Forensic science of the whole person. “Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear (CBR10 #3)

maisiedobbsI had a revelation after reading this book. In mystery novels, the problem that needs to be solved is never as interesting to me as the problem solvers. Winspear’s first in her “Maisie Dobbs” series splits problem and problem solver in a way that made that clear to me.  Is that common? I’m pretty sure that is why, when asked if I enjoy mystery novels, I generally say no, but my read list  on Goodreads tells a different tale.

Maisie Dobbs is the only child of a working class family in early 1900’s London. When her mother dies, her father enters her into service for a wealthy family in Belgravia. After discovering the family library while on her coal fire rounds, the precocious and resourceful thirteen year old  begins waking up at 3am each day to sneak into the library to read. It gets a little Eliza Doolittle from there. Maisie is caught in the act by the family  matriarch who recognizes her brilliant mind and introduces Maisie to a family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a forensic scientist who serves as a  cerebral Professor Higgins type (creepy and superior but without the sexual tension) and Maisie’s education commences. While still working in the household, Maisie studies philosophy, logic, and psychology and eventually makes her way to Oxford.  While studying there, the first World War breaks out, and Maisie joins the Red Cross to nurse the wounded in France.  After the war, she returns to England to finish her studies and begins working as a private investigator. Hired to tail a possibly unfaithful wife, Maisie undertakes a job which leads her to the mysterious death of a wounded soldier and a shady “retreat” for troubled and scarred veterans. Her investigation ultimately unearths her own wounds from the war, allowing her to confront her own past.

The book is divided into thirds. The first part sets up the main players and the  mystery at hand. The second part steps back in time to flesh out  back stories and the third picks up the mystery thread to its conclusion. I found the disjointed time line to be jarring. The narrative of the first third of the book is stopped cold as the second third of the book (which was the most compelling) jumps back in time to connect the dots of Maisie’s personality. Once Maisie’s motivations are mostly fleshed out, the story dumps the reader back to the mystery and wraps up with the conclusion. If the narrative had started with Maisie’s back story and developed the characters BEFORE moving into the heart of the mystery, the book would be a solid 4 stars for me. The build up to the end would have been so much more satisfying.

Maisie’s ability to step into someone’s shoes to understand who they are and to empathize with their problems was palpable. Several times in the book, she literally assumes the posture of the people she is questioning in order to feel how they feel and gain insight into their situation. I know, sounds hokey, but I found those moments to be fascinating.  The whole study of people’s motivations and how they came to be who they are is much more compelling here than the relatively quick wrap up of the mystery. Problem solver MUCH more interesting than the problem.

For those of you who have read and continued on with the series…worth it? I really enjoyed Maisie’s character but I’m not sure if that’s enough to warrant charging ahead.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.



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Keep the Window Open, Wendy. “City of Jasmine” by Deanna Raybourn (CBR10, #2)

cityofjasmineI’ll be writing many reviews of this fine lady’s work. Her Veronica Speedwell books  (new one this month, superfans!!!) were my gateway and I devoured the first two of the Lady Julia Grey books (3rd one ready to go in the bedside library pile). After doing some Goodreads snooping, I discovered she had several books set in the 1920’s  so I scooped up and loooooved “Spears of Grass” (So atmospheric. Wonderful saucy heroine and roguish bush pilot word sparring in the wilds of Africa. But I digress…..)

City of Jasmine has its own saucy heroine but SHE is the pilot here (taught by the African bush pilot from Spears of Grass, seriously…READ IT). Her sparring partner is her thought to be deceased quasi ex-husband archaeologist, Gabriel.  Damascus, archaeological dig sites and various Bedouin encampments serve as the backdrop.

Aviatrix (that word is just plain awesome) Evangeline Starke is piloting a sponsored  “7 Seas Tour” in order to support herself and her titled but cash poor Aunt Dove when she receives a picture of  Gabriel, her “dead” husband,  taken years after his death. Dah, dah,  duuuuuh! While her airplane is getting much-needed repair work, she drags Aunt Dove and her obnoxious parrot, Arthur Wellesley, to Damascus in search of  Gabriel.  Her journey to find Gabriel and discover why he left her and faked his own death is had on the backs of camels across the Syrian desert in the company of  a foreign diplomat, Bedouin Kings, archaeologists,  a German Doktor and a pair of Hungarian aristocrats.


While trying to track down a priceless artifact in a sea of untrustworthy characters,  Evangeline finds Gabriel. They struggle with old wounds and acquaint themselves with who they have become after seven years apart.  Raybourn references Peter Pan and Wendy a lot in the book and it’s an apt metaphor here.  The playboy archaeologist who seems to care only for his adventures and the woman who was swept up into his world only to be left behind. Can you forgive someone who mysteriously distanced themselves from you and then disappeared? Would any excuse serve?

