Tag Archives: London

Review: Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

5th November 2012

Via Goodreads

*I received this from the publisher Harper Perennial in exchange for an honest review.

From the back cover:

Early April 1933. To the costermongers of Covent Garden – sellers of fruits and vegetables on the London streets – Eddie Pettit was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. So who would want to kill him…and why?

Maisie remembers Eddie from life with her own costermonger father. The thought that someone may have purposefully harmed Eddie disturbs her deeply, and she takes on the case, heading into the factory of a press mogul, determined to find the truth while bridging the gap between the monied and the struggling working class.

As Maisie has recently come into money, this case hits at a particularly awkward time. As her dearest friend Priscilla points out, Maisie seems to feel guilty about the money, spending quite a lot on others in an effort to smooth over her discomfort but inadvertently causing discomfort for others. Her relationship with James Compton is also complicated by the money. Once James would pop over to her flat, but now that he occupies the family home in London, surrounded by servants, Maisie feels the responsibility and expectations that come along with a partnership with a titled man.

Eddie’s case both takes her away from those expectations and highlights them. Her investigation gives her some much-needed time away from James, but as Maisie investigates and discovers the death of another man connected with Eddie, it is apparent that Eddie was involved in something he didn’t understand, something Maisie doesn’t fully understand. And in her own adjustment to life after the war, life without the man she loved, and life without her mentor, she has been blinded to the potential for another war. The more she learns, the more she realizes she will have to reconsider her idea of justice.

In many ways, Elegy for Eddie is a transition, and for that reason, many are critical of this ninth book in the series. In fact, I was hesitant to read it, as my inclination is to want to see Maisie happy with James and settling into her new life. But that isn’t altogether realistic. One of the reasons I love Maisie is that she’s a thinker. Does she overthink things? Often. But her intentions are good, and she genuinely desires to figure out what she wants from life. Much of what has happened in her life has been dictated by need or by others’ good intentions, and watching her awareness of this and her desire to live a sincere, meaningful life kept me up much of the night after I finished reading. Regardless of her mistakes, she lives and works with intention. Her pain on discovering the nearness of war was heartbreaking and showed her vulnerability, and I instantly saw how it changed her.

Fans of mystery may not particularly like this novel, as there isn’t much of one. Instead, this is Winspear’s opportunity to highlight Maisie’s growth – however painful and uncomfortable as it is – and I am eager to see how she, James, and Priscilla move forward in the next book.

Check out other reviews, or add this to your shelf on Goodreads.

P.S. Check out my review of The Woman Who Died A Lot to see if you won the giveaway!

Skyfall Official Teaser Trailer…Deconstructed

22nd May 2012

The first Skyfall (next installment of Daniel Craig’s James Bond) teaser trailer was released yesterday on www.007.com, and I immediately checked it out. Casino Royale was the promising start of Daniel Craig’s psychological James Bond, who, though good with the ladies, was not exactly the double-entendre-spouting Sean Connery Bond or the debonaire, light-hearted Pierce Brosnan of years past. Casino Royale was much truer to Fleming’s original novel, which I had a great time reading and discussing through Lit Housewife’s Shaken Not Stirred Challenge, and I was eager to see where the franchise would go. Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace was a dud. It boasted a half-hearted story line, an oil-slicked dead girl, and a nonsensical plot.

Since then, I’ve waited impatiently for the next film. Monday’s teaser trailer was…well, just a tease. As is typical with these trailers, you really have no sense of “story” – instead, you just get to see some action shots in no particular order. Make sure you check the teaser trailer out first, but I wanted to go through it for fun to see what we can expect come November.

The script:

Country…England

Gun…Shot

Agent…Provocateur

Murder…Employment

Skyfall…Done

[Lot of loud, staccato music but no Bond theme.]

“Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.”

Yeah, I really don’t like that weird word association business. I feel like I’m studying for the GRE. I almost thought it was a joke at first. But no. And then the classic Bond, calm and calculating in the last line. Now to the images:

Bond in London, a company man watching over his city much like a caped hero. Requisite tourist landmarks in full view. Union Jack flying high.

There we go. Good job, trailer-making people. You know what we want to see. Bond in profile. Strength and masculinity on display.

