Posts Tagged ‘Maisie Dobbs’

Somehow it’s May tomorrow – and I have been reading up a storm. Here’s the latest roundup:

How to Find Your Way HomeKaty Regan
Emily has spent years scanning every crowd for her estranged brother’s face – but she never expects him to walk in the door of the housing office where she works. She invites him to stay, but reconciling is complicated, even for two siblings who love each other deeply. A sweet (though heavy) story of family, secrets, birding and forgiveness. I read it in one day.

Lost & FoundKathryn Schulz
Eighteen months before she lost her father, Schulz met the love of her life. In this gorgeous memoir, she weaves those stories together beautifully, and muses on losing and finding, grief and love, and the ways all those things are intertwined. Stunning writing and lovely insights – every page felt important.

Four Aunties and a WeddingJesse Q. Sutanto
Wedding photographer Meddelin Chan is finally marrying her true love – and her zany mom and aunties are supposed to just be guests. But when shenanigans ensue with the family of wedding vendors they’ve hired, Ma and the aunts step in to save Meddy’s day from disaster (and murder). I laughed out loud at this sequel to Dial A for Aunties (Komodo dragons on fascinators!) and especially loved that it’s set in Oxford.

The Year I Stopped to Notice, Miranda Keeling
I loved this sweet, funny collection of Keeling’s observations over a year in London. Lots of overheard comments, conversations on the Tube and poignant (or odd) glimpses of people’s lives. Charming and so very British. To review for Shelf Awareness (out August 9).

Witch for Hire, Ted Naifeh
My partner gave me this graphic novel for Christmas. It follows Faye, a young witch and determined outsider at her high school, as she tries to track down the source of some increasingly malicious pranks. Reminded me a bit of Veronica Mars.

A Shoe Story, Jane Rosen
Seven years after college graduation, Esme Nash and her never-worn Louboutins head to NYC to pick up the life she thought she wanted. She spends a month in the Village, dog-sitting and finding her way via quirky neighbors and her host’s stunning shoe collection. A fun, lighthearted story and a love letter to my favorite part of the city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 28).

A Sunlit Weapon, Jacqueline Winspear
Kent, England, 1942: a female pilot narrowly escapes death when someone shoots at her from the ground. But when her friend isn’t so lucky, Jo (the first pilot) engages Maisie Dobbs to investigate. Meanwhile, Maisie’s adopted daughter is facing trouble at school, and two young American soldiers are caught up in a conspiracy much larger than themselves. I loved this 17th entry in Winspear’s series; Maisie is thoughtful and wise and one of my favorite sleuths.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key, Gigi Pandian
After an onstage incident that nearly killed her and ruined her career, magician Tempest Raj is back home in Northern California, nursing her wounded pride. But when her stage double is found dead inside a supposedly sealed wall, Tempest and a motley crew of friends old and new tackle the case. I loved the ensemble cast (especially sweet Grandpa Ashok) and the references to classic mysteries. First in a new series.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my local faves Trident and Brookline Booksmith. Shop indie!

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maisie dobbs in this grave hour book

Female sleuths have been my heroes since childhood, from Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to Miss Marple and Harriet Vane. But these days, my favorite female investigators have an extra dimension: their complex, layered backgrounds inform their approaches to the cases they take.

Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs starts out as a scullery maid, but thanks to a wealthy patron, she attends university, then works as a battlefield nurse before hanging out her shingle as a private investigator. Her eponymous first adventure lays out her background and her first few cases, and sets up a richly drawn, insightful historical series. My favorite installments illuminate aspects of Maisie’s personal life, such as A Dangerous Place, which follows her to Gibraltar and Spain in the wake of great loss. 

mary russell books series sherlock holmes mystery

Orphaned, bookish and prickly, Mary Russell literally stumbles over Sherlock Holmes while walking on the Sussex Downs. The great detective takes her on as his protege in Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and they eventually become full partners in crime-solving and life. But Mary resolutely pursues her own scholarly interests at Oxford, which leads her to a mystery that quickly goes beyond the academic in A Letter of Mary. Russell’s complicated history, academic prowess and sharp wit make her a more-than-worthy compatriot for Holmes. (I blazed through this series when I discovered it some years ago, and have loved each new installment.)

clare russ book stack julia spencer fleming mysteries

Arriving in Millers Kill, N.Y., the newly ordained Reverend Clare Fergusson, carrying the scars of her Army career, must prove she’s a capable priest (In the Bleak Midwinter). But as Clare is drawn into several local mysteries and a growing friendship with the married police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, things get messy. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s gripping series ably explores Clare’s grit, compassion and her complex bond with Russ. Hid From Our Eyes, the long-anticipated ninth installment, is out this spring, and I can’t wait to see where Clare’s unusual talents take her next.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last week. 

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maisie dobbs in this grave hour book

It’s May. (How did that happen?) The April showers continue, but they are producing both May flowers (tulips!) and good books. Here’s the latest roundup:

The Last of August, Brittany Cavallaro
Cavallaro’s second YA novel follows Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson (descendants of that Holmes and Watson) to Sussex, then to Berlin and Prague, on the trail of an art forgery ring and Charlotte’s missing uncle. I love Jamie’s narration: he is keenly observant and deeply kind (a Watson to his core). This plot was a lot of fun, though the ending didn’t quite work for me. I loved the first book featuring these two, A Study in Charlotte, and will definitely read the third.

How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, Mandy Len Catron
Long before Catron wrote a Modern Love essay that went viral, she was thinking about – and doing research on – love. This book includes Catron’s own love story, but it’s not just a boy-meets-girl romance. She shares her parents’ and grandparents’ love stories, examines her own decade-long relationship that eventually soured, and considers a lot of the cultural baggage surrounding love. Insightful and honest and so good. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 27).

In This Grave Hour, Jacqueline Winspear
September 1939: England and Europe are bracing for another war, and as usual, Maisie Dobbs is in the thick of it. She’s investigating the deaths of several Belgian refugees from the last war, while helping her father and stepmother care for evacuee children, and watching out for her employees. I love Maisie and this was a stellar entry in Winspear’s series – plus a lot of great setup for (I hope) the next few books.

The Shark Club, Ann Kidd Taylor
When Maeve Donnelly was 12, she was bitten by a blacktip shark and kissed by the boy she loved. Eighteen years later, Maeve is a marine biologist with a deep love for sharks. When she returns to her hometown, her past and present (plus an illegal shark-finning operation) collide in powerful ways. A smart, well-written, absorbing novel of love, regret and moving forward. I also loved the memoir Taylor co-wrote with her mother, Sue Monk Kidd, Traveling with Pomegranates. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 6).

A Shimmer of Something: Lean Stories of Spiritual Substance, Brian Doyle
Doyle’s rambling prose poems stop me in my tracks – that is, they force me to pay attention, with his constant insistence that “there are no tiny things.” This collection (like all his work) is wonderful: wry, insightful, observant, compassionate.

Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery
Jane – wise, practical Jane – is one of my more recent faves among Montgomery’s heroines. This book has comforted me every spring for several years now. Love love love.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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2015 favorite books

I read a lot, as y’all know – I’m almost at 100 books for the year. And we are (somehow) halfway through the year already, so here are the books I have loved the most over the last six months:

Frothiest, Sauciest, Most Fun Chick Lit: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Oxford, true love, tightly knit sibling bonds and a gaggle of quirky, loyal friends – what more could I ask for?

Most Insightful Memoir on Work & Life: Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin. A thoughtful, sensitive exploration of writing, carpentry and building a good life.

Best New Installment in a Beloved Series: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear. Classic Maisie Dobbs in a fresh new setting, with new challenges. I will follow Maisie to the ends of the earth.

Smart, Witty, Utterly Delightful Sherlockiana: The Great Detective by Zach Dundas. A fantastic exploration of the Holmes phenomenon (past and present).

Best Book on Yoga & Life: Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco.

Cheeriest British Fictional Companion: Mrs. Tim, aka Hester Christie. I enjoyed every page of the four books about her.

Most Evocative Travel Memoir: Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. So many beautiful sentences.

Best Retelling of a Legend I Thought I Knew: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, which made me fall in love with Robin Hood all over again. (I still have a crush on the handsome fox from the Disney movie.)

