Author of the novel Surface and Shadow, plus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies, including Best Short Stories from The Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest 2017.
6/10/2017. TRAVELING WITH MISS JULIA
Summer is the time for road trips, and one of the best traveling companions is a phone or iPad full of audiobooks. If I’m driving alone, I get antsy if I have to go very far without one of these lively passengers. They’re also great for sharing if you have one that everybody in the car likes. I find the best books for travel are lighter fare because it’s hard to keep up with complex plots when traffic takes your attention.
One of my favorite series of books for listening in the car is the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross. Miss Julia is a clever, opinionated, and lovable woman of a certain age who has a knack for getting involved in thorny circumstances, sometimes by her own actions, but usually not. She’s weathered many a surprise in her later years, not the least of which is the arrival on her doorstep of a young woman claiming to be the mother of Miss Julia’s late husband’s son. How Miss Julia handles this development is both funny and touching.
But that was only book one. So far, Ross has written 19 Miss Julia books. Most recently, I listened to Miss Julia Inherits a Mess, which is filled with typical Miss Julia antics and insight. When Mattie Freeman dies, Miss Julia is flabbergasted to learn that Mattie, whom she never considered a close friend, has named Miss Julia executor of her estate. At first glance the estate appears to be modest, although, to Miss Julia’s consternation, Mattie has left bequests to almost everyone in town.
Miss Julia figures she’ll give everyone a percentage of what Mattie directed, but then she discovers an antique sampler in a safe in Mattie’s closet. Because of its age and quality, the sampler is likely quite valuable, so Miss Julia thinks the estate problems are solved, but they’re actually just beginning.
As Miss Julia is working to discharge her duties as executor, Andrew F. Cobb arrives in town and informs Miss Julia he is Mattie’s great-nephew. Mattie’s lawyer, Ernest Sitton, says he’s unaware of any great-nephews in Mattie’s family, but since the man wants nothing from the estate except family papers and photos because he’s writing a family history, Ernest and Miss Julia aren’t terribly concerned. Turns out they should be.
Andrew ends up taking Miss Julia on a wild ride, both literally and figuratively.
One of the strengths of the Miss Julia series is Ross’s ability to see the humor in almost every situation. She’s also skilled at creating characters who are delightfully quirky but recognizable to most readers. The audiobook version of Miss Julia Inherits a Mess is especially appealing because the narrator, Cynthia Darlow, gives each of these characters a voice and accent that are perfectly appropriate. Miss Julia’s way of talking is so perfect and so natural that I was sure it was Darlow’s normal voice, but at the end of the story, she speaks about the recording and proves that theory wrong.
When you pack your bags for your next road trip, I urge you to add a few audiobooks. The miles will pass more quickly, and you’ll be happier when you arrive.