Tag Archives: England

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

27th March 2012

*I bought this book on my Nook Color.

Bess Crawford is a nursing sister during World War I. Having been raised in a military family in India, Bess is not the typical Englishwoman. She is self assured and independent. Her father is highly respected in the forces but never had a son; thus, Bess has her parents’ full support (and worry) when she decides to join up. And rightly so. Bess is injured when the Britannic is attacked, and her bravery is immediately apparent as she helps to save others while herself dealing with a badly-broken arm.

While home recuperating, Bess is haunted by the dying wish of Arthur Graham. He wanted her to personally deliver a message to his family. Bess knows she should go, but it’s an emotional journey as Bess cared more than she should have about Arthur. So when she finds that Mrs. Graham and Arthur’s two brothers indifferent to his deathbed utterances, Bess finds she cannot simply leave, and the longer she stays, the more deeply she embroils herself in the family’s dark past and the Grahams’ willingness to keep those secrets buried.

I joined Jennifer from Book Club Girl in her Bess Crawford Readalong because I am so caught up in World War I. As you saw in last week’s post about Maisie Dobbs, it’s a time period that changed the world in many ways, so I couldn’t wait to get started with the story of Bess Crawford.

Also, I cannot help but discuss Maisie when I discuss Bess. I like them for two completely different reasons. Maisie must work hard for her position, and she has dealt with quite a lot in her young life. Though Bess comes from a much different background, the war equalizes. Bess is afforded no special treatment as the daughter of a high-ranking officer, and she doesn’t expect it. Neither is she a professional detective. Instead, it is the sense of duty instilled in Bess that causes her to poke and prod in order to find out the truth.

And prod she must. The Grahams have a secret they are intent on taking to their respective graves, and that secret has made them an unpleasant lot. Mrs. Graham buries her head in the sand and won’t really discuss the situation with Bess, but she poses leading questions, trying to ascertain if Bess knows anything about the family. There’s a mysterious brother, Peregrine, who is in a nearby asylum and who, during Bess’s stay, takes ill. The family seems, again, indifferent. The two remaining brothers, Timothy and Jonathan, are brusque to the point of rudeness, and when Bess is called on to help the local doctor whose patient has a bad case of shell shock, they make horrible comments insinuating the man needs to “deal with it” and get back to normal.

What’s so great about Bess? Bess is so easy to relate to. She isn’t a professional, and because of that, she isn’t always 100% sure of herself in terms of digging. She is certainly confident in herself and her abilities, but she also admits when she’s stumped/unsettled/needs help. She feels bound by duty, which is easy to understand in a family whose code is honor.

Why does she stay with the Grahams? By all rights, the Grahams are pretty miserable people to be around. They keep Bess around when they need her, and when she’s no longer useful, they give her the boot. As I mentioned, she stays because it’s her duty, but I think she also had strong feelings for Arthur. The more she’s around her family, the more she realizes she really didn’t know him at all, and it helps her to heal a bit.

Why should anyone start this series? Well, I’ll go ahead and admit that I quickly read every Bess Crawford book once I finished this one. I couldn’t stop, and the further into the series, the more you see the face of the Great War and how it affected everyone involved. Several of the books follow Bess to the front, and the writing is very evocative. Plus, the idea of “leave” is so interesting. Mostly when you think of war, you think of soldiers down in the trenches from start to finish. “Leave” seems an odd part of war, though I can certainly see why it was necessary. And in the latest Bess Crawford, I think there might be romance brewing down the line, which is something that the Maisie series gives out only sparingly.

One last thing to note: I’ve read on goodreads that many people are turned off the Maisie Dobbs series because of the sort of “otherworldliness” of Maisie’s training from Maurice, and it can be a bit much to take in – her intuition is much more literal than most mean the term, and her odd quirks seem to turn some readers off. I will say that Bess is much more accessible because she is amateur and also because her methods are more straightforward. So. If you aren’t a Maisie fan, it does not mean you won’t like Bess. Quite the opposite, really.

Any takers? Or have you read any Charles Todd before? Should I try the Ian Rutledge series?

Buy this book from Indiebound or for your Nook.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

1st March 2012

*I borrowed this book from my library.

The lady would be back, she’d said so, but the little girl hoped it would be soon….She listened for the lady’s skirts, swishing against the wooden deck. Her heels clipping, hurrying, always hurrying, in a way the little girl’s own mamma never did. The little girl wondered, in the vague, unconcerned manner of much-loved children, where Mamma was. When she would be coming. And she wondered about the lady.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is like the secret garden at the heart of its story – alluring, enigmatic, innocent but full of deception as well. In 1913, a young girl is found alone on a ship that has landed in Maryborough in Australia. The only possessions she has are a small suitcase with odds and ends and a beautifully-illustrated book of fairy tales by Eliza Makepeace. The dock master and his wife are unable to have children, so he takes her in, never letting on that she isn’t his own until she is an adult, and it’s a decision he will regret for the rest of his life as it leaves Nell unsettled and restless, wanting to find out why she was abandoned in a strange land. 

Years later, Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra picks up the trail after an odd inheritance leaves her full of questions. Cassandra, whose own childhood is very similar to Nell’s own. Cassandra, who has endured tragedy and is fragile. Echoing her grandmother’s footsteps, she tries to find out the secret of Nell’s parentage, all while healing her own wounds.

