Mrs Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn
I was utterly charmed by this novel, which asks and answers a fascinating question: what if Queen Elizabeth II went off on an unplanned break? Where would she go, and how? Who would follow her? And how would she get back home before a national scandal broke out? Kuhn brilliantly captures the inner monologue of not only The Queen, but half a dozen people (mostly members of her staff) who follow her to Scotland, forming some unlikely alliances as they do so. Wonderful characters from a cross-section of British society, and a lovely ending involving a performance of Henry V. (I cried.) Funny and enchanting, especially for Anglophiles like me.
Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
Colwin is a self-proclaimed home cook, rather than a foodie: she admits to grand cooking experiments, but she falls back on reliable, simple food when those experiments fail. I loved her tales of dinner parties in a wee New York apartment and serving comfort food to family, friends and strangers, interspersed with recipes. Her writing is warm and appealing, like the recipes themselves.
O Jerusalem, Laurie R. King
This fifth adventure starring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes takes us back to an interlude in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (their first adventure) in which they briefly fled England for Palestine. The trip turns into a rather unusual working vacation, as Holmes and Russell (the latter disguised as a man) travel around Palestine hunting a dangerous criminal. As always, King masterfully blends history, mystery and a cast of fascinating characters, and the setting of Jerusalem is particularly rich.
Justice Hall, Laurie R. King
Holmes and Russell are back in England (and it’s the 1920s again, after the flashback of O Jerusalem). But they are reunited with two friends from their time in Palestine, distant cousins who served as their guides through that land. A large cast of family members and their secrets converge on the palatial Justice Hall, as our two intrepid detectives dig for answers and attempt to protect their friends. Fast-paced and wonderfully atmospheric.
The Journal Keeper, Phyllis Theroux
Sarah recommended this book, drawn from the author’s journals over six years. It is at once luminous and mundane, charming and ordinary – like all journals. Theroux is dealing with her mother’s illness and death, adjusting to an empty nest, worrying over her work and finances, and wondering whether she can find love again. My favorites were the small, crystalline descriptions of her settings – she has an eye for lovely details. Sometimes I grew frustrated with her doubts and questioning – but that is part of what journals are for. I certainly use mine that way.
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, Syrie James
I enjoyed James’ first novel, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and liked this one even better. Samantha McDonough, Jane Austen fan and frustrated scholar, finds a letter hinting at an Austen manuscript that went missing at a manor house in Devon. She travels there, managing to convince the house’s (handsome) owner to help her look for the manuscript, and when they find it, they read it aloud together, while debating what to do with it. The framing story is a bit predictable, but fun, and the “manuscript” itself is a fine Austen imitation, well plotted and highly entertaining. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 31).
What are you reading?
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