My all-time favorite genre is mysteries. I also love history, historical fiction, Christian fiction, and most anything British. I guess you could call me an anglophile! I like books that are fun and have a twist to the plot. Nothing that is too predictable. Recently, I have been trying to expand my interest into more non-fiction. It’s good not to get caught in a rut and it’s fun to learn something new. Some of my favorite authors include Agatha Christie, Fanny Flagg, Jan Karon, and of course, Jane Austen.
The Secret of Pembrooke Park – Julie Klassen
460 pages (2014)
The Secret of Pembrooke Park
is a good old fashioned mystery. It is set in Regency England, the time of Jane Austen. This mystery has nearly everything I like in a book: Regency England, twists and turns, secret rooms, fortunes lost and found, a little romance, and even a bit of house renovation. And was that a ghost? Or not?
Abigail foster is the practical member of her family. When her father loses most of his fortune in a banking scheme — on her advice — she feels very guilty. To help make restitution, she aids her father in finding cheaper accommodations. The problem is solved when an attorney comes with a mysterious offer. An anonymous “distant relative” wants them to live in a family manor house under the condition that they repair the house that has been abandoned for nearly twenty years.
Abigail lives there alone for several weeks as the rest of the family is in London for various reasons. The house and its neighbors are a mystery to be solved. The bumps and creaks she hears at night could be the servants, but there are rumors of a ghost. And why did the former owners leave in such a hurry that the tea tray was still on the table? As she gets to know her closest neighbor, the vicar, she starts to forget Gilbert, the “boy she left behind” in London.
This story gets more and more involved with twists and turns as friends and family arrive. Abigail searches the house for the lost treasure hoping to restore the family fortune. But finding this treasure could reveal secrets that would best remain hidden. And they might be dangerous to more than Abigail.
The Secret of Pembrooke Park is classified as Christian fiction. There is discussion on God’s forgiveness and how faith plays a part in your life. However, this is mainly a mystery and a pretty good one at that. The mystery slowly unfolds as new clues are discovered. This was not an easily solved whodunit.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue (unabridged audio) – Melanie Benjamin
13 hours (2016)
Truman Capote loved living the swank high life of New York City. He cultivated the friendship of several of the influential and wealthy women of the city. He called these women his “swans.” This is the story of Capote’s relationship with these women. It is fiction, but like Capote’s own In Cold Blood it is a kind of “non-fiction fiction.” The characters in the story are real people and the situations are from Capote’s own life. The main “swan” is Babe Paley, the beautiful wife of CBS founder Bill Paley. The novel goes into great detail of their friendship and its collapse after Capote published a tell-all short story called “La Côte Basque 1965.” After airing all the swans’ dirty little secrets in this story Capote was ostracized from New York society.
I was really drawn into this story. These are mostly people I have never heard of before and I found myself Googling information about their lives and searching for pictures of them. They certainly lived a life I could never imagine. I remember Truman Capote, of course, from his appearances on The Tonight Show and such, but I related more to Babe Paley and the other swans. While they were certainly rich and influential they were still tied down to the role of women in the 50’s and 60’s. The power was still with the men.
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in recent history or in high society. You would enjoy it also if you like personal stories of relationships and betrayals among friends. I listened to the audiobook as opposed to reading this one, which is not something I normally do. The actors are Cassandra Campbell and Paul Boehmer and they were wonderful. Both of them could do the southern accent of Capote so that I could really hear him in the story.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling
327 pp. (2016)
Last January, when Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) passed away, I decided to re-read all the Harry Potter books. I am a huge fan and it was interesting to read them one right after the other. It gave a better glimpse of the entire story as J.K. Rowling meant it to be. Then I heard the big news – a new Potter book was being released the end of July. I anxiously awaited the release. I just finished it and enjoyed it very much. This time, the book is written in play form, coinciding with the opening of the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London. The story is from J.K. Rowling herself, but the play is actually written by Jack Thorne. To me, it is obvious that there is a new author, a new voice. But I still enjoyed hearing what happens to my favorite characters.
The story opens where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows leaves off – Harry and Ginny are seeing their young son Albus off to his first year at Howgarts. This is set 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. In The Cursed Child we follow Albus and his friend Scorpius on new adventures. We also see the grown up Harry, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron, along with Draco and a few others. I don’t want to give anything away as to plot so I’ll just leave it there.
This new story is more of an adult book than a children’s book. For one thing, I believe children may have more trouble with the play form. The story also deals with conflict between fathers and sons that younger children might not quite get. I know that some people were expecting the same kind of story from Rowling in this new book and may be a bit disappointed. However, if you read the new story as it is written, I think you will get a kick out of it. Long Live Harry Potter!
The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson
380 pp. (2015)
I’ve always wanted to visit England. Land of my forefathers – and I don’t have to learn a new language! Bill Bryson has lived there for years. His love for his adopted home shows in this book. His frustration with some of the national policies shows too. Bryson comes across as a lovable curmudgeon showing you around the country that he loves. We travel Great Britain starting at the southernmost point and continue to the most northern part of Scotland, zigzagging along the “Bryson Line” between two points. Bryson often refers to his previous book Notes from a Small Island published in 1995 but reading the first book is not necessary before starting this one. He notes the many changes, both good and bad, that have happened in the intervening years. He also explores new places.
Bill Bryson is probably best known in this country for his book A Walk in the Woods, which was made into a movie last year. His humorous writing style is witty and fun. Traveling with Bill lets you see the places you visit as they really are. If I ever do get to make the trip I dream of, I will take this travel guide along for the ride.
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (Grantchester Mysteries, #1) – James Runcie
392 pp. (2012)
Sidney Chambers is a vicar in a small British village in the 1950’s. Rationing from the war is just ending and everyone is looking toward moving forward. Sidney is a young man, about 30, and unmarried. After fighting in the war he is enjoying the quiet life of a vicar and part-time teacher at Cambridge. He is not your usual vicar however, preferring whiskey to sherry and jazz to light opera.
Sidney’s good friend is the local police inspector, Geordie Keating. They play backgammon at the local pub every Thursday. And talk about murder. Because of his position people don’t want to talk to DI Keating. But because of HIS position, Sidney finds that people tell him more than he wants to know. So Sidney ends up helping DI Keating to solve the local mysteries.
There are three books so far in this series, the latest published last year. Each is actually a collection of short stories and can be read in multiple sittings without interrupting the story. The stories do progress with the details of Sidney’s life, including his dating and selection of a wife, but each short story stands on its own. I enjoyed this format.
The Grantchester Mysteries series has recently become a television show airing in the United States on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. The series is based on the books but doesn’t follow them exactly.
I really enjoyed reading the books after watching the first season on PBS. I was intrigued by the characters of Canon Sidney Chambers and Detective Inspector Geordie Keating. The interplay between the two characters of such different backgrounds was fun. I also enjoyed Sidney’s thoughts on everything that happens. He can turn the things he discovers about his parish into a sermon lesson but it never gets “preachy” or moralizing. This is a light-hearted mystery series and not a book of sermons.