This guy doesn’t look all that dangerous. Oh, wait. He’s not real, it’s just target practice, but if this is Bond’s work I’m scared as the shots are far from the target.

Interrogation room. Stark, cold light. If this old dude is the villain, I think we’re ok. Interrogation room almost looks like a hospital, and thus I am creeped out because it feels like the beginnings of a horror flick. Moving on…

Ralph Fiennes is giving M a look. No, He Who Must Not Be Named! She wasn’t in HP; that was Maggie Smith. Leave her be!

Because don’t you stand like that in your dress clothes, hair whipping away from your face in an exotic locale? No? Just me. Alrighty then.

Get ’em, Bond. Is it me, or does that look like headquarters? Brandishing a gun there doesn’t seem smart, 007. M is going to be pissed…

Yikes. That’s a lot of Union Jack and a lot of coffins. Really great shot, particularly with the bright colors, and the flag lining up all the way down between the columns and one dark figure off center.

There’s the exotic locale of earlier. Swank, debonaire, tuxedoed Bond arriving with fanfare. Fireworks, Chinese lanterns and dragon. Chinese New Year, perhaps? Great, great shot, even if it is a bit cliche. Fits into the Bond trope well, though, exoticising Asia and its cultures.

She certainly doesn’t look dangerous. P.S. Her name is Eve. Watch out for the golden apple, James.

Back in Britain. Run, James, run. Heaven forbid you do that in a jogging suit on the sidewalk.

Falling….

Skyyyy….

Skyfall…

Isle of Skye. Ok, really I have no clue where this is, but isn’t it lovely? M and Bond, what are you up to?

Destruction.

This reminds me of the “floating head” portraits of the 80s. Then again, I love the light on Bond’s face. Casino Royale made great use of lighting, and shots like these emphasize the “thinking Bond” – as I like to call him.

More destruction. Not Bond. How do I know? DC doesn’t do shaggy. Ahh, this must be Javier. This could also be Edward Fairfax Rochester watching Thornfield burn..whoops, wrong film.

And there we have it, folks.

Wait! Not yet. We need some crazy graphics and a big gun and silencer before we go.

And an Angry Bug Volkswagen game. Slug bug, no returns!

Bond isn’t passive aggressive. This time it’s SkyJUMP.

There’s that chiseled jawline. It’s time to get down to business. Of course, I have no idea what that business is.

And…scene.

It’s interesting to watch these teaser trailers. I’d almost rather wait for an actual trailer to have a better idea if I’m looking at a Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace, but I guess I’ll have to wait a bit. Either way, I’ll see it. Even though QoS was, in my opinion, a really bad film, I still enjoy the interpretation more than any of the other films to date. There’s none of the spoofy, 60s schtick, which thus far, I haven’t seen in Fleming’s writing. If you’re at all interested in reading the novels, make sure you head over to the Shaken Not Stirred Challenge blog.

So what say you? Any insights? Thoughts? Ramblings?

Other Picky Girl Posts on Bond:
Dr. No by Ian Fleming
Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming
Moonraker by Ian Fleming
Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

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.

Blue Monday by Nicci French

5th March 2012

*I received this book from the publisher Pamela Dorman Books/Viking in exchange for an honest review.

Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, walks the streets of London at night. It’s not her patients or their stories she’s trying to escape, however. She just can’t sleep and finds the quiet of the city at night comforting before facing the day. When her former mentor becomes unreliable, she takes one of his patients, Alan Dekker. Alan can’t have children but has vivid dreams of a child, a redheaded boy who calls him Daddy and plays on the playground. When Frieda sees the news and discovers a redheaded boy has disappeared, she wonders. Could Alan be the culprit? He remembers feeling the same way 20 years earlier, when a young girl was abducted near a candy store. Are Alan’s latent desires expressing themselves in horrific ways? Frieda, unsure of her duty, goes to the police, and embarks on a fraught-filled journey to discover the depths and limitations of the mind.

The husband-wife writing duo Nicci French have written several novels together, but Blue Monday is the first in a series (in which each book will be named after a day of the week) following Frieda Klein. Frieda is complicated. She isn’t close to her family and has few friends, practically none outside her work. She lives alone in a dark flat, and her life is quiet and ordered. Her mentor is struggling, and Frieda’s confidence in him is tempered by her need to get him back on his feet and in the clinic, a need that seems to be personal as much as it is practical. She is unsure how to proceed when she suspects her patient of wrongdoing, and instead of forging boldly ahead, she seeks counsel, even though it’s from her flawed and troubled mentor.

