I have to say that in general, I am heartily sick of "coming of age" novels, and seeing that phrase in a review or synopsis is normally enough to crosI have to say that in general, I am heartily sick of "coming of age" novels, and seeing that phrase in a review or synopsis is normally enough to cross that book off my reading list. But, William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor series has become a favorite, the book has won at least a couple of reader-voted awards, and it's set in Minnesota, so I gave it a try and was glad I did.
For me, the charm of Ordinary Grace was not in the mystery itself. I guessed the ending about halfway through. The artistry in Ordinary Grace lies in the evocation of a time and place, and in the characters of the people of New Bremen, Minnesota. There is also beautiful and inspiring writing -- the sermons and prayers of Rev. Drum are as good as any I've heard in church.
Why did this book become such a success? Partly because of its moral and spiritual center, Rev. Nathan Drum, as seen through the eyes of his 13-year-old son Frank. Habitual mystery readers, probably the majority of early readers of Ordinary Grace, often say that they read mysteries because (unlike in real life), justice is usually done. In Ordinary Grace, there is justice, but also mercy.
Readers like me (I am the same age as Frank Drum, the narrator) will remember nostalgically the freedom that kids had in our childhood. Frank and his brother Jake roam through their town and its outskirts at will, unless they are grounded for some offense. Yes, they get in some dangerous situations and see some things that their parents would rather they hadn't. But they grow and learn from all their experiences, and they have the example of their father to follow in their journey toward manhood.
Ordinary Grace is not only a good story, but will give you a lot to think about. Very highly recommended....more
I read this book at a time I was not being good about reviewing, so I'm updating much later. I'd suggest reading some of the other 5-star reviews, witI read this book at a time I was not being good about reviewing, so I'm updating much later. I'd suggest reading some of the other 5-star reviews, with which I concur. I especially liked the Berlin setting since I lived there for a year, and the author's perfect ear for dialogue. Highly recommended, and if you (unlike me) are knowledgeable about jazz, so much the better....more
I didn't like this quite as well as the earlier books in this series. As nurse Bess Crawford and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon search a fairly small poI didn't like this quite as well as the earlier books in this series. As nurse Bess Crawford and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon search a fairly small portion of the English countryside for a wounded soldier who disappeared while in Bess's care, the story tends to drag a bit. The ending was rather complex and didn't exactly play fair with the reader. And the relationship between Bess and Simon continues to perplex. As this book begins, the Great War is beginning to draw to a close. It will be interesting to see what Charles Todd do with Bess after the Armistice -- will the series continue? Despite my disappointment with this entry, I do hope so. Worth reading for fans of the series....more
This review also applies to the other books in the trilogy. Fay Weldon apparently was one of the writers for the first season of Downton Abbey. The LovThis review also applies to the other books in the trilogy. Fay Weldon apparently was one of the writers for the first season of Downton Abbey. The Love and Inheritance Trilogy is set a bit earlier; in the first book, the Boer War is going on and Queen Victoria is still living. The second book centers on Edward VII's Coronation, and the last is set in 1905. It's also a bit edgier than Downton Abbey. The Dilberne family, an Earl, his up-from-the-demimonde wife, and their two modern offspring, are basically good-hearted, but have all the prejudices of their class and a few neuroses of their own. I found the series quite enjoyable and Katherine Kellgran did a magnificent job of reading it. Definitely recommended -- if you like Downton Abbey and enjoyed The American Heiress, you'll like this trilogy....more
It took me two solid months of dog-walking and listening at other times to finish this book, and since other long-awaited books were calling to me, IIt took me two solid months of dog-walking and listening at other times to finish this book, and since other long-awaited books were calling to me, I was sometimes tempted to take a break, but I feared that if I stopped listening I would not resume. I'm glad I stuck with it, not just to check off another on the Guardian's 1000 Novels list, but because it was a great story written by a great spirit.
