Summer Reads: Historical Mysteries #amreading

My usual monthly Book Review Club is still on hiatus, but I thought I’d share some reviews anyway of four historical mysteries I read this summer.

Anatomist's Wife coverThe Anatomist’s Wife
by Anna Lee Huber,
Book 1 in the Lady Darby Mystery Series

Historical Mystery, Scotland 1830

My friend, Rebecca Anderson, recommended this book to me and I was glad she did.

Keira, Lady Darby, is the widow of a notorious anatomist who married her because of her artistic talent and then forced her to illustrate his anatomy book by observing autopsies. There was a scandal after his death and her part became public knowledge. She has been hiding out at her sister and brother-in-law’s estate in Scotland, until her sister decides to throw a house party and all the old pain comes back. The other guests treat her with disdain and mutter about her behind her back.

Then one of the female guests is murdered in a brutal fashion, and Keira is asked to help Nicholas Gage, who has some experience as an inquiry agent. Her anatomy training comes in handy, but she has a hard time dealing emotionally.

Very engaging main character and excellent mystery. I will read more in the series.

Maisy Dobbs Bundle 1 civer

Maisie Dobbs Bundle #1:
Pardonable Lies and Messenger of Truth

by Jacqueline Winspear
(actually books 3 & 4 in the series)

Setting: England in the early 1930s

I read the first two books in this series, Maisy Dobbs and Birds of a Feather and wanted more.

In Pardonable Lies, Maisie is asked to confirm the battlefield death of a man’s son, as well as to find out more about a friend’s brother who was reported missing, presumed dead, in WWI as well. It means Maisie must return to France and fight her own demons after being wounded at a battle station while nursing. And to make matters worse, someone wants her dead. I loved this book. I think it’s one of the best so far, after the first book which was excellent.

Messenger of Truth also revisits the specter of WWI. A female journalist, Georgina Bassington-Hope, asks Maisie to investigate whether her artist brother’s death was murder or a terrible accident. Maisie, who is a psychologist as well as an investigator, never does anything half way, so she ends up dredging up a lot of skeletons from the Bassington-Hope closets. Also good, but not quite as good as Pardonable Lies.

I do recommend this series to mystery readers looking for more depth of character than often found in series books.

Sovereign coverSovereign
(C. J. Sansom)
by C. J. Sansom,
Audiobook narrated by Stephen Crossley

When King Henry VIII goes on a progress to York, which rebelled the year before, Matthew is hired to assist with petitions from the Yorkers to the king. Henry is trying to consolidate his power and force the nobles to swear allegiance to him. Of course, nothing goes right for poor Matthew, a hunchback lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn. His father dies, so he and his assistant Jack Barak make a side trip to his old home, arriving a day late in York. Then a glazier removing stained glass from an abbey church falls into a wagon full of broken glass and dies after making a strange prediction about the king. Matthew can’t resist a mystery, so he sets out to investigate only to be foiled by higher up authorities, but not before Matthew uncovers an important clue, putting his life in danger.

This is a really long book, 676 pages in print, and 21 hours in audio, so it took me two months to finish. It’s really good though. Steven Crossley’s narration is excellent given the number of voices and accents involved.

Great series, though I recommend reading the books in order. The first one is Dissolution, set earlier in the reign of Henry VIII.

What have you been reading this summer?

Linda

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Book Review Club: Silver Linings and Rose Gardens #amreading

In April my readers group chose Psychology as a topic, so I looked for novels about characters with mental illness and decided to share my short reviews for this month’s Book Review Club.

Z cover

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
by Therese Anne Fowler
St. Martin’s Press, 2013

I knew Zelda had mental issues, so I grabbed a copy of this book when it was on sale at Amazon Kindle. I found it quite fascinating.

Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald meet during WWI when he is stationed near Montgomery, Alabama where Zelda lives. She’s pretty and vivacious and a good ballet dancer, and Scott is smitten almost instantly. Her parents, who are from prominent if not wealthy families, aren’t thrilled about this Yankee upstart, but she’s determined to marry him.