As for the central mystery, once the main twist is revealed, I found it relatively easy to reconstruct the rest. However, after a discussion on Twitter, I think it may be my excessive mystery reading that’s to blame. 😉 In fact, I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. There is a good bit of exposition, but in the first installment of a series, that’s hardly unexpected, and I liked that French doesn’t reveal the details of Frieda’s past life. The ending, though I had anticipated it, was still incredibly chilling and left me with an eerie feeling.

If you’re typically wary of reading books with possible violence to children or with abductions, Blue Monday focused much more on the mind of a kidnapper as opposed to graphic or unnecessary scenes with either child. The aftermath of an abduction on families is difficult to experience, but it also illustrates how differently those faced with such horror react.

Initially, I was concerned that the novel may feel unstable, as I could not recall having read a novel with two writers. The publisher kindly included a Q&A with the pair, and they said, “It’s a question of moving between the two of us. We never decide in advance who’s going to write what chapter, there’s no division….If Sean writes something and I change absolutely nothing about that whole section, but I read it and approve it, then it becomes mine as well. It becomes a kind of Nicci French thing so we both own each word of it.” Interesting. And it worked.

Interested in Blue Monday? Leave me a comment and your email address, and I’ll draw a winner by Friday at midnight.

Blue Monday is out today. Buy your copy from Indiebound or on your Nook.

UPDATE: Giveaway closed. Congrats to Brian Brady for winning a copy of this book!

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

20th February 2012

* I borrowed this book from my local library. You can buy a copy from Indiebound here or for your Nook here.

In the midst of a dull lunch party in New York, Beatrice’s dull but carefully-crafted life is interrupted by a phone call: Her mother is calling from London to tell her that Beatrice’s sister Tess – who is also pregnant – is missing. Petrified of the possibilities, Beatrice relies on her older sister role to get her to the airport, the London, to Tess’s apartment. Tess is just being her flighty self, surely. The alternatives are too horrifying, and when that horror is realized, Beatrice is changed. Tess had gone into labor three weeks early, the baby, stillborn. The police mark Tess’s death a suicide in the face of this news, but Beatrice knows this can’t be and begins stacking up questions, trying to find proof that Tess was frightened of someone and that the someone murdered her.

From the start of Lupton’s debut novel Sister, it is apparent that Tess has been killed and that Beatrice is responsible for finding her killer. Sister is told in the form of a lengthy letter from Beatrice to Tess, as the sisters often wrote back and forth to one another. In trying to cope with her sister’s disappearance and death, Beatrice turns again to writing Tess, telling her, through her testimony to Mr. Wright, a Crown Protection Services attorney, what has happened since the moment she arrived in London. I thought this was an incredibly smart choice, as the consistency of Beatrice’s voice and writing makes the impacts of some of the twists and turns that much more effective.

Because Beatrice is writing the letters, the reader is aware that he or she is following a desperate sister down any possible path to gain answers to her many questions: Tess was having an affair with one of her married art instructors. She was part of an experimental drug trial, and she was scared of someone or something. Told from another perspective, I may have doubted Beatrice’s many hunches, but as a sister, I was with her 100%, begging alongside her for the police to follow up just one more oddity in Tess’s disappearance. However, Beatrice is an unreliable narrator, as there are moments in her letter when it’s quite obvious something is wrong with Beatrice. She references being unwell and suspecting that her sister’s killer is watching her, though she knows he’s behind bars.

By the end of the book, my legs were incredibly tense from tapping my toes and feet, desperately wanting to beat Beatrice to the finish, yet scared to do so. The ending is so incredibly shocking, but it wasn’t artlessly so. Lupton manages to make you feel you knew what was going on all along, even as you page back through the last chapter to feel the impact again. Even if you’re not a fan of crime fiction, this is one not to miss.

Have you read Sister? I immediately passed it to my mom, who also loved it, and now it’s sitting on my dad’s nightstand. I love that kind of book. 🙂