman who admits she was paid to frame him those years ago, King realizes that he has no choice but to take his own case: figuring out who on the force wanted him disposed of—and why. Running in parallel with King’s own quest for justice is the case of a Black radical journalist accused of killing two on-duty police officers who had been abusing their badges to traffic in drugs and women within the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. Joined by Melquarth Frost, a brilliant sociopath, our hero must beat dirty cops and dirtier bankers, craven lawyers, and above all keep his daughter far from the underworld in which he works. All the while, two lives hang in the balance: King’s client’s, and King’s own.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie — Alan Bradley
The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home’s abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own. But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia’s attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw: “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.

Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet’s custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family’s loyal handyman, Dogger… or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime — even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it’s up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim’s identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces’ murky past.

A number of these were inspired by reviews I read elsewhere, and others I’ve heard good things about. Whether or not I’ll be able to find them all remains to be seen, but I’m now looking forward to my holidays and, whatever the weather throws at me, I know I’ll have something to read.

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