Maisie Dobbs

Winspear, Jacqueline. Maisie Dobbs. Narrated by Rita Barrington. Hampton, NH: BBC Audiobooks America, 2005.

Reason read: March is International Women’s Month. I am also reading this for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge. The category is “a cozy mystery.” I took “cozy” to mean a mystery without violence; no bombs exploding or crazy gun fights. Nothing fast paced; no cars screaming around corners on two wheels. Maybe “cozy” includes a sleeping cat or a steaming cup of tea.

Nancy Pearl should have included Maisie Dobbs in her list of characters she would like to befriend because I would like to hang out with Ms Dobbs myself. Maisie is one of those can’t-do-wrong girls that everyone, men and women alike, fall in love with. She is smart, pretty, loyal, and keenly perceptive.
We first meet Maisie Dobbs in 1910. After her mother dies, Maisie, at the age of thirteen, takes a job as a maid for Lady Rowan Compton. Living in the Compton mansion is a far cry from her father’s humble costermonger home and inquisitive Maisie can’t help but explore every richly decorated room, especially the well stocked library. Night after night she is drawn to sneaking down the stairs and taking advantage of the massive collection. When discovered, Lady Rowan does not seek punishment. Rather, recognizing a talent for learning, rewards Maisie with extensive tutoring from family friend, Maurice Blanche. Blanche is a private investigator who uses psychology and acute observation to solve mysteries. Maisie becomes his apprentice and subsequently takes over the business after Blanche’s retirement. One case takes Maisie back to her days as a volunteer nurse during the Great War. The plot takes a turn down memory lane as Maisie’s wartime ghosts are revealed. A second mystery concerning the love of Maisie’s life emerges.
War is a constant character throughout Maisie Dobbs, whether the reader is looking back to Maisie’s volunteer work as a nurse in France, or looking ahead to the mysterious retreat for disfigured veterans. The psychology of war is ever present.

Favorite line, “Dawn is a home when soft veils are draped across reality, creating illusion and cheating truth” (p 249).

Author fact: Winspear wrote a ton of books but I am only reading Maisie Dobbs for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: Maisie Dobbs is Winspear’s first novel and won an Edgar Award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Winspear does a outstanding job of conveying post-World War I English society. I would also add Winspear does an outstanding job of conveying post traumatic stress and other debilitating effects of war.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


A Long Way From Home

Briscoe, Connie. A Long Way From Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Reason read: Briscoe’s birth month is Devember. Read in her honor.

Clara starts off as a nearly eleven year old slave, owned by former president James Madison. As she grows up, she struggles to conform to the polite, obedient, and subservient ways of her mother and aunts, all house slaves in the Montpelier mansion. The inevitable and imminent death of President Madison means unclear futures for all of his slaves, field and house. Whispered questions like, ‘when he finally died would they be freed?’ ‘Could they stay on the plantation, especially if it is all they ever knew?’ scatter through hallways like runaway marbles on a tile floor. Would Madison’s slaves even have a choice? What no one saw coming was Madison’s awful stepson, Todd, taking over as Massa of Montpelier. His attraction to Clara sets off a terrible chain of events and life changes for everyone involved.
This is supposed to be the story of three generations of house slaves: Susie, Clara, and Susan. Susie is barely in the story, but Clara passes on her feisty nature to her daughter Susan. When Susan is sold away to satisfy a debt, readers follow her coming of age, growth into womanhood, and emerging sense of independence.
Aside from a great character story, A Long Way From Home is a fantastic historical fiction. Events of the Civil War described in detail color the fate of the south and give the story an interesting perspective.

Telling quotes, “These days, no one wearing a skirt at Montpelier ever slept alone when Mass Todd and his buddies were around” (p 70).

Author fact: According the back flap of A Long Way From Home Briscoe is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation. This story is her story.

Book trivia: I could see this made into a movie. It has an important story to tell so why isn’t it a movie?

Nancy said: Pearl said to consider A Long Way From Home for the reading list when considering African American fiction written by women.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Says” (p 16).


Antonia Saw the Oryx First

Thomas, Maria. Antonia Saw the Oryx First. New York: Soho, 1987.

Reason read: August is Friendship Month.

Antonia Redmond and Esther Moro have an interesting relationship as they couldn’t be anymore different from one another. Antonia, an educated white woman, was born to American parents but has lived in Dar es Salaam, Africa nearly all of her life. As a doctor, she has been schooled in traditional modern medicine. Meanwhile, Esther Moro is on the other end of the spectrum as a woman who sells her body to make ends meet. “She knows only men” as the band The Horseflies would say. After a particularly violent encounter with a Greek fisherman Esther and Antonia meet as patient and doctor. At first Esther wants Antonia to teach her the rules of modern medicine, but soon discovers she has the power to heal within her already. Esther listens to her culture’s whisperings of witchcraft, ancient legends, and curses.

Author fact: Maria Thomas was a pen name for Roberta Worrick. She died in a plane crash was she was only 47 years old.

