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Posts Tagged ‘Queen Elizabeth’

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Looking at this month’s reading list, it’s clear I’ve been reaching for comfort books: historical fiction, poetry, a bit of mystery, a few familiar characters. (See also: new job + milestone birthday.) Here’s the latest roundup:

Wires and Nerve, Marissa Meyer
I’ve enjoyed Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series (Scarlet is my fave). This graphic novel focuses on Iko, the smart-mouthed android who helped Cinder and her friends save the galaxy. I’m not a huge graphic novel reader, but I liked following Iko’s adventures on Earth, and enjoyed the appearances by other familiar characters.

When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss, Jessica Wilbanks
Jessica Wilbanks’ early life in rural Maryland was dominated by her family’s Pentecostal faith. But as a questioning teenager, she began challenging the sermons she’d always heard, eventually leaving the church altogether. Her memoir chronicles that struggle, which included a trip to Nigeria to investigate the origins of American Pentecostalism. She’s a gifted writer, though the book’s ending felt a bit unfinished. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 13).

The Gown, Jennifer Robson
I love Robson’s compelling, richly detailed historical novels. This, her fifth, follows the creation of Queen Elizabeth II’s exquisite wedding gown through the lives of Ann and Miriam, two seamstresses who worked on it. I loved both characters, though the present-day protagonist (Ann’s granddaughter) was less engaging. I did love the way the narrative threads wove together. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 31).

A Light of Her Own, Carrie Callaghan
As a young female painter in 17th-century Haarlem, Judith Leyster struggles to make a living. Her friend Maria, also a painter, wrestles with her Catholic faith. This historical novel follows Judith’s attempts to set up her own workshop and the efforts of the city’s male painters to shut her out. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 13).

Refuge, Merilyn Simonds
At ninety-six, Cassandra MacCallum is content to live alone, on an island near her family’s farm in Ontario. But when a young Burmese refugee shows up insisting she’s Cassandra’s great-granddaughter, she tugs at the complex threads of Cass’s life story and her relationship with her son, Charlie. Gorgeously written and compelling; I couldn’t stop following Cass’s adventures from Mexico to Montreal to New York. I picked this one up on impulse at the library and I’m so glad I did.

Yesterday I Was the Moon, Noor Unnahar
Unnahar is a young Pakistani poet, and this slim volume collects her verses and drawings. They’re vivid and raw and often heartbreaking, but lovely. I read this one slowly, dipping in and out. Found at Three Lives during my August NYC trip.

Bellewether, Susanna Kearsley
During the Seven Years’ War (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War), two captured French officers are housed with the Wilde family on Long Island. Many years later, a museum curator digs into the legends and ghost stories surrounding the Wildes and the officers. Kearsley is a master of compelling historical fiction with romance and a hint of the supernatural. Such an enjoyable read, with important themes relating to slavery, agency and freedom.

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

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London is a little bit like New York: it is constantly changing, and the books set there in different eras evoke very different Londons. Here are a handful of my favorites, from all sorts of time periods.

(I know I’m leaving out a lot of classics – A Tale of Two Cities, Mrs. Dalloway, much of the Sherlock Holmes canon – because I assume most people have read them already. These are my quirkier/lesser-known faves.)

Nonfiction/Memoir

Imagined London, Anna Quindlen
Quindlen is best known for her novels, but I adored this slim paperback about London as a city of imagination and literature. Quindlen adores both London and books about London, and mentions many classic London stories. Affectionate, well written and so much fun.

84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
I love this warm, witty collection of letters between Hanff (an American) and British bookseller Frank Doel, which began with Hanff’s inquiries about books and morphed into a longstanding friendship. The movie version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is also delightful. (Bonus: when I was last in London, I browsed some actual Charing Cross Road bookshops with my friend Caroline.)

paddington bear statue

Fiction/Mystery

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice
This delightful novel of love and rock ‘n’ roll in 1950s London is one of my favorites, ever. It beautifully evokes a postwar London waking up from its long grey sleep – and the result is dazzling.

Maisie Dobbs and sequels, Jacqueline Winspear
I’ve written before about my love for Maisie, who works as a private investigator in 1930s London. Her work takes her to many places, but London is the city of her heart, and I love watching her move around in it.

The Runaway Princess and The Little Lady Agency, Hester Browne
Browne writes smart, funny, utterly British chick lit, and several of her books are set in modern-day London. These two are particularly fun (and The Little Lady Agency has two sequels).

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn
An enchanting novel of Queen Elizabeth II taking a totally unexpected journey, and the half-dozen members of her staff who follow her. Starts in London and meanders all over the country. (I also loved The Uncommon Reader – similar in some ways.)

A Beautiful Blue Death and sequels, Charles Finch
Finch writes meticulously plotted mystery novels about Charles Lenox, a gentleman investigator in Victorian London. The setting, from Lenox’s elegant home to the Houses of Parliament (which he frequents), is perfectly described.

A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
Paddington Bear, who arrives at the eponymous station “from darkest Peru,” is adorable. I loved revisiting his adventures after I saw the bear himself (above) on my most recent trip to London. A hilarious and perfect story of a newcomer adjusting to English life.

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

What are your favorite books about (or set in) London?

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Gunpowder Plot, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher travels to a country estate to write about its Guy Fawkes celebration, but the festivities are interrupted by murder. Of course, her husband Alec is called in to investigate. I liked the family dynamics in this one.

Rising Strong, Brené Brown
Brown, a social worker and vulnerability researcher, writes about recovering from falls and failure: delving into our emotions and stories, and being honest with ourselves about them. Some great lines, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Still thought-provoking, though.

Murder at Beechwood, Alyssa Maxwell
Newport society reporter and Vanderbilt cousin Emma Cross finds a baby boy on her doorstep. As she tries to find the baby’s mother, she also ends up investigating several murders. I really like Emma and the Newport setting; curious to see where Maxwell takes the series after this.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, Misty Copeland
I saw Copeland dance in On the Town during my recent NYC trip and was blown away. I enjoyed her memoir of discovering ballet at age 13 and building a whole new life for herself. A little gushy at times, but an inspiring story.

The Idle Traveller, Dan Kieran
Kieran is a proponent of “slow travel”: taking your time to arrive at a destination, embracing disaster and being willing to wander. This book dragged a bit in the middle, but was still a charming account of his philosophy. Found at the Strand.

Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen, Kate Williams
A well-known yet enigmatic figure, Queen Elizabeth II was something of an accidental ruler. Williams explores the Queen’s childhood, her experiences in World War II and the turbulent family politics that set the stage for her reign. Quite readable, and fascinating. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 15).

Miss Buncle’s Book, D.E. Stevenson
Desperate for some extra money, Barbara Buncle writes a novel under a pen name – all about her fellow villagers and their escapades. The book is a runaway bestseller, but Barbara is terrified of what will happen if she’s found out. Another joyous, charming English novel from D.E. Stevenson. Found at Book Culture.

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

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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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