Maisie Dobbs ~ BRC

Happy October!  As Anne Shirley says, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted a review.  In truth, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything.  I’ll claim the usual excuse: I’ve been busy doing lots of other things.  I’ve started writing a new book–one that’s a COMPLETE  departure for me.  It requires a lot of research, and I’m delighted to find that much of it is coming from online sources, which means I have access to every bit of it any time I need it.  I’m nervous about it, but excited too.  So that’s my quick and dirty update.


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As to books, I’ve been reading mostly mysteries of all sorts, and recently I finally got around to reading Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.  This book is not new.  In fact, over the months and years since it’s been out (book 12 in the series was recently released), someone in this book review club could very well have reviewed it.  Now that I’ve read it, here are my thoughts…

maisiedobbsBut first, from Amazon:

Maisie Dobbs got her start as a maid in an aristocratic London household when she was thirteen. Her employer, suffragette Lady Rowan Compton, soon became her patron, taking the remarkably bright youngster under her wing. Lady Rowan’s friend, Maurice Blanche, often retained as an investigator by the European elite, recognized Maisie’s intuitive gifts and helped her earn admission to the prestigious Girton College in Cambridge, where Maisie planned to complete her education.
The outbreak of war changed everything. Maisie trained as a nurse, then left for France to serve at the Front, where she found—and lost—an important part of herself. Ten years after the Armistice, in the spring of 1929, Maisie sets out on her own as a private investigator, one who has learned that coincidences are meaningful, and truth elusive. Her very first case involves suspected infidelity but reveals something very different.
In the aftermath of the Great War, a former officer has founded a working farm known as The Retreat, that acts as a convalescent refuge for ex-soldiers too shattered to resume normal life. When Fate brings Maisie a second case involving The Retreat, she must finally confront the ghost that has haunted her for over a decade.

This book was really like a book within a book.  The story starts with Maisie starting a new case that has its origins in the Great War.  She is intelligent, logical, intuitive (almost to the point of disbelief), and motivated.  Her investigation is progressing smoothly until her patroness invites her to visit and expresses a concern about her own son that relates to her current investigation.

Before we can find out the details on the intersection of Maisie’s personal and professional lives, the story flashes back twelve years (if I remember right).  Suddenly we’re immersed in Maisie’s old life as a servant and the progression of how she met her mentor and inspired Lady Rowan’s offer of patronage, and her time as a nurse during the war.  I completely forgot about the original story!  But then we’re back to the present (1920s) and Maisie is planting someone on the inside of the Retreat to unearth further information in the investigation.  As expected, that goes awry, but eventually leads to her solving the mystery.

My thoughts:

This book was incredibly well-written and researched.  The details of World War I and post-war life in Britain are fantastic. Maisie is an admirable heroine and quite likeable, although she is almost too perfect.  She’s never tired, despite rising before dawn to read and study, then working a full day in service, then staying up late to read further.  She’s nice to fault, always good spirited…you get the idea.  And the intuition is just a little much.  But the ending is my biggest complaint.  I can’t reveal why exactly, because that would be too much of a spoiler, but suffice it to say that I was shocked by the out-of-character behavior and disappointed both in Maisie and the author for ending the story that way.

Still, it’s a relatively minor fault in an otherwise really excellent book.  I’ve been told that this first book in the series is more historical fiction and the subsequent books are more mystery, now that the reader has been brought up to date on the backstory. I plan to read the second book in the series and see what I think.

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Posted in book review club on 10/05/2016 12:10 am | 7 Comments

Design for Dying ~ BRC

First of June, beginning of the summer, and the last Book Review Club until September! So if you need to stock up on summer reading material, take note, as I’m sure there will be a stellar selection of books reviewed this month. (Just click on the typewriter at the end of this post.)