Before embarking on this voyage, I knew Les Misérables only from an abridged version in my childhood Book of Knowledge and, of course, the musical. Although I'd listened to the music a lot, I had only seen it on stage in a "Jr." version (acted by young people) and quite recently, the film version of the musical. I enjoyed listening to the book in part because there was so much more of the backstory of the characters. (Not that Schönberg, Boublil, et al can be faulted for what they left out; I think they, and director Tom Hooper, made good artistic decisions to condense the story into a manageable performance.) Through these lengthy character introductions, we learn how Valjean, the Bishop, Fantine, Marius, the Thenardiers and others became who they are. Their various actions become more believable when we can see their pasts. In particular the love story of Marius and Cosette becomes more real by Hugo's following it through its stops and starts. I also learned a bit more of French history, especially the post-Napoleonic time, than I had known before.
Besides its length, flowery language (but I must say Julie Rose's translation seems excellent, particularly in its use of slang), and numerous references to Paris streets and buildings old and "new" (in 1862), modern readers will probably find some of Hugo's ideas about women hard to swallow. Social class, beauty, and relationship or lack of one with a man, seem to define womanhood for Hugo. Even the tragic heroine Eponine does what she does at the barricades only for love of Marius -- she is unable to imagine that revolution could have something to do with her own life. Hugo shows his romantic, Victorian view of women not only in the characters he writes, but in long disquisitions on Womanhood with a capital W, which I suspect even the most conventional woman of his time would have read with an inward smile or shudder.
I enjoyed George Guidall's narration; the only reason I might wish to have read this book in print would be that it annoys me slightly not to see the French names (streets, characters, etc.) and how they are spelled. I'd love to see an annotated version with drawings or photos of objects and places described in the text, but it would be an enormous tome.
I don't know that I would recommend this audiobook to someone driving on a long journey, because some of Hugo's long digressions on convents, sewers, etc. might cause drowsiness. But if for some reason you have 60 or so hours to spend listening to a book, this one really is worth your while....more
Readers of the Bess Crawford series about a WWI nurse from a military family have been tantalized by references to Bess's years growing up in India unReaders of the Bess Crawford series about a WWI nurse from a military family have been tantalized by references to Bess's years growing up in India under the Raj. In this charming short story, we get a glimpse of those days as a much younger Bess and Simon team up to solve a mystery. Well worth the reading time for fans of Bess....more
I hold fantasy to a very high standard, so I read very little of it and am always thrilled when I discover a new writer who meets my standards. That hI hold fantasy to a very high standard, so I read very little of it and am always thrilled when I discover a new writer who meets my standards. That happened several years back when I read a review of Naomi Novik's first Temeraire novel. The premise -- what if the Napoleonic Wars had been fought with the addition of dragon air forces -- is an excellent catalyst for both exciting action and thoughtful rumination.
Blood of Tyrants, announced as the penultimate book in the series, opens with aviator Will Laurence cast ashore in Japan after a shipwreck, alone and partially amnesiac. In his mind he is still a naval officer with only the vaguest acquaintance with dragons. Rescued by a Japanese nobleman, he is then held prisoner -- for the Japanese do not want foreigners in their country and particularly distrust the British for their alliance with China. Meanwhile, back on the dragon transport, Temeraire, also injured, is consumed with anxiety for his beloved Captain Laurence.
As in the earlier books, Will and Temeraire cover a lot of ground in Blood of Tyrants, winding up in Russia as Napoleon invades Moscow. I happen also to be re-reading War and Peace right now, and I must say the military passages in Tolstoy would be a lot easier to get through if Lev Nikolaevich had had dragons.
Once again, Novik has delivered a fine mixture of history and fantasy mixed with ideas about friendship, freedom, and personal honor. I shall be sorry to see this series end. Highly recommended....more
I doubt that there will ever be ONE Great American Novel. America -- the land, the people, the idea -- is too big and too diverse to be represented byI doubt that there will ever be ONE Great American Novel. America -- the land, the people, the idea -- is too big and too diverse to be represented by any one book. I do think there are several Great American Novels -- Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath,My Antonia, and The Great Gatsby spring immediately to mind -- and I now have a new candidate for that group. Helene Wecker uses the tale of two supernatural beings who find themselves in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City to illuminate the urban immigrant experience. In addition, she explores themes of free will, personal responsibility, community and individualism -- all while telling a mesmerizing story that puts the reader squarely into the Lower East Side circa 1900.
