Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Drew’

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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I’ve long been devoted to spunky, intelligent, warmhearted, sassy and otherwise wonderful heroines – many of whose stories I’ve read over and over again. Here’s a list of my favorites, in no particular order except for #1 and #2:

1. Anne Shirley. (Do I really have to elaborate here? I adore her pluck, her imagination, her ability to see beauty everywhere, and her red hair.)

2. Jo March of Little Women fame. My personality also has parts of Beth and Meg in it, but I love fiery, literary Jo the best.

3. Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s far more of a tomboy than I am, but I love her for it.

4. Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She makes me hurt – but oh, I love her bravery and her voracious love of reading.

5. Charlotte Ferris and Penelope Wallace from Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. These two are best friends, and they complement each other – flirtatious, daring Charlotte and shy, thoughtful Penelope are the perfect match.

6. Marty Davis from the Love Comes Softly series by Janette Oke. I admire Marty’s strength in making a life for herself on the prairie, far from home and family back East. And she wound up being so happy – in spite of, or perhaps because of, having to corral a ton of kids on that homestead of theirs.

7. Cassie Logan, from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I read this book in fourth grade and marveled at the bravery of this black, landowning family trying to keep it together during the Depression. Cassie is a wonderful character, as are her Mama and her Big Ma (grandma).

8. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Oh, how I loved – and love – the Little House on the Prairie series. Mary was too perfect and Carrie and Grace were too young for me to really sympathize with, but I love headstrong, stubborn, curious Laura.

9. Nancy Drew. What other heroine can go seamlessly from changing a tire (on her cute blue roadster) to attending a dance with handsome Ned Nickerson, and solve a mystery in the process? (Check out my guest post at Anne & May for more thoughts on Nancy.)

10. Cassandra Mortmain, from I Capture the Castle. Like so many of my favorite girls, she’s inquisitive, literary and lots of fun.

11. Anna Yevnovna Burenin, from The Russians series by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella. This is a sweeping seven-book series covering Russian history from the 1890s to World War I – and this quiet, faithful, brave peasant girl is the center of it all.

12. Hermione Granger. She’s a bit of a know-it-all, but when the chips are down you can count on her – and her vast store of obscure yet useful knowledge. Plus, she’s one heck of a spell-caster.

13. Vianne Rocher, from Chocolat. Juliette Binoche plays her beautifully in the film – capturing her passion, mystique and deep longing for a home so well.

14. Enna from Shannon Hale’s Bayern series. I love Isi and Rinn, too, but fiery Enna is my favorite.

15. Betsy Ray – I’ve written before about how much I love Betsy. If she’d only lived in my century, we would have been friends for sure.

16. Dicey Tillerman, from Homecoming and other books by Cynthia Voigt. She’s so proud and strong that she makes me want to cry.

17. The girls in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Shy, artistic Lena is the most like me, I think, but headstrong, heedless, big-hearted Bridget is probably my favorite.

18. I loved all the girls in the Baby-Sitters Club books, but never could decide on a favorite. I was shy like Mary Anne and bookish like Mallory, but I enjoyed them all.

19. Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen from Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. These girls were such true, courageous friends in such a painful time.

20. Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time and sequels. She loves her family fiercely and follows her heart. What’s not to love?

21. Miriam Willard from Calico Captive – anyone who can endure a march through the Canadian wilderness, and later life in Montreal, with such grace is definitely a heroine.

22. Emily Byrd Starr from Emily of New Moon and sequels. I love her.

23. Sara Stanley, also know as The Story Girl. She’s striking, intelligent, witty and a spinner of wonderful tales.

24. Jane Eyre. I’ve always been grateful to the English teacher who recommended I read this book.

25. Arwen and Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings. Beautiful, graceful, strong and quick with a sword – what more could you want in a heroine?

26. Esperanza from The House on Mango Street. She’s sassy, observant and real.

27. Julie Wallace, heroine of Catherine Marshall’s Julie. She wants to be a writer – and she’s so disarmingly honest.

28. Harriet Vane, featured in Gaudy Night and other Dorothy Sayers mysteries. I actually like her better than Lord Peter Wimsey, hero of the whole series.

29. Lily of Consider Lily, by my friends Anne & May. This was the first book of theirs I read, and it remains my favorite. (I am also convinced Lily is the literary alter ego of my friend Grace – a redheaded, hockey-loving, stubborn, good-hearted Californian.)

Looking over this list, it appears I love girls who are stubborn, love books and writing, hunger for adventure, long to find love, will risk everything for their loved ones, or all of the above. And all of them embody my word for this year – brave.

Who are your literary heroines?

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Are you a fan of Nancy Drew? I’m honoured to be guest blogging today over at Anne & May about Nancy and other childhood heroines. Go on over and have a look – and please comment! Thanks!

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