This was a fun book, if a  bit repetitive. It was a little lather rinse repeat in the “We’re captured!” “We escaped!” “We’re captured again!” department, but that is often the M.O. in adventure stories. Think of it as an Indiana Jones story from the heroine’s point of view.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.







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Love Children Through the Ages or Where Did That Old Car Come From? “Along the Infinite Sea” by Beatriz Williams (CBR 10, #1)

alonginfiniteseaForever judging a book by its cover, I went on a Beatriz Williams kick this summer. Never having read her books before, I was lured in by a few with a flapper on the cover. All things Roaring 20’s are totally up my alley. A handful of Williams’ books later, I was down the rabbit hole of her Schuyler Sisters books which, ironically, do not take place in the 20’s. Each of the books (The Secret Life of Violet Grant & Tiny Little Thing round out the trio) concentrate on one of  three sisters from a wealthy New York family whose other generations appear in many of Williams’ books.

Equal parts mystery, romance and historical fiction, this book follows Pepper Schulyer as she delivers a WWII era Mercedes, that she helped to restore,  to a buyer in Florida. Pregnant with a married politician’s baby, Pepper is hoping that the sale of the car will help her to disappear with her impending offspring and escape the judgement of her family and the baby daddy who wants her to be silenced. Annabelle Dommerich, the buyer of the car, has a similar tale to tell. She narrowly escapes Germany before the war,  in the aforementioned Mercedes, with her own love child in tow. Bouncing back and forth between the 40’s and 60’s, the story follows each heroine as she finds and loses love and makes whatever sacrifice is necessary to safeguard her child.

Williams’ prose is smart and sassy which I appreciate.  I enjoyed the book but it wasn’t my favorite of the three Schyler Sisters novels. Both Pepper and Annabelle were compelling characters but the story more a blending of the previous novels in the series. Borrowing the Kennedyesque politics of the 60’s (Tiny Little Thing) and the unhappy marriage of an young ex-pat woman trapped in Germany on the brink of war (The Secret Life of Violet Grant), Pepper’s story was more of a sequel to Tiny Little Thing than a standalone story of Pepper. Williams sort of short changed the middle child here. Pepper deserved better.

Check out Cannonball Read 10. Lots of reviews from lots of good people and all for a good cause.


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On Being a Joiner….Take 2

Back again after a 7 year hiatus. Joining Cannonball Read for the 10th Anniversary!!! I somehow completed a full cannonball during CBR-3. After a 7 year rest, I can do it again, right? Will not let review to do’s pile up, will not let review to do’s pile up……Anyway, I doubt that ANYONE is reading this, but just in case, here is what Cannonball  Read is all about…

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leedock’s CBR-III Review #52-“The Isle of Blood” – Rick Yancey

Fifty freaking two. Oh, how I thought I never would complete ye! Hats off to you supernatural people who are doing  double or triple (?!) Cannonballs. You truly have powers beyond my comprehension. Bravo.

My pick for favorite book of the year is in this series but all three of the books are fantastic, horrifying, breathtaking and heartbreaking. The first two books in the series are reviewed here and here. Isle of Blood is the newest installment and probably my CBR-III swan song although I may be able to eek one more out by the January 7 deadline.

Barely recovered from the “mishaps” of his first two adventures with Doctor Pellinore Warthrop, Will Henry embarks on a new mission. As in all of the books in the series, a stranger knocks on the door. This stranger is delivering a package and demanding the antidote to the poison that the sender of the package infected him with to insure a speedy delivery. They soon discover that the poison in question is bogus and that his symptoms can be contributed to his own curiosity. He took a little peek inside the package. Curiosity kills the messenger but not before his “message” has been delivered. Inside the package is a nidus, the nest of the legendary Magnificum. The “holy grail” of the monstrumologist, the Magnificum has never been seen. The only clues to its existence are the nests it so lovingly creates out of human body parts and poisonous spit.  Something more worth running from than to but with this nest and the clues given by both the sender and the messenger, the Doctor races towards the penultimate discovery of his career. A discovery that will hopefully serve as a justification for everything he has ever done and everyone he has ever hurt in his tireless pursuit of monsters. When finally confronted with the Magnificum, will he be able to turn and face it?

In a uncharacteristically unselfish move, the Doctor leaves Will behind while he travels to find the Magnificum. A distraught Will goes through Doctor withdrawal but is offered a taste of what his life could have been like had his parents not died and Dr. Pellinore Warthrop not been his subsequent guardian. Placed under the care of the niece of the Doctor’s mentor, Will Henry is fed, bathed, clothed, educated and loved. Instead of living a nightmare, someone is there to sing him to sleep should he have one. Torn between his unnatural attachment to the Doctor and the comfort of a secure life, Will must decide what his future will be.

