H is for Hawk

h is for hawk jacketH is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

Historian Helen is shattered by the sudden death of her father, a news photographer. An experienced falconer, she retreats from human society and begins training a young female goshawk, Mabel. Goshawks are bigger and deadlier than other hawks she has handled, and Helen turns to old books on falconry for inspiration, including medieval books and  T. H. White’s memoir, The Goshawk. White, the author of The Once and Future King, is a very unhappy person, although an interesting one, and I would have liked more of Helen’s story and less about White. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to read this well-reviewed book, because I thought it would mostly be about hunting with a hawk. Later in the book, there are detailed hunting scenes, but the book is much more about grief and getting in touch with nature. Mabel is terrified of her new world and Helen needs to become first invisible and then familiar in order to work with her. At one point, Helen is identifying more with the hawk then with her human friends and family, but thankfully she regains some balance. Finishing a research fellowship at Cambridge, Helen explores the land around the university with Mabel, seeing it  from a new perspective. I thought this book was moving, beautifully written, and in parts, a page-turner, as I really wanted to find out what happened with Mabel and Helen.

Brenda

 


The Lake House

lake house jacketThe Lake House by Kate Morton

Sadie Sparrow is a detective in London in 2003, but is visiting her grandfather in Cornwall while on leave. On a run with her grandfather’s dogs, Sadie discovers an abandoned house, Loeanneth. In 1933 the Edevane family hosts a midsummer’s eve party at Loeanneth. The next morning, their little boy Theo is missing and is never found. Sadie is fascinated by the story and the house, and works with a retired policeman, the local librarian, and an elderly mystery writer to find out what happened. Much of the book is set at Loeanneth in 1932-33, where three sisters, Deborah, Alice, and Clemmie are growing up, mostly oblivious to their family’s many secrets. Readers who like mysteries and family sagas may enjoy this book, along with readers of Mary Stewart, Rosamunde Pilcher, or Melanie Benjamin. The beautiful house has its own secrets, and there are many twists and turns to the plot. Some readers thought it too long, but I kept turning the pages to find out the answers. Sadie is an appealing character, as is the mystery writer’s personal assistant. This was a memorable, satisfying read.
Brenda


After You

after you jacketAfter You by Jojo Moyes

Lou Clark, featured in the very popular novel Me Before You, is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. After some travel in Europe and a longer stay in Paris, she’s bought a flat in London but has barely furnished it, and is working at an Irish pub at an airport. Lou is still smart-mouthed and there are a few funny scenes, but her life is pretty blah. Then troubled teen Lily breezes into her life, and Lou has a bad accident. This leads her to reconnect with her parents, and finally start going to a support group. Then she meets a cute paramedic named Sam, who she confuses with his brother. I would definitely recommend reading the poignant Me Before You first. Not a lighthearted book, I’m glad I read this mix of humor, sadness, family life, and romance.
Brenda


Blackout / All Clear

blackout jacketBlackout / All Clear by Connie Willis

Historical fiction readers may enjoy this two-volume novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. I read it five years ago, and enjoyed rereading it almost as much. Three time-traveling historians visit Great Britain during World War II from Oxford in the 2060s. Eileen is in a country house, observing children evacuated from London during the Blitz, and has her hands full with anxious Theodore and mischievous siblings Alf and Binnie Hodbin. A measles epidemic keeps her from returning to Oxford as scheduled. In London, Polly is assigned to observe Londoners during daily life and in shelters during air raids by finding a job at a department store. When she tries to report back to Oxford, nothing happens. Mike Davies, with an American accent, is supposed to be a reporter in Dover all clear jacketcovering the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk. He arrives in a small town down the coast and has great difficulty getting to Dover. Unexpectedly, Mike gets caught up in the action and helps save the life of a soldier who goes on to rescue hundreds more. He also suffers an injury that would be easily treated in his own time. Eileen and Mike make their way to London to find Polly, and the trio is concerned that their actions might have affected the war’s outcome or that something has happened in future Oxford to prevent their returning home. Two other historians are working hard to retrieve them, with unexpected consequences. The pacing is fast and the tension level is high, but there are plenty of lighter moments. The real highlight of this novel is the spotlight on daily life on the home front in Great Britain during World War II. Long, but definitely worthwhile, with characters I really cared about.
Brenda


A Fine Summer’s Day

summer's day jacketA Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd

This prequel to the post World War I Ian Rutledge mystery series is a great introduction to the series. Charles Todd and his mother Caroline Todd jointly write all their mystery novels together. On a beautiful June day in 1914, Inspector Ian Rutledge proposes to Jean Gordon at a house party. Jean hopes for a Christmas wedding like her parents, and is frustrated that Ian travels so much investigating homicides for Scotland Yard. Ian is looking into suspicious deaths of men who have nothing in common except that they once lived in Bristol. Possibly related, a few gravestones in different cemeteries have been blackened. The day Ian proposes is the day Archduke Ferdinand is killed, and as Ian struggles to solve his cases and make plans for his future, the situation in Belgium gets worse and worse. Superintendent Bowles wants a quick resolution, and it will take a lot to persuade him that the deaths are connected. Many young men are eager to join the army, convinced that they’ll be home from France and Belgium by Christmas, and Jean urges Ian to consider enlisting, to get his share of the glory. Readers of other books in the series know the Ian will go off to war, and will survive, shell-shocked and haunted, uncertain if he can continue in his work for Scotland Yard and with his other plans for the future uncertain. It was enjoyable to read about the young inspector’s careful investigation, frustrated by the delays in getting information and even finding a telephone, and driving long hours to spend a little time with Jean.
Brenda

 


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

queenie jacketThe Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Many readers of the bestselling novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry have wanted to read more about Harold, Maureen, and Queenie. Finally, we have a companion novel told from Queenie’s point of view. Twenty years after she left the brewery, Queenie is living by the sea in a small bungalow with a unique sea garden, decorated with rocks, driftwood, flowers, and even seaweed. Illness forces her to move to St. Bernardine’s Hospice. Queenie is clearly very ill, as are the other residents, but they gradually bond and become a family, especially while they are waiting for Harold Fry to arrive. We learn about Queenie’s past, how she liked to dance, her sorrows and her big secrets. Queenie’s affection for Harold is not a big surprise, but her friendship with Harold’s son David is unexpected, as is the guilt she feels about keeping the friendship from Harold. The focus of this story is daily life at the hospice, which is surprisingly uplifting reading. Queenie’s story is definitely bittersweet, and may move the reader to tears. I suggest this for readers who would enjoy a character-driven novel that is reflective, at times emotionally intense, and always memorable. Other reviewers have said that this novel can be read on its own, but I would read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first.
Brenda


Dreaming Spies

Dreaming Spies by Laurie Kingdreaming spies jacket

An enjoyable adventure for fans of Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. This book, while it’s the 13th to feature Russell and Holmes, can be enjoyed after reading the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. In 1924, they are on a cruise ship traveling from India to Japan. Holmes and Russell enjoy a leisurely cruise, despite Mary’s seasickness, and Holmes tries to determine if Lord Darley, traveling with his new wife and his grown son, is a blackmailer. Neither Russell nor Holmes has visited Japan, and they learn about Japanese customs and some of the language together after Mary befriends American educated Haruki Sato, the daughter of an acrobat. Haruki is more than she appears to be, and sets the couple a challenge once they reach Japan. Japan in the 1920s is a unique setting, which I very much enjoyed. The emperor’s son needs a large favor, which appears to be solved in dramatic fashion at a dinner party. However, a year later in Oxford, England, Haruki reappears and the adventure continues. This is one of the more enjoyable books I’ve read in a while, although the mystery is not the strongest element in the book.
Brenda


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