“Garment of Shadows” (2012) by Laurie R. King. The New York Times best-selling author is back in fine form with a new novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. I was disappointed in her last book, “The Pirate King,” because the duo were hardly together at all. Not that this power couple are joined at the hip, but the books really shine when they are sparking off each other in the course of finding justice (or at least a good result for the British empire). “Garment of Shadows” is set in Morocco during a tumultuous period in 1925, and Ms. King is an expert at putting you in a time and place so completely that you can smell the spices (and not so attractive smells, too) in the labyrinthine city of Fez, where most of the action takes place. If you’re a Holmes fan, I highly recommend these books. If you haven’t had the pleasure, start with the first, “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice,” and enjoy them all to fully appreciate the relationship between this intelligent, brave woman and the famous consulting detective.
“Ape House” (2010) by Sara Gruen. I didn’t read “Water for Elephants,” but when I heard “Ape House” was about a researcher working with bonobos, who communicate in sign language, their own language and through lexigrams on a computer, I had to read it. (How many of us know three languages?) It’s a story about how poorly we sometimes treat animals who are practically human, what makes a family, this country’s increasing obsession with reality TV and other nonsensical forms of so-called “news” and how greed can trump humanity if we let it. I found it touching, funny, sad, satirical and suspenseful and raced through it to reach the satisfying conclusion.
“The Pale Blue Eye” (2006) by Louis Bayard is historical fiction and the second of his mysteries I’ve really enjoyed. This one is set in 1830 at West Point Academy. When a young cadet’s body is found hanging in an apparent suicide, former police detective Augustus Landor is asked to quietly investigate. He takes on an assistant, Cadet Edgar Allan Poe. The book’s chapters alternate between Gus’ narrative and reports to him from Poe, who uses his powers of observation to inform Gus about the personalities and quirks of life at West Point. But, when the crimes begin to multiply and things take a decidedly macabre turn, it threatens the friendship between the two men and leads to a shattering conclusion.
“The Weird Sisters” (2011) by Eleanor Brown. The first thing you should know is that the title references the three witches in Macbeth, not the modern meaning of “weird.” When Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean) and Cordelia (Cordy) Andreas return to their childhood home in a Midwestern college town where their father is a professor of Shakespeare, it’s ostensibly because their mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. But each has reached a crossword and is questioning her life and the choices she has made. I love that the book is told in the first person plural (not an easy task) and that the family often speak in quotes from Shakespeare’s plays. This was a fun read, and the family relationships are so true, I could see my siblings and I in the trio of oldest, middle child and youngest.
“The Postmistress” (2010) by Sarah Blake. A story about war and the human spirit ranges from a small town on Cape Cod to the London blitz and the mass evacuations of Jews across Europe from the fall of 1940 to fall 1942. Three stories mingle to create this thought-provoking tale — a Cape Cod postmistress, a local doctor and his wife, and Frankie Bard, a female war correspondent broadcasting nightly from London with Edward R. Murrow as the Nazis rain bombs over the city. Although there is not a single battle or soldier fighting in the book, it’s one of the most heartfelt stories of war I’ve ever read. And, it resonates as much today as it did in the 1940s.
“The Irresistible Henry House” (2010) by Lisa Grunwald is an enthralling tale based on real facts — a home economics program at a college in the Midwest during the late 1940s to ’50s that offered 12 women a semester in a practice house, where they took turns caring for an infant. The babies, loaned by an orphanage for two years at a time, were then put up for adoption and touted as model children. On one hand it makes sense — real life experience for future mothers at a time when marriage and motherhood were expected of women. On the other hand, it’s a callous disregard for the feelings of a child who is passed from hand to hand like a doll. Of course, Henry is different because he grows up at the practice house. But, the book raises so many questions and is an example of how our sociological and psychological views can change so drastically in a short span of time.
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