Book Review: Birds of A Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Birds of a Feather is book 2 in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting mystery and an interesting setting, but not my favourite cosy mystery series…at least not yet.  The series has potential and I’m hoping I’ll warm to Maisie the more I read. 2.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

London, 1929. Joseph Waite is a man who knows what he wants. With his Havana cigars and Savile Row suits, he is one of Britain’s wealthiest men. And the last thing he needs is a scandal. When his unmarried daughter runs away from home, he is determined to keep the case away from the police and the newspapers. So he turns to a woman renowned for her discretion and investigative powers – the extraordinary Maisie Dobbs.

Maisie soon discovers that there are many reasons why Charlotte Waite might have left home, and instinctively feels the woman is in safe hands. Yet the investigator suddenly finds herself confronting a murder scene.

Favourite Quote

“Simply and only, simply and only. Everything and nothing are simple, as you know.”

(From Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear, page 128)

Review

I read the first book in this series last year and was, quite disappointedly, underwhelmed by it.  I had seen so many great reviews of the series, and the main character, Maisie Dobbs, seems to be a fairly popular heroine, and I hoped the stories would pick up.

So how did I find this next book in the series?  On the one hand, it was better than the first, the major point in its favour being it lacked the huge info dump in the middle.  And my favourite character has to be Billy Beale – I think he’s great, genuine, authentic; a character that comes across as real and believable.

But…I don’t like Maisie.  She comes across as cold, judgemental, interfering and sometimes a little manipulative, even though we are repeatedly told she is lonely, kind, intelligent and compassionate. It also didn’t help that she all of a sudden appears to possess psychic and clairsentient abilities, something I did not remember at all from the first book.  I recalled there was a bit about eastern mysticism and meditation, but that’s all.  And I’m still not a fan of Maurice Blanche – he’s too wonderful and perfect as a mentor. A Know It All, who Maisie relies upon too much.

The storyline itself was good and interesting, though I deduced the culprit pretty early on but it was entertaining to see how they might be apprehended.  Also the narrative contained enough historical description to bring the period and the setting to life, which was one of the highlights of the book.

The big question is, will I read anymore from this series? My answer would probably be no if I hadn’t already purchased a good number of books in the series.  My philosophy at present is, I’ve already bought them so I might as well read them, whilst living in hope of being able to find what so many others seem to enjoy in them.  And I really do want to enjoy them.  They are set in a period I enjoy reading about, with a main character whose adventures I would usually find entertaining.  Fingers crossed, things get better with book 3…

This was such a hard book to rate.  I gave Maisie Dobbs 3.5 stars (you can find my review here), which is more than I thought, and not being able to decide whether it would be 2 or 3 this time round, I opted for half way.  It seemed fair.

Rating

2.5 / 5

Book Review: Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

Murphy’s Law is the first book in the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable first book in a cosy mystery series.  Molly Murphy is a likeable and intelligent heroine, and I can’t wait to read more of her life in New York! 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Murphy’s Law is the captivating first entry of Rhys Bowen’s New York Times bestselling Molly Murphy series.

Molly Murphy always knew she’d end up in trouble, just as her mother predicted. So, when she commits murder in self-defense, she flees her cherished Ireland, under cover of a false identity, for the anonymous shores of late nineteenth-century America. When she arrives in New York and sees the welcoming promise of freedom in the Statue of Liberty, Molly begins to breathe easier. But when a man is murdered on Ellis Island, a man Molly was seen arguing with, she becomes a prime suspect in the crime.

If she can’t clear her name, Molly will be sent back to Ireland where the gallows await, so using her Irish charm and sharp wit, she escapes Ellis Island and sets out to find the wily killer on her own. Pounding the notorious streets of Hell’s Kitchen and the Lower East Side, Molly undertakes a desperate mission to clear her name before her deadly past comes back to haunt her new future.

Favourite Quote

‘Ellis Island.’ The word went around the ferry and everyone jostled to try to get the first glimpse. It was imposing enough with its big brick arches and its shining copper turrets.

