Book - Code Name Verity follows the World War II adventures of two young Scottish women. Sensible Maddie, who grew up in her grandfather’s bike shop, has a skill with machines matched only by her love of aeronautics. As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force she mostly flies supply planes, but her missions become a lot more interesting once she meets Queenie, the girl with many names. Queenie is fearless and funny, brilliant and aristocratic—and a spy. Thrown together under extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t long before the girls form a fierce friendship. When Maddie’s plane is shot down over occupied France and Queenie is captured on a mission, however, both girls will find their strength, and their bond, tested to the limit.
Told through letters and documents written by both young women, Code Name Verity introduces two equally vivid lead characters whose affection for each other makes them jump off the page. Elizabeth Wein does an extraordinary job of building tension and maintaining the novel’s pace, making it hard to put down. Code Name Verity functions equally well as an action-packed war story and as a coming-of-age novel, but for me the absolute highlight is the friendship between the girls—perhaps the single best female friendship I have ever read. There are mentions of off-screen torture that may be uncomfortable for some, and readers are definitely advised to keep their tissues handy, but the depth of emotion and exquisite writing in this top-notch story make it well worth the ride.
Book – Douglas Petersen, a scientist, is trying to cope with his wife Connie’s announcement that she thinks she wants to leave him. Also, his relationship with his recalcitrant seventeen-year-old son, Albie, has always been rocky. Douglas hopes that their family’s planned “Grand Tour” of Europe will somehow help them resolve their issues. He sets some personal goals for their inter-rail trip, including “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” As they embark on the trip from their home in suburban London, Douglas narrates their experiences, and shares the story of his marriage to Connie and struggles as a father to relate to his son. Told in short chapters, and alternating from past to present, Douglas kept me entertained with his dry humor, insights and predicaments as he tries to approach his life in a new way.
Book – Louisa Clark has lived in her small village all of her life with her younger sister, nephew and parents. She hasn’t explored much of life beyond her town in which the main object of interest is a tourist attraction castle. She works at a local café, has been dating her boyfriend for seven years and the most flamboyant thing about her is her fashion sense. When she loses her job, she desperately accepts a job as caretaker of a quadriplegic, Will Traynor, who lives on the castle grounds. The events that unfold change Louisa’s life in ways she never imagined. Moyes transported me into the lives of both a caretaker and a quadriplegic to examine the choices, heartache and stresses of their everyday lives. I liked these characters and the dilemmas they face are compelling and complex. While the story is often amusing, it brings serious issues to light and would be an interesting book for a discussion group.
Book – Even if you are not a Sherlock Holmes fan, you can’t help but be delightfully drawn into the adventures of the newly formed sleuthing team of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. They are an unlikely pair. Mary is only 15 years old, a recently orphaned American who is a fiercely independent feminist. Holmes is mostly retired from detective work and lives a quiet existence keeping bees in the country. Mary impresses him with her intelligence, and Holmes slowly teaches her the art of detection. As his apprentice, she quickly catches on and makes her own valuable contributions in solving cases. She evolves into taking on a more active role in his investigations and Holmes is inspired into coming out of retirement. However, their exposure and enthusiasm brings some bad guys out of the woodwork and Mary and Holmes find themselves confronted by perils and threats of death that they never anticipated. Heartwarming and witty, the mysteries that this pair solves will keep readers wanting for more. Fortunately, this is only the first book in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. The Library has all the books in the series for readers to enjoy.
Book – Jess is a single mother with a lot on her plate. Her adopted stepson is regularly beaten up by neighborhood thugs, who taunt him for wearing make-up and being a loner. Her young daughter, Tanzie, is a mathematical genius who has an opportunity to go to a special prep school that Jess cannot afford. Jess is estranged from her dead-beat husband, Marty, who lives with his mother and hasn’t supported the children financially or emotionally for two years. To make ends meet, Jess waitresses and cleans houses. One of her clients is the software billionaire, Ed. Although Jess doesn’t know it, Ed is being investigated for insider trading. Their paths cross unexpectedly as Jess sets out on a trip to secure scholarship money for Tanzie. It’s a fun and entertaining adventure as four eccentric and lonely people discover their strengths, vulnerabilities and their “tribes.” Moyes has written several other novels, including Me Before You.