I listened to this book on Audible, ably narrated by George Guidall. You may prefer to read it in print or e-book form. No matter which format you choose, get this book. You won't be sorry. Don't wait for the movie (I don't know that there will be one, but I suspect it) -- read it now. ...more
I was drawn to this book because it is set in the very early 1920s, when Britain was dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. It's the first bookI was drawn to this book because it is set in the very early 1920s, when Britain was dealing with the aftermath of the Great War. It's the first book in a series featuring Laurence Bartram, an officer in the War and a widower, who's having a bit of trouble settling to civilian life. When the sister of a school friend writes to him asking for help, Laurence agrees out of a sense of obligation for past kindnesses. John Emmett, who was being treated for what we'd now call PTSD, had unexpectedly committed suicide some months before. His sister Mary needs to know why. Laurence's investigation on her behalf leads him to many surprising revelations.
THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN JOHN EMMETT centers on on of the more unfortunate chapters in the history of World War I, and one which has come up in more than one mystery set in and just after that time. It is a very thoughtful book and also has a lot to say about families. The characters are well-drawn and very believable as they participate in the post-war social transitions. Laurence has a wonderful sidekick in his friend Charles, who, through his wide network of friends and cousins, is invaluable at getting needed information. Highly recommended -- I look forward to reading more by this author....more
This is Juliet Nicolson's first novel after writing two works of non-fiction. As such, it certainly has some flaws, but I enjoyed it and hope she willThis is Juliet Nicolson's first novel after writing two works of non-fiction. As such, it certainly has some flaws, but I enjoyed it and hope she will write more.
The plot, as one might guess from the title, is built around the events of the year 1936 -- from the death of George V to the abdication of Edward VIII. May, a young woman from Barbados, arrives with her brother just before the old King dies, gets a chauffeur/secretary job with a high-level MP, and is able to observe many of the events leading to the abdication.
Nicolson uses several points of view -- sometimes the story is told from the viewpoint of Evangeline Nettlefold, a girlhood friend of Wallis Simpson who is visiting May's employers' sometimes from that of Julian, an Oxford man who's a family friend and becomes quite friendly with May. I felt that Nicolson was not as skillful at this technique as she may become in the future. Nicolson's previous non-fiction works were in the "slice of history" genre. In such books, the technique of jumping from one setting or informant to another is often used, and Nicolson seems to have followed the same protocol in her fiction.
Of course the abdication drama was not the only thing happening in 1936. Abdication also touches on the Depression, unemployment, the rise of Hitler and his British sympathizer Oswald Mosley, anti-Semitism, and the Spanish Civil War, among others. Real characters from history show up occasionally in addition to the future Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The theme of secrets runs throughout the book, and we find out that there is more than one secret connected with May herself.
In spite of its imperfections, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the period. If the foregoing is all Greek to you, you obviously need to see The King's Speech....more
The two World Wars and the decades between them have long been my favorite period of history, whether treated in fiction or non-fiction. So I was predThe two World Wars and the decades between them have long been my favorite period of history, whether treated in fiction or non-fiction. So I was predisposed to like Mr. Churchill's Secretary. The setting of London during the Blitz never fails to inspire (as awful as it must have been to live through). But practically everyone who has done a bit of research can write that description well. Where McNeill shines is in her characters and the surprising plot twists she comes up with. Melodramatic? Sure. With Nazi bombs overhead and IRA bombs in the very Tube stations where Londoners went to escape the aerial bombing, melodrama was a part of daily life. I was thrilled to find the next in the series, Princess Elizabeth's Spy, at the first library book sale of the season. I listened to Mr. Churchill's Secretary on Audible, but I think it would be equally enjoyable in print or e-format. Highly recommended....more
Billy Boyle, whom we've met in five earlier tales of World War II, is now in Italy as the Allies move north. What appears to be a serial killer is tarBilly Boyle, whom we've met in five earlier tales of World War II, is now in Italy as the Allies move north. What appears to be a serial killer is targeting U.S. officers, moving up the ranks and leaving a playing card on each body. Billy investigates while also worrying about his lover Diana, under cover at the Vatican, and his brother Danny, a college boy now in the Army. These books are so good, you almost don't want the war to end. Recommended....more
I believe Walter Mosley got quite a bit of buzz when he first published Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. I seem to recall that I began to read it at theI believe Walter Mosley got quite a bit of buzz when he first published Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. I seem to recall that I began to read it at the time, but for some reason didn't get very far. Perhaps I just wasn't into noir fiction back then. A couple of years ago we listened to White Butterfly, another in the series, and enjoyed it very much. So when I saw this on Audible I couldn't resist giving it another try.
