Surgery sucks, but having to sit quietly for two weeks has been a gift, in that I’ve gotten to catch up on my reading. And I never do anything by halves. If I counted the number of books I’ve read cover to cover in the past few weeks, it would probably average out to one a day. Lucky me! And Lucky You, because I’m giving you a sneak peek at the best ones.
First up is A Question of Ghosts by Cate Culpepper. The long and short of it: when this one comes out next month, snap it up. It’s a great story, and really well done.
First, it’s a cool twist on a ghost story. The protagonist, Becca Healy, believes she’s being contacted by her mother’s ghost. This leads her to seek the assistance of Dr. Joanne Call, an expert in Electronic Voice Phenomenon. As the women try to unravel the secret of the otherworldly messages, they unearth secrets about Becca’s past that make her question all the assumptions upon which she’s built her life. It’s a good mystery with a number of twists that, like all good mysteries, make the ending difficult to predict, but which once revealed, seem inevitable.
There’s also an excellent love story between two complicated women. From the outside, Dr. Call seems prickly and emotionally cold. But beneath her intimidating exterior lies someone whose extreme social discomfort has been keeping her back from her heart’s greatest desire. Becca is still recovering from a very traumatic past, which will be disturbed again in the course of the book. I really appreciated that the women’s rough edges–Dr. Call’s social awkwardness and Becca’s trauma-induced overeating–are not pathologized, treated or miraculously “cured,” but are presented as the variations on personality that they are, and accepted. Pathologizing the different really irritates me, and I loved the way that the characters embrace and integrate their “imperfections” without feeling the need to change themselves or each other.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that the author has won a number of prestigious awards for her writing, including a Lambda Literary Award and a Golden Crown Literary Society award. Her writing is outstanding, and the characters and stories are memorable. I’m very much looking forward to delving into Ms. Culpepper’s other novels.
Next up is Awake Unto Me by Kathleen Knowles. Another winner. Unfortunately, this is the author’s first novel, so I’ll have to wait for her to hurry up and write more!
Awake Unto Me is a romance set in turn-of-the (20th) century San Francisco. I do love a good historical, and this one is exceptionally well done. The author has really done her homework with regard to the city, and renders its different parts in gorgeous, yet unobtrusive detail. The architecture, geography, people, and life in the two vastly different parts of the city come alive. The characters spring from their surroundings, shaped immutably by them.
The story takes its time following each heroine separately until they meet near the middle of the book. This ensures that they are both as different as can be–Kerry O’Shea, daughter of a prostitute and a con man, who grew up in a saloon in the worst part of town–and Beth Hammond, a quiet shopkeeper’s daughter who would become a nurse. Their path is not easy, and their background often hampers its progression. But this ultimately makes the resolution so satisfying.
One of the most difficult things to do in a historical is to create female and GLBT characters with agency, while recognizing what a difficult position we held in society throughout much of history. This book strikes that balance in a way that is both satisfying and realistic. I won’t ruin it by going on. Just go buy the book.
So here are two more of my summer reads. I enjoyed them immensely, and hope you will too.