The Forgotten Garden weaves together the stories of three women: Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra. Each broken and hurting yet strong and stubborn. The narration switches between each woman, and though at first, it seems like quite a lot of jumping around, by the end of this tale, I was sorry to see each woman’s chapter go by but aching to see how the story would play out. Because in its own way, The Forgotten Garden is a fairy tale, just like all the tales in the book that remains so integral to the plot. In a real fairy tale, the tales of the Brothers Grimm, there are no happy endings without the expense of someone else’s bliss.

The desire for happiness in and of itself can wreak havoc on a life, and Morton plays this out in idyllic scenes laced with dark and bitter secrets, exposing the rottenness that lies beneath those areas of our lives we strive to remain hidden and forgotten.

My mom and Matt from A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook are the only reasons I read this book, and I am so incredibly glad I did. As Matt mentions in his review, The Forgotten Garden is, at its heart, a mystery. The crafting of this story and its central question of the validity of maternal love is what drew me in and held me transfixed.

This seems to be a much-loved book on the Internet. If you’ve read it, why is it a favorite? The writing? The story? Every last bit of it?

Audiobook Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

23rd January 2012

*I bought and listened to the audiobook through Audible.

Watson begins The House of Silk by explaining why this story is just now coming to light, 100 years after being written: the mystery and the case were much too shocking for late 19th century London. When Edmund Carstairs initially seeks out Sherlock’s help because an Irish gang member, a man in a flat cap is following him, neither Sherlock nor Watson have any idea how deep and ghastly the case will become. Neither man expects one of the Baker Street Irregulars to be brutally killed. Nor do they expect for Sherlock himself to be placed under suspicion for a murder. However, both must use the height of their skills to solve the crime and help clean up the dark alleys of the great city.

I listened to the magnificent Derek Jacobi narrate this book, and he was absolutely perfect. He achieved Watson’s wistfulness for the old days as well as his unwillingness to relate the sordidness of the story he has to relate, even telling the reader right off that he is entrusting the manuscript to be published 100 years after his death.

As the only Holmes authorized by the Doyle estate, Horowitz had big shoes to fill, and, as a Holmes’ fan, I must say he did an impeccable job. The cast of characters – including Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Mycroft – were all on target, and the mystery itself was complex and enthralling.

However, my absolute favorite parts were the beginning and the ending where Watson reminisces about his days with Holmes. His words were so endearing, and the relationship between this unlikely duo is partly what makes these mysteries so successful. Horowitz understands this in a way I’m not sure many of the other spinoff authors do, and that absolutely made this book for me.

Also, if you haven’t picked up any of Holmes and Watson’s adventures in the past, don’t worry: The House of Silk is a great read for longtime fans or those new to Sherlock.

The game is indeed afoot my friends. Who of you has accepted the challenge?

Other reviews:

Pop Culture Nerd

Linus’s Blanket

Devourer of Books

Book Addict Katie

Miss Silver Saturday: The Benevent Treasure

12th November 2011

Candida Sayle has one incredibly memorable event as a young girl. Invited to the coast with a friend’s family but arriving before them, she asks about the tide. Two elderly women note her name and tell her the tide will not rise until 11 p.m. She walks upon the beach, only to be stuck on the cliff side when the tide begins to rise much earlier. Fearing death, she calls out for a time.  Stephen Eversly happens to hear her and pulls her up to safety, though they cannot get back to the inn until the next morning. Much her senior, he protectively holds her until dawn.

This is one of the best openings to a book I’ve read in a long time, and though this particular motif (young woman stuck on the side of a cliff in danger of drowning) returns in several Wentworth books, it’s particularly effective here. Plus, it’s incredibly romantic, and I was so sad that it appeared Stephen and Candida would never meet again.

But five years later, a lot has changed.The last of Candida’s relations has died, and she has no options until two great-aunts reach out, past a family dispute, to ask Candida to visit. Eccentric and co-dependent, the Misses Cara and Olivia Benevent make Candida uncomfortable, especially after she has a dream that these two women were the same who nearly drew her to her death on the coast five years earlier. As Candida sees more of her aunts and learns of the Benevent Treasure and its terrible curse, she becomes more and more afraid of the Benevent home and family.

As usual with a Miss Silver book, the star here is not Maud Silver. Instead, Wentworth writes a novel of characters: Candida, an innocent but intelligent young woman. Olivia Benevent, who I swear is very similar in demeanor to Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. Cara Benevent, a poor soul who only wants love but who has been browbeaten by Olivia for so many years, she is withdrawn and skittish.

Miss Silver comes in – only when called and takes charge of the situation, knitting needles in hand, rising to the occasion in the final pages of the book. If you haven’t read Miss Silver yet, don’t let the knitting needles deter you. Yes, she knits with them, but mostly she uses them as a way to disarm her clients, who are usually hesitant to talk to her, whether it’s because they feel silly or that they shouldn’t discuss family business with a stranger.

Read this: and be prepared to be drawn into the wilds of England with missing secretaries, a mysterious legend, and a healthy dose of romance.

P.S. If anyone decides to take up the Miss Silver series, let me know. I’d love to read in tandem or include your posts for Miss Silver Saturdays.