Book trivia: Two pieces of trivia, actually. Antonia Saw the Oryx First was Thomas’s first novel. She also wrote African Visas which is on my Challenge list for May 2031.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything specific about the book or the author; just describes the plot a little.

BookLust Twist: Twice from Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “African Colonialism: Fiction” (p 14) and also in the Book Lust chapter “Women’s Friendships” (p 247).


Creature of Habit August

Last month (okay, yesterday!) I whined about how I have been feeling uninspired writing this blog. I think it’s because I haven’t really been in touch with what I’ve been reading. None of the books in July jump started my heart into beating just a little faster. “Dull torpor” as Natalie would say in the Maniacs song, Like the Weather. Maybe it comes down to wanting more oomph in my I’mNotSureWhat; meaning I don’t know if what I need or what would fire me up enough to burn down my yesterdays; at least so that they aren’t repeated tomorrow. I’m just not sure.
Hopefully, these books will do something for me:

Fiction:

  • African Queen by Cecil Forester – in honor of the movie. Can I be honest? I’ve never seen the movie!
  • Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas (EB/print) – in honor of August being Friendship month.
  • Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object (EB/print) by Laurie Colwin – in honor of August being National Grief Month.
  • Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen (EB/print) – in honor of August being Frazen’s birth month.
  • Beauty: the Retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley (EB/print) – in honor of August being Fairy Tale month.

Nonfiction:

  • Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge (EB/print) – in memory of Florence Nightingale. August is her death month.
  • American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood by Maria Arana (EB/print) – a memoir in honor of August being “Selfish Month.”
  • If there is time: What Just Happened by James Gleick – in honor of Back to School month.

Series continuations:

  • Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (EB/print) – the penultimate book in the Foundation series.
  • Die Trying by Lee child (AB/EB/print) – the second book in the Jack Reacher series.

Early Review:

  • Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm (started in July).
  • Open Water by Mikael Sturm.

The Painted Desert

“…April is over. Will you tell me how long before I can be there?”
-The Painted Desert, 10,000 Maniacs

I will have that song playing in my head from now until June. Not only am I planning to be there, the trip cannot happen soon enough. But for the purposes of this post: April is over and here are the books accomplished:

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
  • The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg (EB & print).
  • Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (EB).
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias (EB & print).
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (AB and print).

Nonfiction:

  • Sixpence House by Paul Collins (EB & print).
  • Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs.

Series continuation:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (EB and print).
  • The Game by Laurie R. King (AB/AB/print).
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith (EB & print)
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (EB)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwimana

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Yes! I finally finished it!

Hunting Season

Barr, Nevada. Hunting Season. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.

Reason read: to finish the series started in honor of Barr’s birth month in March.

The premise of the series is main character Anna Pigeon is a ranger assigned to different American parklands. Every time Pigeon shows up somewhere she’s confronted with a mystery (most of the time with a murder or two or three attached). You have to wonder how she doesn’t develop a stigma from all these coincidental deaths wherever she goes. She never seems to find littering her biggest problem.
This time Pigeon is stationed at Mt. Locust, a historic inn located on Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway. Two different crimes have her attention, the murder of Doyce Barnette and suspected poaching activity. Are the two related? All clues point toward Doyce being the apparent victim of a sex game gone wrong but true to mystery, nothing is adding up. Anna, as a woman and new to the area, has a difficult time being the boss of male rangers, some who have been around longer than she has.
Confessional: I knew who the killer was within the first 100 pages. It took me a few more to make absolutely sure but the clues Barr left were glaringly obvious. I was hoping she would pull a fast one and make the suspect Anna’s biggest ally. That I wouldn’t have seen coming.
Idiot move: Once again, I am reading a series out of order. Last month I read Flashback and at the end Pigeon agreed to marry her newly divorced boyfriend. Now, in Hunting Season Pigeon is lamenting the death of her first husband while silently cursing her married boyfriend.
Author fact: Barr does a great job keeping Anna Pigeon’s personality and life history accurate. Anna’s family life, love interests, personality, and even acquired scars stay consistent.

Book Audio trivia: Barbara Rosenblat isn’t half bad with the accents, although her Mississippi drawl could be called just “southern.”

Nancy said: nada; nothing specific about Hunting Season.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


Appealing to April

I have a ridiculous number of books planned for this month. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope – in honor of Trollope’s birth month being in April.
  • City and the House by Natalie Ginsberg – in honor of April being Letter Writing month.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias – in honor of Oxford Jazz Festival traditionally being in April.
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor – in honor of April being Sibling month and in honor of Library Week.

Nonfiction:

  • The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs – in honor of John Muir’s birth month (and the fact we are visiting Arizona soon).
  • Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins – in honor of Library Week.

Series continuations:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr to finish the series read out of order.
  • The Game by Laurie R. King – to finish the series started in honor of Female Mystery month.
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith – to finish the series started in honor of Smith’s birth month.
  • The Council of the Cursed by Peter Tremayne – to continue the series started in honor of Tremayne’s birth month.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • From Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwiemana.