Oh, dear, I did it again. Since last month's reviews, the fiction books I've read have all been written by British authors. There's quite a bit of variety though, so I hope you'll give one, or all, of these five-star novels a try.
Previously, I talked about Phillipa Gregory's book THE WHITE QUEEN about the life of Elizabeth Woodville, who married King Edward IV.
THE LADY OF THE RIVERS is its prequel, the story of Elizabeth's mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Her family are descendants of Melusina, a river goddess and, apparently, they have the papers to prove it. So they are all regal and beautiful. Also very lucky. Certain women in the family have special powers of visions and the like. She is one of them.
According to this story, her visions are the reason the Duke of Bedford wants to marry her. He thinks she could help England by foreseeing what those rascals the French are up to.
However, most of the book isn't about her superpowers. It follows the lives of Jacquetta and her second husband, Richard Woodville, who was the Duke's squire. When Henry VI marries Margaret of Anjou, Jacquetta is called to the royal court to help the young queen adjust to her new surroundings and duties, like Jacquetta did when she, too, was a teenager. And it's all great until the king goes nuts. Seriously, the women's strong friendship and the love story of Jacquetta's happy marriage to Richard during the turbulent years before the War of the Roses make this a believable and most interesting read.
What's your favorite ocean? Mine is in a village in England. I heard about it in THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman.
You can't read about an ocean and really know what it feels like. You have to experience it. The same is true here - a review of an imaginative book with magical elements cannot compare to diving in and swimming around in a Gaiman creation yourself. Trust me. With that in mind, this novella is about a man going back to his childhood home and remembering some weird ... events when he was a boy, and how a family on a nearby farm helped him out. Bad review, good story.
Frequent Femmes Readers here know how much I love the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. The latest one, HEIRS AND GRACES, finds Lady Georgiana at a stately manor house in the country.
Her cousin, HM Queen Mary, hasn't sent her to spy on the Prince of Wales and that ghastly American woman this time. Instead, Georgie's helping a friend of the queen's, a Dowager Duchess, who awaits the arrival of a newly discovered grandson. Her eldest son and heir to the estate had been an adventurous lad who moved to Australia. He came back to England at the beginning of World War I and was killed at the Sommes.
The second son, Cedric, takes over the estate. Cedric is different. He has no intention of ever marrying or producing an heir. This motivates the Dowager Duchess to hire investigators, in hopes they will find that her deceased son had a child before he died. And indeed, he did.
Georgie is hired to coach the new grandson in the ways of high society. Easy job, right? Did I mention they found him living at a sheep station in the Outback? Another winner in a fun series.
Probably the biggest news in mystery this summer was the outing of JK Rowling. She wrote THE CUCKOO'S CALLING, a private eye novel, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
Don't let the pseudonym thing turn you off. Maybe you've been burned in the past. You heard about a so-called "literary" author, maybe even a literary award nominee or winner, who used a fake name on a mystery novel he threw together, but because he was so highly regarded and Irish fer the Holy Father in Rome's sake, you fell for the shtick and bought the hardback and it was total crap. Not just crap either, it was Total Arrogant Crap With No Story, No Interesting Characters, No Spare-klin' Mah-gic Oi-rish Beauty Nor A Bit O' Cleverness.
THE CUCKOO'S CALLING delivers on all counts in all categories. Mystery lovers will enjoy getting in deep in the story and in the characters. Cormoran Strike is a down-on-his-luck private eye. His business is about busted. Creditors harrass him. His woman left him. Or rather, he left her since it was her apartment, so he's also homeless.
If all that sounds formulaic, it's not. In this case, Rowling/Galbraith respects the form and then goes beyond that with creating fully-formed people, real action and reaction for the storyline, real emotion and interaction between characters.
I loved it. I can't wait for another one. May the series go on and on, at least until there are enough for a BBC Mystery! series.
Just for fun, here are a couple of other book covers, for the British market I presume:
They fit the book better, I think. The American one is easy to spot with the typical faceless female. :)
As always, I'd like to hear your book recommendations too. Don't want to miss a good one!