Most Delicious Memoir of Food & Marriage: Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard, which I reviewed at Great New Books.

Snarkiest, Most Entertaining YA Novel: Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond.

Spunkiest Cozy Mystery Series: the adventures of Daisy Dalrymple.

Loveliest Story of a Quiet Life Well Lived: Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan (out in September).

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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may books owl

The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes, Zach Dundas
More than 120 years after his literary debut, Sherlock Holmes remains instantly recognizable and infinitely adaptable. Dundas – a longtime Sherlock nerd – dives into the Holmesian universe, exploring adaptations, fanfiction, and what makes the character so enduring. Witty, well-researched and so much fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2).

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce
This companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I loved) tells the life story of Queenie, Harold’s former colleague, and the secrets she has kept for many years. Beautifully written, but deeply, agonizingly sad.

Lowcountry Boneyard, Susan M. Boyer
Private eye Liz Talbot searches for a wealthy young woman who has disappeared from Charleston, S.C., while juggling her complicated personal and professional lives. I like Liz, but the writing and mystery plot just didn’t do it for me. (I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)

Tiny Little Thing, Beatriz Williams
Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle has built a seemingly perfect life for herself as the perfect Boston society wife. But during one fateful summer, her personal life and her husband’s political campaign are rocked by long-hidden secrets. Deliciously scandalous, gorgeously written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 23).

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick siblings return for a fourth adventure, in which Batty (the fourth sister) discovers she can sing, starts a dog-walking business, and wrestles with a terrible secret. I love this series about a noisy, happy family, and this one was sweet and fun.

A Dangerous Place, Jacqueline Winspear
After several years away from England, Maisie Dobbs is on her way home – but she makes an unscheduled stop in Gibraltar (rocked by the Spanish Civil War) and stumbles onto a mystery. I adore Winspear’s series about her intrepid detective, and loved the way this book explores Maisie’s personal struggles. (Also: such a great new setting.)

All Four Stars, Tara Dairman
Gladys Gatsby, age 11, harbors a secret passion for cooking – but her parents ban her from the kitchen after a small crème brûlée fire. Then an essay contest turns into a freelance restaurant-critic gig – only Gladys can’t tell her fast-food-loving parents. A fun, witty middle-grade novel with delicious food descriptions. Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Death at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn
The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple is thrilled to land a plum writing assignment for Town & Country, writing about posh Wentwater Court. But when one of her fellow house-party guests ends up dead, she gets drawn into the investigation. A fun 1920s British cozy mystery with a likable heroine. Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain
Raised on a horse farm in Kenya, Beryl Markham was fiercely unconventional – a half-wild girl who grew into a strong woman and a noted horse trainer and aviator. McLain brings Beryl and her world to life in this powerful novel. I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife, and I also read – and loved – Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, years ago. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 28).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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leaving everything most loved maisie dobbs

Maisie Dobbs is one of my favorite fictional detectives. I love her deep compassion and sensitivity, her probing mind and brave spirit, and her struggle to define herself as an independent woman in 1920s and 1930s London.

Trained as a nurse and wounded (physically and mentally) by World War I, Maisie sets up her own business as a psychologist and investigator, some years after the war. Her tenth adventure, Leaving Everything Most Loved (out tomorrow), finds her investigating the murders of two Indian women in London, and weighing some big personal questions.

An Indian man approaches Maisie about the murder of his sister, Usha Pramal, who came to Britain as a governess and later lived in a hostel with other Indian women, taking cleaning jobs to make ends meet. By all accounts, Usha was a well-educated woman and a radiant spirit, touching everyone she knew with her kindness. Who would kill such a glowing soul, and why?

As Maisie seeks to unravel the threads of Usha’s life, another young woman from the hostel is killed. Meanwhile, Maisie worries that the strain of her last case is still affecting her longtime assistant, Billy Beale, and finds herself (still) wondering whether she can commit to marrying James, the man she loves.

Winspear writes sensitively of Maisie’s inner struggles, with nods to previous cases and Maisie’s personal history, from scullery maid to college student, war nurse to private investigator. Longtime readers of the series will appreciate a subplot or two involving familiar characters, while new readers will warm to Maisie and her thoughtful, incisive method of detecting.

