A Single Thread

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

At 38, Violet Speedwell is one of England’s surplus women, her fiancé one of many young men who died in the Great War. Weary of her mother’s demands and complaints, Violet takes a position as typist and moves to the cathedral city of Winchester in 1932. Barely making ends meet until she speaks up and gets more hours, Violet finds a satisfying hobby when she joins the Broderers’ Guild, embroidering kneelers and cushions for the cathedral, often while listening to the bell ringers. The story is compelling and absorbing rather than fast-paced, with a strong sense of place and the wonderfully imperfect Violet, who has to talk herself into taking a planned walking holiday. Sure to be popular with book groups, I enjoyed this book more than any of Chevalier’s books I’ve read since Remarkable Creatures.

A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay

In a land much like Renaissance Italy, only in a world with two moons and no Greece, the ripple effects of decisions made by a tailor’s son and a pagan healer have lasting impact. Kay is known for his epic fantasy; this book reads more like historical fiction. Not fast-paced except for a few notable scenes including two horse races, this is a novel to savor. The setting is gorgeously drawn without being overly detailed and the numerous characters are realistic. Strong female characters such as a duke’s daughter turned assassin add appeal. If you haven’t discovered Kay, who’s published a novel every two to three years since 1984, then you’re in for a real treat if you enjoy historical fiction or fantasy. Start anywhere, perhaps with Tigana, The Lions of al-Rassan, Ysabel, or Under Heaven. His previous book, Children of Earth and Sky is set twenty-five years after A Brightness Long Ago.



A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

This entertaining Victorian mystery is perfect summer reading for fans of British mysteries or Georgette Heyer’s witty Regency romances. Set in 1899 in Surrey and London, American-born Frances Wynn, the elder Countess of Harleigh, is just finishing her year of mourning for her husband Reggie. Frances and her young daughter Rose are moving to London, over the protests of her brother and sister-in-law, who want Frances to fund repairs to their manor house.

Frances’ aunt and younger sister Lily arrive for the season, and Lily acquires three suitors. After a stolen bracelet is found in Frances’ bag, Frances and her neighbor George Hazelton are concerned that one of Lily’s suitors may be responsible for recent thefts at society balls. If that wasn’t enough, Inspector Delaney calls to ask Frances questions about Reggie’s death. Lighthearted and fast-paced, this first novel is a delight. I enjoyed the audiobook narration of Sarah Zimmerman, and look forward to reading A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder, which is available now.



Promise by Minrose Gwin

Many secrets are revealed in the aftermath of a devastating tornado that struck Tupelo, Mississippi in 1936. Judge McNabb’s daughter Jo, already dealing with a broken arm, struggles to help her mother and baby brother. Their washerwoman, Dovey Grand’homme, is looking for her granddaughter Dreama and baby Promise. In flashbacks, we learn how Jo’s violent older brother connects the two families. Dovey’s story is the most interesting, and the different way her family is treated after the storm shows the racism of the time. Lyrical writing and vivid descriptions of the tornado are highlights of this memorable novel.


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Cussy Mary Carter, 19, is a pack horse librarian in the hills of eastern Kentucky in 1936. She is known as Book Woman or Bluet. Cussy is one of the last of the blue-skinned Fugates, and is treated as a colored person. Despite her coloring, her coal miner father wants to see Cussy married and provided for. Cussy and her mule deliver books, magazines, scrapbooks, and newspapers, along with letters and occasionally food to the isolated mountain folk on her route. Hope and heartbreak mingle here, and the story has some very dark scenes. The power of reading to inform, comfort, and enlighten is emphasized in this memorable and moving novel. Very well researched by the author, a Kentuckian, this book is a good choice for book groups interested in Depression-era America. I am looking forward to reading more about the pack horse librarians in The Giver of Stars, by Jojo Moyes, to be published this October.



Meet Me in Monaco

Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

In 1955 actress Grace Kelly takes refuge from a photographer in Sophie Duval’s perfume boutique in Cannes, France. Sophie then meets James Henderson, the British photographer desperate for a photo. Sophie and James’ stories, including their work, are framed by the love story of Grace and Prince Rainier of Monaco. The settings are gorgeously drawn, the storyline is not predictable, and the epilogue in 1982 is short but very satisfying. The Gown by Jennifer Robson is a good readalike.


An American Agent

An American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Private investigator Maisie and her friend Priscilla spend a few evenings a week driving an ambulance in London during the blitz. Catherine Saxon, an American reporter, rides along one night, reports what she saw on the radio, and is found dead the next day. Maisie and her assistant Billy investigate, with occasional help from an attractive American agent, Mark Scott. Maisie visits Catherine’s boarding house, and meets with her friends, all while worried about her family in Kent, where she spends weekends. An intriguing puzzle, appealing characters, and a fast-paced story make this a memorable mystery. The first book in the long-running series is Maisie Dobbs.