(From Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen, page 45)

Review

An enjoyable first book in a cosy mystery series.  Murphy’s Law is set at the turn of the twentieth century and tells of one woman’s – Molly Murphy’s – move from Ireland to America, and it was not an easy one. 

I liked Molly.  She has a great big heart but won’t stand for any nonsense, which is how she finds herself in the trouble she’s in.  However, relying on her sharp wits and intelligence – surprising almost everyone she meets with the level of education she possesses – can get her into difficulties as well as out of them, as we soon discover.

Yet, for an intelligent young woman, Molly could be a little naïve at times.  And luck and coincidence do play a fairly sizeable roll in the story, so if that’s the sort of thing that annoys you, you might not enjoy the book as much as I did.

The settings read as vivid and authentic.  Whether it is rural Ireland, the bustling city of Liverpool or the sometimes dark and mean, sometimes colourful and enticing, streets of New York, there was enough detail and description to visualise clearly where Molly was and what she was seeing.

The passages set on Ellis Island, and on the ship crossing the Atlantic, were very well-written.  They were sensitive and emotional and they show quite starkly the journey people were making to gamble on a better life in America.  The immigration process once they reached Ellis Island was lengthy and must have been nerve-wracking for anyone who went through it, and as we see in the story, these people are vulnerable and easy to take advantage of.

As Molly tries to find her feet in New York, we are introduced to a number of characters, all of them coming across as believable. The budding romance between Molly and Captain Daniel Sullivan was interesting and awkward, given her story, and the attraction between them could be felt as the story unfolded. Michael Larkin was another interesting character.  Although Molly described him as “young looking” the first time they met, I did wonder if he was to be the love interest of the book.

The mystery doesn’t always take centre stage in the story and at some points, it perhaps felt more of a historical fiction novel rather than a historical cosy mystery, but I’m not complaining as I enjoy both.

Murder, corruption, lies and half-truths, political intrigue and a dose of romance, Murphy’s Law has it all.  An easy, entertaining read, and I’m looking forward to reading book two in the series, Death of Riley.

Rating

Book Review: A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody

A Woman Unknown is the fourth book in the Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

This series keeps getting better and better.  I love the characters and the setting, and Kate Shackleton makes for an engaging heroine. A clever mystery. A satisfying read. Highly recommended. 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

The Woman Unknown: Deirdre Fitzpatrick is married to a man who wants to know where she really goes when supposedly taking care of her sick mother, and he calls on the expertise of Kate Shackleton, amateur sleuth extraordinaire, to investigate.

The Gentleman: Everett Runcie is a banker facing ruin and disgrace. His American heiress wife will no longer pay for his mistakes, or tolerate his infidelity, and is seeking a divorce.

The Murder: When a chambermaid enters Runcie’s hotel room, she expects to be a witness to adultery.  Instead, she finds herself staring at a dead body. Suddenly Kate is thrown into the depths of an altogether more sinister investigation. Can she uncover the truth of her most complex and personal case to date?

Favourite Quote

“…I just know she’s up to something. I feel it in my bones.’

I resisted the urge to ask which bones, knee bones, funny bones, skull, but nodded encouragement.

(From A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody, page 5)

Review

This series keeps getting better and better. The mystery facing Kate in this book is a complex one, and matters are made all the more complicated when her former love interest, Marcus Charles of Scotland Yard, is put in charge of the murder case.

There is a lot going on this story; many layers of mystery are cleverly woven together to create an engaging, gripping yarn. The author brings the period to life with ease and historical accuracy, ensuring the reader has no trouble immersing themselves within it.  The Yorkshire setting makes a nice contrasting backdrop to many books set at this time, which are often set in London and the southern English counties.

One of my favourite parts of these stories is the interaction between Kate and her assistant, the former policeman, Mr Sykes. I like how they don’t always see eye-to-eye: she isn’t a weak and feeble woman, and he isn’t a yes man.  But they do work very well together.  And Mrs Sugden, Kate’s housekeeper, is always fantastic!

