Do you disapprove of minstrels, too? “A Strange Scottish Shore” by Juliana Gray (CBR10, #7)

strangescottishshoreI often geek out when visiting historical sites. The whole “OMG, so and so ACTUALLY walked here, lived here, died here…” gets me every time.  No surprise then that Juliana Gray’s  dedication in  “A Strange Scottish Shore” definitely spoke to me:

To all those who have stood where history was made and felt its echo.

This is the second in what I truly hope is a continuing series about a no-nonsense administrator, Emmeline Truelove,  her employer, the Duke of Olympia, and  her would be paramour, the seemingly rakish bachelor, Lord Silverton.  If you haven’t read the first book  in the series, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, READ IT. It really is a necessary requirement as it sets up a lot of what is happening in the second installment.

Emmeline Truelove has taken on a new job for the Duke of Olympia as head of the Haywood Institute for the Study of Time.  She travels  by train to a remote Scottish village to both help  facilitate the Duke’s engagement to Lord Thurso’s daughter and to examine a curious object that was found hidden in an ancient chest. Once there she is embroiled in a mystery surrounding the legend of a selkie who comes to land as a woman and becomes the eventual matriarch of the Thurso family. Is it possible that the legend is not just a fairy tale? As the Duke and Truelove attempt to solve the puzzle of the strange discovery in the chest, they find they are not the only ones interested in the legend.  They must confront a foe from the past and find Silverton who has mysteriously vanished.

It’s a race through time! Okay, I groaned a little when I wrote that. I’m sure that I am not doing this justice. Writing reviews for books that you love is difficult. I don’t want to over gush and trying to explain the plot without getting all spoilery is super tough. If you are a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell mysteries: this is for you. If you enjoy time travel romances: this is for you. Witty banter your cup of tea? This is for you. It’s really a gem. I  read it in a day. I couldn’t put it down but 3/4 of the way through I knew I was going to be mad at myself for not savoring it for a few days. It’s a laundry list of tags: historical fiction, romance, mystery and time travel, and it is GLORIOUS. Juliana Gray is a pseudonym for author Beatriz Williams and I enjoy Williams’ books as well, but the writing styles are very different. She seems more comfortable with her writing here. Somehow the language seems less stuffy, more relaxed and lighthearted, more tender, even though the plot does contain its share of tragedy and the characters carry hefty baggage from their respective pasts.

I loved Gray’s Author’s note:

I’m regularly brought to my knees by the psychic tug of history in historical spaces, and to me, the idea of time travel is as natural as thinking itself.

Amen, sister.

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

 

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No matter what, tea is ALWAYS served. “Silent in The Moor” and “Dark Road to Darjeeling” by Deanna Raybourn (CBR10, #5-6)

Raybourn’s “Lady Julia Gray” novels are fun little mysteries with quirky characters who find themselves in situations that are often fairly dark. The juxtaposition of  entitled Victorian British gentry and crimes of  depravity creates a nice balance of grit and wit.  The books center on Lady Jane Grey,  her eccentric family, the half gypsy but fully rogue, detective Nicholas Brisbane,  and various quirky and potentially murderous characters.

silentinthemoorIn “Silent on the Moor”, Lady Jane Grey, her sister, Portia, and their  brother, Valerius, serving as reluctant chaperone,  venture to Brisbane’s new home in the swampy moor. Uninvited but determined to discover what Brisbane’s romantic intentions with her are,  Lady Jane is surprised to find Brisbane not at home. Instead, they are welcomed to the decrepit Grims Grave Hall  by Lady Allenby and her two daughters Ailith and Hilda. With no living male relatives, these three creepy ladies are at the mercy of the new owner, Brisbane, and remain at the manor while he kindly sets up a smaller home for them on the property.

 

While wondering where Brisbane is and how he came to purchase a crumbling mansion with creepy spinsters included, Julia snoops around the house and discovers the office of Lady Allenby’s deceased son, Redwall.  Having found an occupation to pass the time, Julia attempts to catalog the late Redwall Allenby’s collection of Egyptian artifacts.  Hoping that the sale of the cataloged items could generate funds for the destitute Allenby ladies,  Julia picks through the artifacts and discovers something horrible in the priest hole behind the fireplace. Mystery!

The backdrop of the moor, the dilapidated mansion, and the creepy spinsters all add to the spooky atmosphere.  The cast of characters both dead and alive are intriguing and the slow unraveling of Brisbane’s past helps to flesh out the earlier books in the series. Familial bonds of blood, tradition and obligation and the fierceness of a love that can be a refuge as much as a prison are all wound up in book 3 of the series.

darkroadtodarjeelingBook 4 in the series, “Dark Road to Darjeeling”,  has Julia, sister Portia and Plum, this adventure’s reluctant brother chaperone, setting off to a tea plantation in India to visit Portia’s former lover, Jane, who is newly widowed and very pregnant. Sensing from Jane’s letters that her husband’s death may have been the result of Murder!, Portia drags her siblings to the foot of the Himalayas to insure Jane’s safety and to discover the truth of Freddie Cavendish’s death.

Here, the place is the thing! The Valley of Eden rests in the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by fields of tea plants, a crumbling former monastery and the Cavendish family manor. Adjusting to recent changes in their relationship, Brisbane and Julia set about solving the mystery separately. While trying to discover if Freddie was murdered and by whom,  Julia encounters pesky peacocks,  a lady-eating tiger, an avant-garde artist whose pet snake is a fashion accessory and a mostly feral boy naturalist.  Not everyone is what or who they seem, per usual, but the cast of characters in book 4 of this series is by far my favorite. A whole spectrum of ex-pats are here, living in a remote and beautiful world full of secrets.

I really enjoy this series and  I respect the darker aspects of the crimes. The murders here are unconventional. The characters are always well drawn and encountering some from past books in the series popping up here and there is fun. Lady Julia Gray’s ability to constantly misguess the perpetrator and the push-pull relationship of Lady Julia and Brisbane does lend to some eye rolling on my part, but I thoroughly enjoy them anyway. The eye rolling is part of the fun.

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

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Before and After the Fire. “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – A Novel” by Gail Honeyman (CBR10, #4)

eleanoroliphantThis book has a lot to unpack.  While reading,  I noted several quotes that I thought might be useful for writing the review. Looking at them now, I made note of them because each was an amazing little bundle of sentences. Some of the bundles were laugh out loud funny. Some of the bundles were eviscerating. Some were just things most of us think, don’t say out loud, but wish some one would.  Eleanor Oliphant is all of these things. She is amusing without trying to be. She is refreshingly honest but painfully awkward.  She is aware of her surroundings and the people in it in  a way that is sometimes staggeringly insightful and often hopelessly out of touch. She is all of these things but she is definitely NOT completely fine. 

Eleanor works at an office job, lives alone and spends her weekends doling out and drinking measured quantities of alcohol to get her through the weekend. Lather, rinse, repeat. When she wins tickets to see a band, she invites a co-worker to see the show with her and this tiny deviation from her routine sends her on a path of self discovery, friendship and possibly love.  That is such an over simplification of the story here, but to delve any deeper gives away too much. This is a book whose layers need to be discovered.

Told in the first person, the novel connects you with Eleanor in a way that is often uncomfortable.  She observes the world around her in  a detached and scientific way.  Eleanor reminded me of a Diane Fosse or Jane Goodall, furiously taking notes but to understand her OWN species. Studying humanness and yearning to connect with it.

“But no one has ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

It’s a tough little book that somehow manages to be heart wrenching in an honest and pragmatic way. It’s hopeful without being cloying. Definitely something that I will be thinking about for a while.

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

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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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