This book had an Indian flavor, partly because of the murder victims and partly due to Maisie’s growing interest in the country. I loved the references to saris and spices, and Maisie’s first attempt at cooking curry. (There are Indian restaurants all over England now, but this certainly wasn’t the case in 1933.)

Well written, fascinating and layered (like all Winspear’s books), Leaving Everything Most Loved provides both a satisfying mystery and an intriguing new adventure for its heroine.

I’m participating in TLC Book Tours’ Month of Maisie Blog Tour. I received a free copy of this book for review; opinions, of course, are my own. I’ll also be reviewing the book for Shelf Awareness.

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Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline WinspearLast winter, I joined a read-along of the Maisie Dobbs series at Book Club Girl’s fabulous blog. I’d somehow missed hearing about Maisie before, but as soon as I picked up the first novel in the series, which traces her adventures as a psychologist and investigator in post-World War I London, I was hooked.

I’ve now followed Maisie through eight books, a career change (from World War I battlefield nurse to private investigator), several romantic relationships, and various locations in England and France (though the series centers on London and Kent). And I’m so pleased to be reviewing Elegy for Eddie, the ninth installment in the series, as part of TLC Book Tours’ March is Maisie Month.

Elegy for Eddie opens in 1933, in the uncertain period between the wars, when many Londoners still carry scars, physical and emotional, from the Great War of 1914-18. (I love these books partly because they have broadened and deepened my understanding of World War I. Stories of this era seem to be everywhere right now, thanks to Downton Abbey and various books, but before discovering Maisie I hadn’t read much about this war.)

Maisie is, by now, a well-established private investigator, but she has never arrived at the office to find five costermongers (fruit and vegetable sellers) waiting for her, asking her to take on a case. However, that’s exactly what happens in the first scene, and it turns out that Eddie Pettit, a gentle, slightly “slow” man whom Maisie knew as a child, has been killed. The men who come to Maisie’s office, former colleagues of her father, believe he was murdered, and they ask Maisie to investigate.

This case is more personal for Maisie than most, since she knows the victim and must return to the streets of Lambeth, where she grew up, to ask questions about his death. She traces Eddie’s connections – and the information he might have been hiding – to a powerful press baron, several politicians, and a writer who happens to be married to her best friend.

The paradox of Eddie’s humble origins and his brush with power dovetails nicely with the increasing tension in Maisie’s personal life. She began her career as a maid and has worked her way up to a comfortable middle-class existence, but is dating James Compton, son of the house where she once worked in service. Their different origins, and ways of looking at the world, are putting a strain on the relationship, and Maisie struggles with some difficult personal questions as she works to solve the mystery of Eddie’s death.

I love the whole Maisie series – they are, for me, a perfect blend of history and mystery, with a spunky yet thoughtful heroine and a lively cast of supporting characters (I particularly like Billy, Maisie’s assistant). I went to the Harvard Book Store last spring to see Jacqueline Winspear read from A Lesson in Secrets, and I’m planning to go next week to hear her read from Elegy for Eddie.

Have you read the Maisie books? What do you think of them?

NB: This post contains IndieBound affiliate links.

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Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
I’d heard amazing things about this book. And I wasn’t disappointed. Meticulously researched, grippingly written. And Hillenbrand had a compelling subject to start with. The life of Louie Zamperini – Olympic runner, WWII bombardier, prisoner of war and lifelong prankster – makes a riveting (and at times horrifying) story. I learned so much about, and gained so much respect for, the experience of POWs during World War II. I also enjoyed learning more about the Pacific theater of the war (I’m far better informed about the war in Europe). And how fun to picture Louie and his airman pals in Hawaii, since I’ve been there. (This was the first selection for our brand-new book club.)

Elegy for Eddie, Jacqueline Winspear
I love the Maisie Dobbs series and so was thrilled to read an ARC of this ninth installment. This case is personal for Maisie – it deals with the death of a man she has known since childhood. As always, both the history and the mystery are beautifully told and finely plotted. (I received an ARC, because I’ll be participating in the March is Maisie Month Blog Tour when the book comes out in late March. Look for my full review then.)