We have all encountered those people whose sheer personality caused us to gravitate toward them even when we knew our lives would most likely be the worst for it. They have some kind of magnetic pull that we just can’t resist. I was also reminded of Dr. Who. I suppose the fact that the Monstrumologist is referenced as “The Doctor”  repeatedly in the books helped, but also because he possesses that magnetism that cannot be denied. Although Dr. Who’s relationships aren’t entirely selfish, his companions always pay a hefty toll for their involvement. So it is with Will Henry and everyone else who gets caught in Dr. Pellinore Warthrop’s pull.

I recently read that the series was set for cancellation because of low sales, but apparently book bloggers and fans of the series somehow managed to convince the publisher to continue with the books and another is set to be published in 2013.

I strongly encourage you to read them. Please don’t let the YA label fool you. I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable allowing my son to read these when he is 14, the suggested age on the book jacket. There is nothing youth oriented about these books other than the 13-year-old protagonist who is, because of circumstance, well beyond his years.

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leedock’s CBR-III Review #51-“A Christmas Carol” – Charles Dickens

For the last several Christmas Eves I have made some kind of traditional Victorian holiday food or drink. It started mostly as way to figure out what the heck wassail really was after years of singing about it but expanded to sugar plums and figgy pudding. I had perused a list of Tudor holiday delights but let’s just say that I don’t think that I have the intestinal fortitude for most of that. This year, I decided to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for similar reasons. Over the years I have seen many animated or film interpretations of the story, but I had never read it. In between the figgy pudding and wassail, I managed to give it a shot.

It is pretty much what you would think. More enjoyable than watching it because Dickens OWNED the English language and WORKED it, the only discernible difference is the Ghost of Christmas Past. I recall that generally being a female in most adaptations. The one that visits Jim Carrey’s Scrooge is much closer to accurate. Described as having a candle like head with an “extinguisher for a cap” it’s more interesting property was its shape shifting, “the figure fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body”. It was as if it morphed into people from Scrooge’s past to heighten the effect of the lesson being delivered.  More detailed descriptions of Scrooge’s nephew and his life appear in the written form, also,  and seem to hold more importance than the downtrodden Cratchit family.

The particular edition that I read had  an excerpt about Dickens’ first public reading which was of A Christmas Carol. Apparently he was coerced to do his first reading outside of his social circle as a trial run to test his reading chops in front of an uncritical and nominally educated audience of country folk. It was a benefit for a debt ridden adult vocational school which most likely appealed to Dickens’ childhood experiences with poverty and the workhouse. Most historians seem to blame his extensive touring and reading career that followed with his ill-health and eventual death at 58. Bah humbug.

Next year, I’m going to tackle making a drink called the Smoking Bishop since it is Scrooge’s drink of choice when he offers Bob Cratchit a raise. Besides, it sounds kind of naughty and vaguely anti-papist. God bless us, everyone!

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leedock’s CBR-III Review #50-“Foundling” – D.M. Cornish

What would Harry Potter have done without Dumbledore? Without the Weasleys or Hagrid? What if he had simply been given a knapsack, some potions, a few kind words and then summarily sent off into the abyss? Harry would have peed his pants, that’s what.

It is almost irresistible to compare D. M. Cornish’s first book in his Monster Blood Tattoo series to Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but to do that is a bit too dismissive. This book can certainly stand on its own merit. The illustrations (also done by the author) and the extensive glossary contained at the end of the book are nothing short of astounding. “Foundling” is Dickensian in scope and written with the same blend of humor and pathos as old Charles’ canon. I could continue to gush, but that would only delay me from attacking the next two books in the series which are currently stacked on my bedside table.

Rossamund, an orphaned boy with an unfortunately female name, has spent his entire life at Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys & Girls preparing himself for a life of service, presumably in the navy. A favorite of some of the staff at the orphanage, Rossamund’s protected existence in the institution isn’t any more horrible than the average primary school, but he is anxious to begin his work outside and fears that he will never get the call.

When a stranger arrives and offers Rossamund the position of Lamplighter, he is disappointed in what he thinks will be a mundane life of lighting lamps on the highway and longs for the romantic life of the vinegaroons (sailors) or monster hunters that he has read about. On a foggy morning, because all such mornings should be foggy, he sets off with his instructions to meet with a sea-captain who will take him on the first leg of his journey to his new home and occupation. In a world where encountering  monsters both literal and figurative can be a daily occurrence, Rossamund’s journey easily swerves off course. Outside Madam Opera’s, he sees the world for the first time and  receives his hard knock education from  pirates, humans medically altered to harness and manipulate electricity and to sense things beyond normal human capacity in order to hunt down monsters, and a brave postman who dodges all kinds of dangers to deliver the mail (take that, USPS).

All of the characters are richly drawn and deliciously conflicted. Most of them find themselves terribly protective of  Rossamund, a tender but fearlessly loyal boy whose mysterious origins hint of great things to come. Easily one of the best of the almost (gulp) 52 books that I have read this year.

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