I was talking with a library patron the other day as we browsed the shelves. I pointed to a book and declared that it was good, and then found another one and said, “This one is really good.” The patron asked me how I graded books, and that got me thinking: What does it take for me to add “really” when I describe a book?
For me, I love feeling as though I’ve been dropped into the world created by the author. I like seeing things through a character’s eyes; I love good writing, writing that flows and engages me, making the book difficult to put down. I like books that make me think; authors who encourage me to put myself in the main character’s shoes, so I can speculate how I would react in that situation—or just go on a wild ride with the main character.
I’ve just recently started reading the mystery series written by Nevada Barr which features Anna Pigeon, a law enforcement park ranger. I’m really enjoying these books. I can’t explain what took me so long to try one; her first Anna Pigeon novel, Track of the Cat, was published in 1993. But I can say that I’m glad I did find them.
I wasn’t sure I liked Anna Pigeon at first. She seemed a bit callous, a bit self-absorbed. But as the series progresses, I’m finding that she is a very complex character, and quite often is simply thinking what we all think at times. I can’t always relate to her thoughts and feelings, but I appreciate them. I guess you could say Anna and I have become friends.
Each book is set in a different national park, and Ms. Barr does a nice job of creating a real sense of being in the various locations for her readers. I’m ready to begin reading the seventh book in the series, and so far I have “visited” the Guadaloupe Mountains in Texas, Isle Royale on Lake Superior in Michigan, Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, and most recently, the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The author is a park ranger herself, and so her descriptions of the job are probably pretty accurate.
Would I describe this series as “really good?”
I would qualify that rating by saying the first book was a little weak, but that as Ms. Barr continues to write, her books get better and better. She does drop one into the national park of choice in each novel, describing the landscape and the wildlife to give the reader a feel for the location; the mysteries are good, not extremely far-fetched but not simple to solve either. And she gives some insight into park management and the challenges rangers face, which I find very interesting.
If you’re looking for a new series, consider giving Anna Pigeon a try.