Saturday, May 19, 2012


Another William and Hester Monk mystery, set in Victorian England. This one crosses the Atlantic and involves two men, both of whom want to buy guns, but for opposite sides of the US Civil War. A misguided a girl, a fanatic, and some great atmosphere down by the docks of the Thames.

Jennifer Egan, THE KEEP

I forgot how much I liked this book. It was sitting on top of my bookshelf, next to one of Kyle's baseballs which are adorning my house these days. I originally read it back in 2006, for bookclub. A three-part novel about two boys and a prank gone bad and castle in eastern Europe where they rejoin each other years later; a murderer who's taking a writing class in prison; and his teacher, a woman with her own messy past. Categories of fiction/real, wrong/right, past/present blur and blend. A great read.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jacqueline Winspear, MAISIE DOBBS

A quiet, thoughtful mystery/personal-recovery-from-trauma-of-war book, the first in a series. Maisie, a former maid who was plucked from her job by her employer who recognized her superior intellect, plans to go to Cambridge until WWI interrupts her life. She becomes a  nurse, falls in love, and loses her lover to a bomb blast in the field, or so it seems throughout the book. Except (spoiler alert) he's not really dead ... he's just so badly injured that she never goes to see him, until the end of the book. Her personal plot is linked with the mystery plot, which concerns a scary, closed community (one of the characters calls it a "cult") called The Retreat, in which men who are injured in the war can find refuge. But like in "Hotel California"--they can never leave--at least, not alive; the man who runs it looks the image of a perfect officer, but is deranged. There's some nice psychological fodder throughout (and Winspear has done her homework on trauma and PTSD); but Maisie, as a character, feels as if she's hard to know. Maybe this is partly because the story is focalized through Maisie (the movie camera is on her shoulder, so to speak) but told in third person. I would give the next book in the series a try, though.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jennifer Donnelly, THE TEA ROSE

Having read her YA novels, I was expecting something similar--intense and tightly woven as cloth. This adult novel is an enjoyable read--but it's a big, baggy epic/immigration novel/mystery/melodrama/bodice-ripper. The plot moves forward mostly through a series of near-misses and mis-understandings: the day the heroine (Fiona, a plucky English girl from Whitechapel area) gets a job and doesn't go to see her lover Joe in the city is the same time as the one party a year thrown by his boss's family--where Joe drinks and weakly succumbs to another girl's advances--and when she gets pregnant he has to marry her. Miserable beyond belief (and having had 4 of her family members die within weeks of each other in one horrible way after another, including a murder by Jack the Ripper) Fiona takes her younger brother and leaves England for America and marries a man she meets on the dock ... but if Joe had turned up in NYC a day earlier, he'd have caught her before she did! Coincidences notwithstanding, the Victorian atmosphere is marvelous and seedy ... and I love Jennifer Donnelly and would pretty much read a phone book if she wrote it.