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, William Deresiewicz
A witty gem of a memoir from a man who, by his own admission, was a self-centered jerk before he discovered Jane Austen. After reading Emma for a graduate class, he was hooked, and has since read and reread Austen’s novels. She taught him about true friendship, approaching the world without cynicism, and (of course) how to relate to women. Erudite and thoughtful (and a welcome bit of levity after the two books above).

Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine, Tracy Crow
Crow’s story isn’t an easy one – an abusive father, an early drinking problem, a career in the Marines when women still weren’t welcome. But she persevered and worked her way up the ranks, till an extramarital affair threatened to destroy her career. She writes with quiet honesty about her years in the Corps, though the reader is left wondering exactly why she threw away her career. To review for Shelf Awareness. Out April 1.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Susan Elia MacNeal
I won an ARC of this book (out April 3) from Goodreads. This is the first in a new series about Maggie Hope, born English, raised in the U.S. and living in London during World War II. The first few chapters were a bit clunky – both the author and the main character were finding their feet – but the action took off when Maggie began working for Winston Churchill and searching for her long-lost father. There’s also an IRA plot, the beginnings of a love story and plenty of detail about life in 1940s Britain. (Someone tell me: where did they get all that alcohol?) A fun, quick read.

An Impartial Witness, Charles Todd
I got a jump on the Bess Crawford read-along with this second installment. Bess investigates the murder of a wounded soldier’s wife, which draws her into a tangle of family relationships and secrets. The action focuses on her times in England on leave, almost to the exclusion of her times in France as a nurse (odd, though necessary, as the mystery lay back in England). Well plotted; the mystery kept me guessing for quite a while. And I like the supporting characters: the mother-hen landlady, the Scotland Yard inspector, the family friend who helps Bess find answers.

South of Superior, Ellen Airgood
I loved this debut novel – a warm, well-told tale of hardscrabble life in upper Michigan, where most people struggle to get by but help each other when they need it. Airgood runs a diner in Michigan, so she knows whereof she speaks. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, especially precocious Greyson and crotchety Gladys, and I cheered as they all began to find their way.

The Green Mill Murder, Kerry Greenwood
More adventure for Phryne Fisher – this time she flies off to the bush of northern Australia to find a missing man (while investigating a murder in which his brother is a suspect). This one didn’t wrap up quite as neatly as the others, but it was still good fun, with an interesting cast of characters.

The Baker’s Daughter, Sarah McCoy
I met Sarah at the Concord Bookshop a couple of weeks ago – she is charming, and I savored every bite of this delicious book. Two strong women – Elsie Schmidt, the titular baker’s daughter, and Reba Adams, journalist – meet when Reba interviews Elsie at her German backerei in El Paso. The book tells both their stories alternately: Elsie’s coming of age during World War II and Reba’s life unfolding in present-day West Texas. (When I told Sarah I grew up in Midland, she said, “Oh, you’re from the Texas I know.”) Beautifully written, heartbreaking and hopeful. Highly recommended.

Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me About Life, Mike Cope
Mike is a dear friend and former minister; he performed our wedding, and he grew up with my dad. His daughter, Megan, was mentally challenged, but her life and death taught him a great deal about faith and doubt and love. He weaves together stories from her life with promises from the Bible about our hope of a new heaven and a new earth – but he doesn’t gloss over the raw pain of grief or the difficulty of learning to keep going. His words have given me comfort in my own griefs, and I so appreciate his honesty.

(NB: I am an IndieBound affiliate, and this post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission if you purchase a book through one of the IndieBound links above. Plus, you’ll be supporting local independent businesses!)

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post about the lack of World War I stories in my literary education (with one notable exception: Rilla of Ingleside, which gives us the Great War from the perspective of Canadian women on the home front). That post coincided with my discovery of the Maisie Dobbs series and the first season of Downton Abbey, both of which I adore. And since writing that post, I’ve been noticing – and reading – more and more stories about World War I and the 1920s (Hattie Big Sky, Broken Music, Promise Me This, The American Heiress, the Phryne Fisher series). All these books either use the war as a backdrop or begin with its long shadow still hanging over England, Australia and even the U.S. And I’ve found myself wondering why these stories, largely absent from our culture for the last few decades, seem to be enjoying a renaissance now.