Though they clearly loved each other, it wasn’t exactly a marriage made in heaven. Scott was insecure and became jealous of Zelda when she tried to step outside of her wifely role. Her first short stories were published under his name, supposedly because they would earn more money, though I think his ego was threatened also. She couldn’t ignore the economic argument as they consistently lived above their means. He was also a raging alcoholic, which didn’t help her mental state.

As I was reading, it seemed clear to me that she was bipolar, going through manic stages and then depression. In one manic state, she was practicing ballet almost nonstop and hardly eating. She had an episode where she started hallucinating, but I suspect it might have been from dehydration. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Psychiatrists now say she was misdiagnosed and was actually bipolar.

I found the book very engaging and enjoyed it although the ending isn’t a happy one. Since they were real people, it’s no secret that they both died relatively young. Zelda’s death was especially tragic, in a fire at a mental hospital. I hope the smoke got her first.

I checked the other two books out of the library, one in audio format and the second as an e-book.

SilverLiningsSilver Linings Playbook
by Matthew Quick
Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2008

I chose this book because I knew there was some kind of mental illness in the book. Written in first person, it’s apparently also a good example of an unreliable narrator. The protagonist is Pat, a 34-year-old man whom we first see in a mental health facility in Maryland that he calls the Bad Place. In the first chapter his mom springs him out of the hospital and takes him home to New Jersey where he gets a new therapist, an Indian-American named Cliff.

Pat struck me as both delusional and suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He misses his wife Nikki, but can’t see her because they are having “apart time”. From the reactions of his family and friends, the reader is pretty sure apart time is never going to end, but Pat maintains the delusion through most of the book. He has mentally blocked what led to him being hospitalized. One of the funniest things is his aversion to the music of Kenny G. He freaks out whenever he hears smooth jazz, even if it’s only in his mind. Later in the book we find out why.

Pat tries to make himself a better person for Nikki, reminding himself to be kind instead of right, but also by exercising compulsively. During their marriage he had gained “ten to seventy pounds” and now he’s slim again and buffed up from all the exercise. He becomes re-aquainted with Tiffany, his best friend’s sister-in-law. They have a strange relationship, but ultimately become friends. Pat is always looking for the silver lining in life. He says he is watching the movie of his life and believes in silver linings and happy endings. The ending is a bit bittersweet, but hopeful. I’m looking forward to watching the movie now. The narration by Ray Porter is excellent.

Rose Garden coverI Never Promised You a Rose Garden
by Hannah Green, aka Joanne Greenberg
Henry Holt and Co., 2010
First published 1964

The book takes place in the 1940’s (I think) and is semi-autobiographical. Greenberg was institutionalized when she was a teen, and her therapist helped to pull her out of her made-up world. In the book, the protagonist’s name is Deborah Blau, who is Jewish and among other slights is bullied by anti-Semitic students.

After a suicide attempt, she is hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia, which sounds right to me. She is socially disengaged, instead retreating to a world in her mind called Yr (pronounced Year). She is lucky when she’s assigned to Dr. Fried, who instead of quibbling with her about the secret world and language, focuses on getting Deb to relate in the real world. She feels that Deb’s obvious intelligence and creativity mean she is sane on some level.

The glimpse into a mental hospital of that era is rather disturbing. Some of the patients suddenly explode into violence. Others urinate on the floor. I suppose nowadays they are all in adult diapers. The title comes from something the doctor says to Deb.

I found the book quite interesting and enlightening. Now I’d like to see the movie, though I’m a little bummed that they Anglicized the Blau family and turned then into the Blakes. I guess that was the “politically correct” thing to do at the time, but it seems jarring now.

I enjoyed all three books. What are you reading? Has anyone watched the TV series Z?

Linda

Click for more reviews in the Barrie Summy Book Review Club.