The narration, by Michael Boatman, adds immeasurably to my enjoyment. Boatman sounds just as I would imagine Easy does (the story is told in first person) and the voices he does for the other characters, including the women, are believable as well. Mosley himself has an excellent ear for dialect and dialog, and the combination of author and narration takes the listener to a completely different place -- in this case, Watts, Los Angeles, 1948.
Devil in a Blue Dress explains how Easy Rawlins went from working in an aircraft factory to being a private investigator. Easy is a black World War II veteran, originally from Houston, who has ended up in Watts and has bought a small house. He is so thrilled to own his own home that he even enjoys receiving junk mail, so when he loses his aircraft factory job because of a disagreement with the white foreman, his main concern is how to make his next mortgage payment. When his bartender friend introduces him to a mysterious white man who offers him $100 to search for a missing young woman, Easy takes on the job, despite some misgivings which turn out to be well-founded.
Although the plot is fascinatingly full of incident, the characterizations and setting are equally strong. Easy is a complicated man with simple desires which the world seems eager to thwart. The setting of LA in the 40s, legally integrated but still full of racism, adds to the tension of the story. Very highly recommended....more
I ordered this book so I could read the Julian Kestrel short story (set in Regency England) by Kate Ross, who died too young after writing three KestrI ordered this book so I could read the Julian Kestrel short story (set in Regency England) by Kate Ross, who died too young after writing three Kestrel novels and this one story. Crime through Time is an anthology of historical mystery short stories, some related to novel series and others standalones. (Laurie L. King's "Mrs. Hudson's Case," which I read on Kindle and reviewed earlier this year, is also included.)
I enjoyed all the stories in this collection, including some from periods I don't usually go for -- ancient Egypt, for example. Books of short detective stories are great to have stashed about one's person to while away waiting time in medical offices and elsewhere. I'm glad I also bought Crime through Time II and III, as well as a similar collection, Past Poisons. Recommended....more
Taking a leaf from Anne Perry's Christmas series, Charles Todd have taken a minor character from their Bess Crawford series and woven a Christmas taleTaking a leaf from Anne Perry's Christmas series, Charles Todd have taken a minor character from their Bess Crawford series and woven a Christmas tale around her. It's more of a romance than a mystery, although there's a little espionage thrown in. The mother-and-son writing team who are Charles Todd do an amazing job of making the reader see and feel what it was like to be in war-torn France and waiting England during the Great War. I hope they will make a Christmas tale an annual occurrence....more
I have to confess that I've never before read any of Laurie R. King's Mary Ryssell/Sherlock Holmes series. It's a fit of pique on my part since i likeI have to confess that I've never before read any of Laurie R. King's Mary Ryssell/Sherlock Holmes series. It's a fit of pique on my part since i liked A Darker Place so much -- it appears that perhaps it was intended as the start of a series and didn't get continued. At any7 rate, I may have to change my behavior, since this short story (it was free, I think, for Kindle at Christmas time) was well-plotted, gave new depth to the character of Mrs. Hudson, and introduced me to Mary Russell, who seems an interesting character....more
Wally Lamb is not an author whose works I would ordinarily seek out. Having struggled through part of his big hit, She's Come Undone (my book club mayWally Lamb is not an author whose works I would ordinarily seek out. Having struggled through part of his big hit, She's Come Undone (my book club may have beaten Oprah to the punch on that one, more's the pity), I haven't been interested in pursuing what I saw as his blend of misery and 50s/60s pop culture references. But, looking for some Christmas reading on the cheap for my Kindle, I picked this up and was pleasantly surprised. No dysfunctional family here, although the people in it certainly have their quirks and flaws. They love and support each other and take pride in their work (running a small diner in a blue-collar Connecticut town). The young son of the family is the narrator -- he's concerned about his part in the school Christmas pageant and his mother's upcoming appearance in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. And did I mention that the family's claim to fame is that Annette Funicello is their cousin? All's well that ends well in this humourous and charming Christmas tale. Recommended -- if you're flying to see family next Christmas, it will take you away from the crowded airport and the cramped airplane seating to a simpler, and perhaps happier, place and time....more