It isn’t just due to Downton, though admittedly the series has captured the imagination of millions of fans. (I’m loving the second season so far, and have high hopes for a third.) And it’s certainly not limited to only this year, or even the “Great Recession”: Hattie Big Sky was published in 2006, and Jacqueline Winspear published Maisie Dobbs in 2004. But we are particularly enamored of these stories right now. Why?

Have we all, as a culture, simply recognized this huge gap in our literary and historical education, and begun trying to fill it? (Not likely, I admit – though as a bookworm I’d love it if that were the case.) Is this war now far enough away – nearly 100 years gone – that we can start to think of it as “history,” instead of a black mark on our not-so-distant past? Are Americans finally waking up to the worldwide significance of this war that barely touched them in comparison to the French, the British, the Germans and others? Or – and I think this might be the reason – have our recent worldwide circumstances left us looking for both escapism and ways to cope?

The austerity of the so-called “Great Recession” is, by and large, not nearly as pinching as the straitened economies of wartime and depression. But we’ve seen a lot of upheaval in the last few years, from the subprime crisis to the Arab Spring protests, from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 to rapid changes in the developing world. We relish stories of troubled times during our own troubled times, either as a means of comparison (“it could always be worse!”) or as a means to cope (“they survived and so will we”). At the same time, we love stories of opulence to give us a bit of escapism (and Americans have long loved stories of English great houses and the families who fill them). World War I tales – particularly those of the English aristocracy – can give us both.

Perhaps we also find it easier to handle stories of a big, world-shattering war, with a clearly defined enemy (the one on the other side of the trenches), than we do to comprehend our own small wars, which are so scattered and secretive and confusing, and seem to make little sense even to those who fight in and direct them. For Americans, especially, our role in the world has become confusing, fraught with huge questions about power and responsibility, about obligation and trust, and how to navigate being a semi-superpower in a world fast losing patience with superpowers.

Judging by the popularity of Downton, Maisie Dobbs, War Horse and other stories, I think this trend will endure for a while longer. And while it does, I’ll find plenty to interest and challenge me in these stories, and many characters to admire.

Have you noticed the flood of World War I stories lately? What do you think is the cause?

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I know, I know – the Best Books of the Year lists are supposed to wait until December, exploding all over the Internet in the last weeks of the Christmas-shopping frenzy. Of course, that’s months away now. But as y’all know, I read a lot. And I’ve discovered some gems this year.

Not all these books were published in 2011 (though some were), but they’re all books I’ve read since January. Here they are:

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington
Possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Harrington writes so beautifully and sensitively – I fell in love with Alice and my heart broke for her as she and her family learned to adjust to her dad’s deployment in Iraq. And the supporting cast of characters, including Henry, the boy next door, is wonderful.

The Penderwicks and sequels, Jeanne Birdsall
I’ve gushed about the Penderwicks before – and yes, I know they’re young adult books – but I love young adult books. And what’s not to love about four sisters who are always cooking up new mischief? They’re clever, funny and kind, and they love each other fiercely. Bonus: The stories are set in Massachusetts.

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown
Sisterhood, Shakespeare and quirky family dynamics. Again, what’s not to love? Brown’s writing is gorgeous, and the unique struggles of each sister as they all come to grips with adulthood – pitch-perfect.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
This is a Holocaust story, it’s true – but it’s also the story of a young girl simply trying to live through a fraught and confusing time, without her parents or anyone she knows. I avoided picking it up for a while because I thought it would be grisly (it’s narrated by Death), but instead it’s simply powerful. And heartbreaking. And so, so good. Read it if you haven’t already.

The entire Maisie Dobbs series, Jacqueline Winspear
Technically I discovered Maisie in December – but I spent the first four months of 2011 reading the eight installments (so far) of Maisie’s adventures. I can’t get enough of this quick-witted, kind, poised but vulnerable lady detective and her experiences in 1920s and 1930s London. I’ve learned so much about World War I and its aftereffects in England, and spent time with some fascinating characters.

What’s the best book – or books – you’ve read so far this year?

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