I had never come across the term, “A Woman Unknown” before, and so to learn about it and why it was an important aspect of some divorce proceedings during the early decades of the twentieth century, was fascinating.

And I just have to mention the book covers…this series has the nicest artwork adorning the covers.  I would happily have prints or postcards of them on my wall.  There is something very timeless and elegant about them, and they always capture the essence of the story perfectly.

A clever mystery. A satisfying read. Highly recommended!

Rating

 

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate is the thirteenth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M. C. Beaton.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Entertaining and fun, another engaging instalment in this wonderful and not-too-demanding series. 4/5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Agatha is going through a man-hating phase and so is unmoved by news of the captivating new curate. But when she meets the golden-haired, blue eyed Tristan Delon, she is swept off her feet … along with every other female in the village. She is positively ecstatic when he invites her to dine with him but the next day Agatha is left with a hangover from hell and his cold corpse suggests that once again, she’s in the frame for murder!

Favourite Quote(s)

Agatha thought unkindly that she looked like a rabbit with myxomatosis.

(Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton, page 8)

*

Men investigated.  Women were regarded as interfering.  Had women’s lib all been a myth?  All that seemed to have been achieved was that women were expected to work as well as raise families.  Respect for women had gone.

(Agatha raisin and the Curious Curate by M. C. Beaton, page 120)

Review

As I mentioned in my last Agatha Raisin review (Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage – see review here), I have decided to read these books out of order – you can find the explanation in that post.  In this instalment especially, I have found that perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas.  With the last review I only skipped one book, but this time I had skipped quite a few more.  Although it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the book – it was still very good – I will say that there were times when I wished I had read them in order due to spoilers. However, I’m more-or-less certain I will continue to read them out of order…

Agatha Raisin and The Curious Curate was another entertaining read in the Agatha Raisin series.  It’s no mystery who is going to turn up dead in these books, but the whodunnit is often unexpected or guessed at only late on in the story.  With plenty of twists and turns to keep you wondering, as well as the drama that follows Agatha’s social life, the plots are engaging and often hilarious.  I guessed who the murder was before the reveal – always good! – and on more than one occasion I found myself laughing at loud.

My favourite scene of the book had to be the fundraising duck race.  It started out so well but descended into utter chaos.  Fabulous!

I really love the characters and the locations in these stories; the murder and its subsequent solving are just an added bonus.  Carsely and The Cotswolds are picture perfect but beneath the pretty façade secrets are hidden and murder is plotted.  And as for the characters, Agatha is fantastic in her almost sympathetic – sometimes – often sharp and mean way (see first quote above!).  But, she is clever and strong, and manages to succeed through sheer force of personality and a will of iron.  Bill Wong is always a favourite, as is Mrs Bloxby, the vicar’s wife.  Bill usually has his hands full as he does his best to prevent Agatha interfering in the latest murder investigation, while Mrs Bloxby always has a kind thing to say and hates to see Agatha selling herself short.  Both are great friends: loyal and dependable.

These books are enjoyable and entertaining, and don’t require much on the part of the reader.  Quick and easy to read, they are pure escapism, perfect, as I’ve mentioned before, for reading at the end of a busy day.

The next M.C. Beaton book on my list is…Agatha Raisin and The Haunted House, which I’ve earmarked as one of my Halloween reads…

Rating

Book Review: Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

Murder in the Afternoon is the third book in the Kate Shackleton Mysteries by Frances Brody.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging cosy mystery, set in a richly described location, with an interesting cast of characters.  Kate Shackleton is one of my favourite women sleuths, and this is my favourite of the series so far.  A fantastic read! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Dead one minute …

Young Harriet and her brother Austin have always been scared of the quarry where their stonemason father works. So when they find him dead on the cold ground, they scarper quick smart and look for some help.

Alive the next …

When help arrives, the quarry is deserted and there is no sign of the body. Were the children mistaken? Is their father not dead? Did he simply get up and run away?

A sinister disappearing act …

It seem like another unusual case requiring the expertise of Kate Shackleton. But for Kate this is one case where surprising family ties makes it her most dangerous yet – and delicate – yet …

Favourite Quote

The voice was cultured, with rounded vowels and carefully enunciated word endings; too careful, perhaps.  It was the voice of someone who had just filed her nails.

(Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody, page 350)

Review

I absolutely loved this book.  I really enjoyed the first two books in this series (Dying in the Woolsee my review here – and A Medal For Murdersee my review here) but this one surpasses them both.  As I read Murder in the Afternoon I really felt that the author hit her stride with the character of Kate Shackleton.  I just couldn’t get enough of the story or the characters.

In this book we are given our greatest glimpse yet into Kate’s background.  We know from the previous two books that Kate is adopted, and we have met her titled mother and her father who is Superintendent of the West Riding Constabulary.  This time around, we get to see where she came from, the place she would have grown up in if she’d not been adopted and the people she was related to by birth.  I thought this part of the storyline was handled very sensitively.

Kate Shackleton is a marvellous character.  She is strong and independent, intuitive yet sensible, sophisticated and intelligent.  Her relationship with Scotland Yard inspector, Marcus Charles, is an interesting one, but I like him a lot less in this book than the last one.  Jim Sykes, Kate’s assistant, is likeable and dependable, as always.  His character contrasts nicely with Kate, which leads to a difference of opinion on many occasions.

A number of the characters were children: Mary Jane and Ethan’s daughter and son, Harriet and Austin, and the almost wild maid, Millie.  All three were exceptionally well drawn – something I always make a point of noting, as having younger characters in a story aimed at adults doesn’t always work. Here, it does work, and works well.  I liked the three of them, especially Millie.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the storyline to keep you guessing, and a number of suspects who could have committed the murder.  It was interesting to read how trade unions, communism and socialism were viewed during the 20’s; how believing that workers deserved fair working conditions could set you apart as a dangerous troublemaker.  The ending, once the case was solved, was poignant and moving as we get to learn more about Gerald, Kate’s husband who was missing presumed dead / missing in action during WWI.

Kate Shackleton, along with Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple, is one of my favourite women sleuth’s operating in the period. I enjoyed Murder in the Afternoon so much, as soon as I finished reading it, I started on the next book in the series, A Woman Unknown.  Recommended for fans of the 1920, cosy mysteries and stories set in the north of England.

Rating

Book Review: Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin and The Murderous Marriage is the fifth book in the Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

My favourite from the series so far.  Fast-paced, easy to read and, of course, very entertaining. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Two husbands and a funeral!

The morning of Agatha’s marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. But the storm clouds of the day before would have been more appropriate when Agatha’s first husband, Jimmy Raisin, turns up at the church just in time to keep her from committing bigamy. The ensuing uproar – Agatha tries to strangle Jimmy, whom she had thought long-dead anyway – embarrasses James, who breaks the engagement.

When Jimmy is found murdered the next morning, Agatha is the perfect suspect. Since the easiest way to clear her name is to find the real murderer, Agatha convinces James to help her investigate. But will their subsequent close proximity – which has them, ironically, pretending to be man and wife – be enough to win James second time around?

Favourite Quote

The rendering of ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ was, Agatha reflected sourly, music to stun pigs by.

(Agatha Raisin and The Murderous Marriage by M. C. Beaton, page 92)

Review

Just a note: I have done something I don’t very often do: read books from a series out of order.  The reason is that I have so many books and they need reading and reviewing and then rehoming before their numbers reach critical levels 😉  So, I made the decision for some of the series I’m currently reading to read the volumes I have rather than waiting to buy the missing ones.  As someone who prefers to read actual books over digital ones, and purchase books from actual shops rather than online (I know, I like to make life difficult), it makes finding missing volumes harder…

The last book from this series that I read was book three, Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener (see my review here), meaning I have skipped book four, Agatha Raisin and The Walkers of Dembley.  Of course, there is some information I have missed in doing this, however, I was surprised at how well this, the fifth book in the series, read.  I would say you could read it as a standalone and still understand all that is going on.

