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 h...moreI 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.(less)
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 by...moreI 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. (less)
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 book...moreI 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.(less)
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 will...moreThis 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.(less)
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 pred...moreThe 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.(less)
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 tar...moreBilly 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.(less)
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 the...moreI 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.(less)
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 Kestr...moreI 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.(less)
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 tale...moreTaking 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.(less)
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 like...moreI 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.(less)
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 may...moreWally 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.(less)
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 n...moreAlthough 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.(less)
Maisie Dobbs, psychologist turned private detective,returns in this 9th book in the series. While many of the earlier books dealt with the obvious aft...moreMaisie 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.(less)
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 yo...moreA 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.(less)
A Ripping Yarn! Part of a series (but the first of them I've read) which began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Stolen Lake finds plucky heroi...moreA Ripping Yarn! Part of a series (but the first of them I've read) which began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Stolen Lake finds plucky heroine Dido Twite aboard a British man'o'war headed for England. As they make their way across the Atlantic, a message arrives by carrier pigeon diverting the ship to New Cumbria. Where? Well, the series takes place in an alternate history where the Stuarts still rule Great Britain, with James III the King rather than Queen Victoria. New Cumbria (roughly Argentina, I think) is part of "Roman America," where Latin is spoken, and was settled by the remnant of the Arthurian Britons after their defeat by the Saxons in 577.
Dido and her companions have one adventure after another and encounter several characters out of Arthurian legend during their travels through New Cumbria and neighboring Lyonesse. Some of the adventures are quite hair=raising (human sacrifice, people eaten by piranhas, etc.) This is not a book for the faint- hearted child, but other reviewers testify that for the right person,of any age, it will become a favorite book. I recommend it and will be looking for the other books in the series as time permits. You don't need to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this book.(less)
The saga of the Morland family continues -- the Morlands are hatched, matched and dispatched in the midst of the 1920s. Since one of the characters is...moreThe saga of the Morland family continues -- the Morlands are hatched, matched and dispatched in the midst of the 1920s. Since one of the characters is a pilot and aircraft designer, there's quite a bit about British aviation; the General Strike of 1926 and the Crash of '29 figure in the story, as well as the extension of women's suffrage in Britain to younger women (I'd forgotten, if I ever knew, that at first only women over 30 could vote). I'm addicted to this series, which was meant to be a painless way to learn British history and does a good job of it. I'd advise reading it from the beginning, though.(less)
I listened to this book, rather than reading it in paper, because it was the least expensive way for me to get it immediately after finishing Fall of...moreI listened to this book, rather than reading it in paper, because it was the least expensive way for me to get it immediately after finishing Fall of Giants. I'm a sucker for these sweeping saga types of book and my only regret is that now I have to wait for the next in the trilogy to be published. The reader did an excellent job with the many accents needed for this tale which follows members of five families (Welsh, English, German, Russian and American) with various connections to each other through the twentieth century and all its wars and upheavals. Since a much longer series I've been reading (Cynthis Harrod-Eagles's Morland Dynasty series)has reached a similar stage in history, it was interesting to compare the two. I'd say it's safe to say Ken Follett votes Labour and quite possible Cynthia Harrod-Eagles votes Tory. Their descriptions of the General Strike which took place in England in 1926 were quite different! In Winter of the World I especially was impressed by Follett's tracing of the changes in German society from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi takeover. Recommended.(less)
As so often happens in Regency novels, this tale begins with a matter of inheritance. The cantankerous Lord Darracott is dismayed that, because of a f...moreAs so often happens in Regency novels, this tale begins with a matter of inheritance. The cantankerous Lord Darracott is dismayed that, because of a foolish boating accident, his heir is now the grandson whose father he disowned for marrying "a weaver's brat" from Yorkshire. The heir, having served in the Napoleonic Wars, comes to Kent for a visit. He shocks the family with his broad Yorkshire speech, and at first his cousin Anthea is determined to resist her grandfather's wish that she marry the heir. Of course we know how this will turn out. But there is more to the story -- plenty of humor, for one thing, and a bit of a mystery involving the heroine's cosseted younger brother. I'd rank this close to the top of the Heyer novels I've read. Recommended.(less)
Although I've always been fascinated by World War I, the closest relatives I had who served in it (two great-uncles by marriage)both were prevented by...moreAlthough I've always been fascinated by World War I, the closest relatives I had who served in it (two great-uncles by marriage)both were prevented by illness from ever going to France. One survived his bout with TB and became a much-loved family member; the other died of influenza at Camp Devens, leaving my great-aunt a widow after a brief marriage. Since she died when I was 4, all I have of that early relationship is Uncle Charles's photo in his Army uniform.
I've enjoyed all Charles Todd's World War I mysteries, both the Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series, but I think I especially liked this one (if "like" is the word for such harrowing reading) because of its setting in the first months of the influenza pandemic.
Nurse Bess Crawford is herself struck down with flu just after she's presented with a mystery, and after her recovery, she tries to follow the cold trail of a ruthless killer. Moving back and forth across the Channel, and with the help of family friend Simon Brandon and a new possible beau who's an American serving in the Canadian forces, she has many adventures before the end.
I actually found the ending a bit deus ex machina for my taste, but I think this is one of those series I read for character and setting more than for plot, so I didn't mind too much. Recommended, if this applies to you as well.(less)
These three novels have only murder in common. The Shrouded Walls is a "woman in front of the house" book -- in my youth (and perhaps still), the book...moreThese three novels have only murder in common. The Shrouded Walls is a "woman in front of the house" book -- in my youth (and perhaps still), the book jackets of such books were prone to feature a young woman in a flowing gown standing in front of a large, menacing dwelling. Plotwise, it has features in common with Georgette Heyer's Regency romances, with the addition of a sense of menace that becomes all too real. But Howatch, at least at that point in her career, did not write historical characters well. Although the protagonists make a marriage of convenience, they seem to talk and think not very differently from their 1960s counterparts in the other two books bound with this one.
In April's Grave, a woman who believes her twin sister maliciously broke up her marriage realizes three years later that the sister (April) hasn't been seen or heard from since. On a trip back to England, she and her (not-yet-divorced) husband decide to try for a reconciliation -- but can she get past her suspicions about whether April is still alive? Well-plotted, and without the anachronisms that plague The Shrouded Walls.
The Devil on Lammas Night is something else again -- a romantic suspense thriller with more than a touch of the supernatural. Susan Howatch had been known to me for a good many years as someone who wrote books my mother liked to read for relaxation, until I happened on her Starbridge series and the three related books that followed it (they deal with factions in the Church of England and the personalities of various adherents, and if you think this sounds dull, all I can say is they kept me reading feverishly till the end.) In The Devil on Lammas Night, I saw inklings of Howatch's interest in the problem of evil and her belief in its supernatural existence. All three books kept me interested, but none held a candle to the later works.(less)
I'm sure I've heard some Georgette Heyer fans recommend this one, but it's pretty much my least favorite so far. I enjoyed the first two in the Alasta...moreI'm sure I've heard some Georgette Heyer fans recommend this one, but it's pretty much my least favorite so far. I enjoyed the first two in the Alastair Trilogy (These Old Shades and Devil's Cub) much more. The Alastairs are a noble family with ongoing ties to France, and a reputation for hot tempers, risk-taking, etc. The trilogy begins in about 1760; the second book is set in pre-Revolutionary France, maybe around 1780; and the third is set in Brussels just before Waterloo. That's the problem. Heyer apparently always wanted to write about Waterloo, did a lot of research, and it shows. It shows too much -- I was constantly skimming through endless lists of generals and troop movements to get to the story. I also didn't think either of the love stories was as believable as those in Heyer's other work. It still held my interest, but is definitely not my favorite.(less)