A couple Twitter pals and I have started the Meet Mystery Bookclub, wherein we select the first in a series of detective novels, read it over the course of a few weeks (a few chapters a week), and chat about it using a prearranged hashtag. Our first selection was The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (#MeetPoirot), this month it is Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (#MeetWimsey), and July and August are scheduled (I think) for Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (#MeetPeabody) and Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood (#MeetFisher). If you’re interested in joining us, follow @MeetMystery to get the details!

But aside from all that, I read a debut mystery novel this month by a husband and wife duo (Renee Patrick), called Design for Dying.

design for dying hc.inddFrom Amazon:

Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl . . . until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head.

Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces.

Unraveling the mystery pits them against a Hungarian princess on the lam, a hotshot director on the make, and a private investigator who’s not on the level. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough.

The first in a series of riveting behind-the-scenes mysteries, Renee Patrick’s Design for Dying is a delightful romp through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

This book was an impulse buy–it sold me almost instantly.  Between the cover design, the reviews (including blurbs from some of my fave mystery authors), and the back cover copy, I was completely intrigued.  And it didn’t disappoint!  Lillian Frost is a spunky amateur sleuth who emphatically doesn’t have stars in her eyes, and Edith Head is a feisty sidekick with plenty of connections, worldliness, and behind-the-scenes style strategies.  There was an impressive cast of characters (some quite famous!), a keep-you-guessing mystery, and just a hint of romance.  And it’s setup quite nicely for future books in the series.  So, if you’ve been looking for a Hollywood cozy (you probably haven’t, but if you knew one existed, you might have been), this is it.  Slide on your sunglasses and lounge by the pool with this sparkling debut.

FCC: I purchased an autographed hardback of this book at my local indie bookstore, Murder by the Book.

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Posted in Uncategorized on 06/01/2016 12:10 am | 7 Comments

Thanks for the Trouble ~ BRC


My Book Review Club selection for May is Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach.  I just happened to enter a Goodreads Giveaway for this book based on some early praise I read, and I was quite delighted to win a copy.

From Amazon:
Parker Santé hasn’t spoken a word in five years. While his classmates plan for bright futures, he skips school to hang out in hotels, killing time by watching the guests. But when he meets a silver-haired girl named Zelda Toth, a girl who claims to be quite a bit older than she looks, he’ll discover there just might be a few things left worth living for.

From the celebrated author of We All Looked Up comes a unique story of first and last loves.

There were so many elements of this book that I loved, but I want to be careful not to reveal any spoilers, so this review will try to hit the highlights and not dig too deep.

First, my complaint.  Parker has a habit of stealing things.  In fact, that’s how he meets Zelda–she leaves her bag behind, he finds a wad of cash in it, and walks off with it. And this isn’t an isolated incident–various other shoplifting occurrences are mentioned, but this character flaw is never explained.  He’s not portrayed as troublingly poor, and it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of his personality.  I think the meet-cute with Zelda would have been just as effective if it had been his first time stealing.  (A roll of hundred dollar bills would tempt a lot of people…)

Honestly, that was the novel’s only shortcoming.  Parker is immediately fascinated–and smitten–with Zelda, as was I.  And when he realizes she is waiting for a phone call, and plans to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge when she gets it, he is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Thus, there is a sense of urgency–and mystery–threaded through these pages.  I loved the purpose for the novel (which I can’t reveal), the relationship between Zelda and Parker, Parker’s original stories–most of them fairy tales, the chess club, particularly Alana, and the humor!  LOVED the humor.

You say you’re tired out with life, right?  Well, I’m going to untire you.  I’m going to make you want to live.

That’s a tall order, Parker Santé.

I’m a tall guy.

She laughed, probably because I’m actually not very tall, and then I kissed her, the first time I’d initiated a kiss in my whole life. We kept on kissing for a long time, making everyone else in the Japanese Tea Garden jealous, or at the very least, super uncomfortable.”

Thanks for the Trouble deals with death, isolation, loneliness, and um, other things I won’t cover here, yet it still manages to stay fun and uplifting.  Highly recommended.

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Posted in book review club, Uncategorized on 05/04/2016 12:10 am | 10 Comments