Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Pattern of Lies (Book Review)

Title: A Pattern of Lies: a Bess Crawford Mystery
Author: Charles Todd
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover 2015, paperback 2016
Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction
Plot: Bess Crawford, a capable nurse stationed in World War I France, becomes embroiled in a mystery relating to former patient recuperating in Kent. A tragic explosion at the Ashton Gunpowder Mill is now being blamed on Philip Ashton. While visiting the family, Bess learns of the threats made to the Ashton family and tries to assist them in understanding why they are being maliciously targeted. Back in France, Bess deftly deals with the trauma of the last months of the Great War while also trying to locate a key witness to the explosion, protect herself from a killer, and put a stop to the lies threatening her friends.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and of the Maisie Dobbs (no doubt this series was inspired by its success); fans of Downton Abbey (for my other Downton-esqe recommendations, click here).

What I liked: Beautifully written and painstakingly researched, this series portrays both the harsh reality of life at the front and of the worries experienced back in the English countryside. Bess was invaluable in solving the mystery through her ability to ask questions others are unable to pose.  She is improbably mobile for a nurse stationed in France, in an era when women of her class surely did not travel alone, but I like that the author plots her travel carefully, using the exigencies of war (here, escorting wounded soldiers to England).  I also enjoy her relationship with her father, a distinguished officer, whose devotion to the army (and duty!) Bess has inherited.

I had missed a couple books in the middle of this series but it didn’t matter – these books stand on their own and one reads for the characters rather than the actual mystery. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about World War I and came across this WWI quiz as I was reading (I did well except with the chronology of WWI battles).   I am a big fan of this author(s) and enjoyed meeting them years ago at my favorite mystery bookstore, Black Orchid (now closed, sadly).
 
What I disliked: Bess is so perfect that she is slightly lacking in personality.  There is no hint as to her romantic feelings: does she care for Simon Brandon, her father’s former batman, now an indispensable family friend? I can’t remember and, in any case, I am sure will all be revealed in good time.

Source: I received a copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review. Recommended! You can visit other stops on the tour to see what other bloggers thought about the seventh Bess Crawford installment:
Tuesday, April 12th: FictionZeal
Wednesday, April 13th: A Book Geek
Thursday, April 14th: #redhead.with.book
Monday, April 18th: Jayne's Books
Wednesday, April 20th: Reading is My Super Power
Wednesday, April 20th: Mel's Shelves
Thursday, April 21st: Tina Says…
Monday, April 25th: Mama Vicky Says
Wednesday, April 27th: Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Charles Todd is also the author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, set just after WWI.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Into the Dim (book review)

Title: Into the Dim
Author: Janet B. Taylor
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 2016
Genre: YA Time travel

Plot: Hope Walton is still devastated from losing her mother when her stepfather ships her to Scotland to visit an unknown aunt while he vacations with his new girlfriend. Christopher Manor is an imposing 5-6 story mansion, full of secrets, and before Hope even meets her Aunt Lucinda, she has is befriended by the housekeeper’s granddaughter Phoebe (good), meets a handsome young stranger in the Scottish countryside (good) who is taking pictures of her (bad), and found a portal in her aunt’s basement that takes her back in time to Eleanor of Aquitaine’s London (dangerous). Soon Hope begins to learn the truth about her mother’s family and finds out her mother isn’t dead but is trapped in the 12th century. Hope, her new friend Phoebe, and Phoebe’s critical brother Collum need to rescue Sarah Walton but they only have 72 hours before their time travel window will expire...
Audience: Fans of time travel and YA fiction

What I liked: Feisty orphans or quasi-orphans, mysterious mansions, quests back in time, a handsome hero who might be the villain – yes, this is a fun, fast-paced, and entertaining book just waiting for a sequel. I think what caught my eye initially was a Diana Gabaldon quote but the book itself was hard to put down. Hope is an intriguing heroine: at times brave (or foolhardy), at times clueless, and very human, despite the unnerving situation in which she finds herself and the adventures that follow. Hope’s mother never encouraged her to spend time with peers but survival in the 12th century requires loyal friends and, to her surprise, Hope becomes a good friend. She is no Claire Randall but she doesn’t have to be. The book is full of twists and turns, and readers like me who loved A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver will enjoy the part Eleanor of Aquitaine plays in this story. There is just enough romance to be appealing without overshadowing Hope’s emergence from her mother’s shadow and coming of age as scion of a strong family, but it’s the 12th century setting that Taylor does best.
I like this cover better than the one HMH chose
What I disliked: The book has a very rushed feel despite its 425 pages and there is a lot of information that Hope and the reader don’t know and have to wait to find out, which makes the plot hard to follow at times. At other points, the plot developments were fairly predictable although the significance of Hope’s health issues was never fully explained. Just a device so she would be homeschooled and friendless, and have no options except to visit her aunt? Hope also has a tendency to go from 0 to 70 mph – it wasn’t completely convincing that she could morph so quickly from the shell-shocked girl who mourned her mother for seven months and could barely get on a plane to reckless 12th century adventuress. However, what would a fantasy be without some suspension of disbelief?
Source: I got this from the Boston Public Library.  4/5 stars.