I love these books.  They are easy to read, don’t require much concentration and are just so funny.  This one might be my favourite yet.

The past and the present clash horribly in this instalment, with disastrous consequences for Agatha’s future.  There is a lesson here in never assuming anything – especially that your first husband, who you haven’t heard from in years, must have died.  Even if you hadn’t read the book summary, you would have guessed what was going to happen.  Poor Agatha!  You might guess who the culprit is early on – I did – but reading the unfolding story is fun and entertaining.

In this book we are given a glimpse into what made Agatha the woman she is, the answer being her childhood / young adulthood.  She has come through a lot to get where she is, and it is easy to understand how she comes across as abrasive and driven.

The pace of the story is quick, and as always, I love the setting.  The Cotswolds and its picture perfect image is a wonderful setting for a cosy mystery series. But it is the characters that make the story.  Bill Wong is always a favourite but Agatha is the star of the show.  Flawed and often the cause of her own trouble, you can’t help cheering her on.  She is definitely one of my favourite women sleuths!

Rating

 

Book Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is the first book in the series of the same name by Jacqueline Winspear.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A well-researched story, peopled with interesting characters.  A solid first book in a series.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

Fiercely independent Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective.  Such a move may not seem especially startling.  But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways.

Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years.  Little does she realise the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested.  For her first case forces her to uncover secrets long buried, and to confront ghosts from her own past…

Favourite Quote

There was something healing in this ritual of making a comfortable place for the dead.  Her thoughts took her back to France, to the dead and dying, to the devastating wounds that were so often beyond her skill, beyond everyone’s.  But it was the wounds of the mind that touched her, those who still fought their battles again and again each day, though the country was at peace.

(Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear, page 28)

Review

Hmm…a bit of a mixed review for this one…

First, what I did like:

The setting: The 1920’s is one of my favourite time periods for historical fiction, especially crime stories and cosy mysteries.  The author did a great job of bringing the period to life.  It’s easy to see how much research went into the book.

The characters:  I liked how Maisie came from small beginnings to reach so high in a society where social class is still important.  Although it’s nowhere near as solid and structured as it was prior to the First World War, Maisie, thanks to the opportunities she has been granted, can mix with more of the well-to-do than she would otherwise have been able.  My favourite character was probably Bill Beale – I liked his attitude.

The storyline: focusing on the mental scars soldiers who survived the First World War had to live with made the story very poignant and emotional.  Just because the fighting ended in 1918 didn’t mean that the trauma associated with it immediately ended with it, rather it lingered, greatly effecting the quality of life for many who witnessed the brutality of war.  This I thought was handled sensitively and compassionately.

Now for what I didn’t like:

The investigation was interrupted by a lengthy break to accommodate Maisie’s backstory.  Lasting over one hundred pages (if I recall correctly), I felt it disturbed the flow of the story, to the extent that I had trouble bringing the case details to mind when we finally returned to it.  These pages read as a separate story, and although there was a link between both narratives, it was just…jarring.

And, I know Maurice Blanche was Maisie’s mentor, but I thought it repetitive how she kept saying, “Maurice said…” as she set about illustrating all the things she had learnt under his tuition.

So that is why I rated this book 3.5.  It’s not that I didn’t like the story or the characters – I did.  So much so that I’ve already bought nearly the rest of the series, so I will be reading more.  However, at this moment, there are other books, which are a little similar in setting – England in the 1920s – that I am enjoying more (Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple books and Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series).  That being said, with Maisie’s backstory out of the way in book one, I anticipate having an easier, and hopefully more enjoyable time with book two, Birds of a Feather.

Have you read Maisie Dobbs?  Did you have the same difficulty with it as me?  Have you read book two in the series?  Am I right in thinking I’ll get on better with it?

Rating

3.5 / 5