Book – A Discovery of Witches begins in the heart of academia in Oxford’s Bodleian library, where a bright young scholar, Diana, is researching centuries-old manuscripts for a presentation on the origins of science. The author’s detailed descriptions of the atmospheric library and Oxford’s history laden campus set a very pleasant tone for this story of romance, magic, history, and suspense. Diana has suppressed all connections to her family’s involvement with magic and is therefore taken by surprise when her contact with an enchanted manuscript on alchemy in the Bodleian library attracts the unwanted attention of a diverse supernatural community. This community includes another professor, a vampire studying genetics, named Matthew. A tentative courtship between Diana and Matthew includes yoga classes, carefully planned meals, scholarly conversation, and the finest wines. The realistic details of these romantic engagements obviously draw deeply from the life of author Deborah Harkness, who is a history professor, recipient of numerous fellowships, and an award-winning wine blogger. Whether Matthew is trustworthy, or actually one of the numerous entities jeopardizing Diana, is a mystery to be revealed. The second book in the series, Shadow of Night, is even more a work of historical fiction, and reveals the author’s knowledge of Elizabethan England.
Book – Oscar is doing pretty well for himself. He’s found his way to Cambridge, working his way through his degree as an aide in a nursing home, where he meets the most interesting characters. He never loses his head, though, until he meets Iris Bellwether at one of her brother’s church services (he plays the organ). A little light church music isn’t all Eden Bellwether is interested in, though, and before he knows it, Oscar is drawn into Eden’s circle of admirers, accomplices and experimental subjects. Eden believes that his music has the power to heal. He might be right.
This spectacular Gothic novel by debut author Benjamin Wood sucked me in from the wonderful two-page prologue. It’s been repeatedly compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, but as I’ve read neither of those, I couldn’t tell you how accurate the comparison is. I can tell you that I fell in love with all the characters, who are by turns symbolic and wonderfully genuine, and that the tense, surreal atmosphere was sustained well throughout the book. I’d recommend it for a book club – there’s lots to talk about.
Book – Three unresolved cases in England span twenty-four years. Case One involves the disappearance of three-year-old Olivia Land. Case Two involves the brutal, seemingly random, murder of eighteen-year-old Laura Wyre. Case Three involves Michelle, a new young mother who feels a murderous rage at being stuck alone out in the country with only her baby and husband for company. As private detective Jackson Brodie begins to look into the cases, he unearths startling discoveries and connections between the cases. We also get glimpses into Jackson’s own tragic past. As he comes to resolutions in the cases, he begins to make peace with his own history. This book was a page-turner and I enjoyed the plot’s twists and turns. It’s told from several different perspectives, which helps illuminate the hopes, struggles and failings of the characters. Despite the dark topics, the novel offers an overall message of hope and healing.
Book – Divorce in England became available to the middle class for the first time in 1858, and one of the first cases was that of Robinson v. Robinson & Lane. Henry Robinson had read his wife’s diary while she was ill, and discovered it full of stories about her passionate love affair with a handsome young doctor. He sued for divorce as soon as he was able. Isabella Robinson’s defense argued that the diary was a work of fantasy and none of the affairs had actually happened. The court took three months to reach a verdict, and meanwhile the case became a sensation. Excerpts of Mrs. Robinson’s diary were printed in the papers – a lucky stroke for historian Kate Summerscale, as the actual diary has vanished.
Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace immerses you in the world of a middle-class Victorian housewife who desperately longs for something more in her life. The book reads almost like a novel, following first the events of Isabella Robinson’s diary and then those of the trial, while also describing the surrounding world – the mania for diary-writing, the salaciousness of the press, the nervousness about the new divorce courts. For those who want more of the same, Emma Donoghue’s novel The Sealed Letter is a fictional tale of Victorian divorce which references the Robinson case.
Book – Meet the Riordans. Gretta, a devout Irish Catholic, discovers her husband has gone missing during a crippling heat wave in 1976 England. Her three adult children gather together for the first time in years to help search for their father. Monica, the oldest daughter, is her mother’s rock and seems to have a well-ordered life. But her partner’s daughters despise her and she hides secrets that she has never faced. Her brother, Michael Francis, feels guilt over a past indiscretion and wonders if his wife, newly enrolled in community college, is having an affair. The youngest sibling, Aoife, has always had issues. She was a screaming infant and an unruly child, until finally, as an adult, she escapes to America and reinvents herself. The disappearance of their father is the catalyst that brings everyone together, and in the search for him, they discover and are forced to address the secrets and misunderstandings that have wedged between them. I listened to the audiobook of this title and was absorbed in the story and the narration by John Lee.