Although I've been hearing praise of Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series for years, somehow I had yet to read one until this short story appeared for a nAlthough I've been hearing praise of Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series for years, somehow I had yet to read one until this short story appeared for a nominal fee on my Kindle. Since I like to read series from the beginning, it's nice that The Amersham Rubies is listed as "Molly Murphy 0.5." While most of the stories take place in turn-of-the-century New York, this one takes us back to Molly's beginnings in Ireland. We get a little of her backstory and an inkling of the keen observer and detective she will become. The basic plot is not an unfamiliar one to readers of Golden Age mysteries -- it's the character of Molly that really makes this story worth reading. I'll definitely be coming back for more Molly Murphy....more
Maisie Dobbs, psychologist turned private detective,returns in this 9th book in the series. While many of the earlier books dealt with the obvious aftMaisie Dobbs, psychologist turned private detective,returns in this 9th book in the series. While many of the earlier books dealt with the obvious aftereffects of the Great War, Elegy for Eddie finds England preparing -- or not preparing -- for World War II, though most of the country doesn't know it yet. It's 1933, and Adolf Hitler has just come to power in Germany.
I was not as impressed with this book as I have been with the past ones. While some reviewers liked the continuing development of Maisie's character, I find myself wishing she'd just get over herself and also stop wondering "What would Maurice do?" at every turn. The plot, particularly the ending, was unsatisfying too.
And yet -- I'll read the next book in the series, out soon, and probably as many more as Jacqueline Winspear cares to write. My dissatisfaction with Maisie is also an indication of how real she has become for me. And, of course, Winspear has cleverly set her books in my favorite time period, and it will only get better as England lurches toward her finest hour....more
A reader can divide historical fiction into two kinds: the kind where you know the general outline of what happens historically, and the kind where yoA reader can divide historical fiction into two kinds: the kind where you know the general outline of what happens historically, and the kind where you don't. The Janissary Tree was the second kind for me. I know almost nothing about the Ottoman Empire -- a few names, a smattering about the Crimean War and the empire's part in WWI, and the phrase "The Sick Man of Europe." That's about it. In addition, 1836, when the book is set, is a time even in European history about which I knew little. Well, I know a little more now. I enjoyed Goodwin's book possibly more for the characters and setting than for the plot. Goodwin had already written a history of the Ottoman Empire (as well as four other non-fiction books) before this, his first novel. (It appears he's British, thus not eligible for the Best First Novel Edgar, which is limited to American authors.)
Yashim, the protagonist, is a eunuch, but although he is a trusted adviser to the Sultan and the Sultan's mother, he does not live in the Palace, but moves freely around Istanbul. He is called in on two separate investigations, or perhaps three: the death of one of the Sultan's harem; the theft of some of the Valide Sultan's (Queen Mother's) jewels, once owned by Napoleon; and the disappearance of four young officers in the New Guard. Soon the officers' bodies begin turning up, each killed in a peculiarly horrible way. With the help of his two best friends, Panewski, the Polish Ambassador (at a time when Poland as a country had ceased to exist) and Preen, a eunuch who works as a transvestite dancer and prostitute, Yashim eventually solves all the crimes, undergoing some fairly terrifying experiences along the way.
At just under 300 pages, The Janissary Tree was not exceptionally long, but it took me quite a while to read, partly because of other commitments, but also because the plot was not that engaging to me. What kept me reading (besides my vow to read every Edgar Best Novel winner)was the immersion in another world that Goodwin provided. Istanbul in the 1830s was a cosmopolitan city at the heart of a vast and diverse empire, yet it could hardly have been more different from London, Vienna or St. Petersburg. Goodwin brings Istanbul to life; the mystery seems just a device, the plot merely a framework on which to display the characters and setting. Had I been on that Edgar jury, I think it unlikely I would have voted for this work (I'll have to read the other nominees to be sure, and that's another challenge!) But it was certainly good enough to deserve some kind of recognition, and I'll be interested to read the later books in the series. If you like to learn something with your mystery reading and can bear with a rather slow pace, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Janissary Tree....more