Book Review: Dreamers of the Day

Cover of "Dreamers of the Day: A Novel"

I finished this book a month or so ago, but I find myself thinking about the storyline over and over again.

If you’ve ever read any books by Elizabeth Peters, like Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1), you may find this one a little bit similar. Set in the same time period – the 1920’s – and in the same area – Egypt – I found it reminding me in some ways of Peters’ novels. But other than the era and the geography, they are nowhere near the same novels.

Dreamers of the Day: A Novel features a young woman who has always been the “ugly duckling” in her family. Never smart enough, beautiful enough or anything enough for her mother, she is forever in her sister’s shadow.  Agnes is a dutiful girl and cares for her nagging, overbearing mother while teaching school throughout the Great War.

As she loses family to influenza and wartime, Agnes suddenly finds herself completely alone – without the responsibilities of caring for others and a nice little nest egg.  She decides, after attending a session about Egypt, to take off to explore and learn more.

She prepares for the trip and meets a few memorable characters along the way, including Mildred a shop girl at a department store (whose boyfriend, I suspect, was the comedian Bob Hope).  Mildred helps Agnes begin to come out of her shell, in spite of her mother’s voice ringing her unworthiness in her mind.

Agnes is ready to leave. Ready to learn more about the world beyond Cleveland, Ohio.

What she learns more about, however, is herself – and how to be herself.   She arrives at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo just as the Peace Talks of 1921 are beginning.  She becomes enmeshed with the dignitaries and powers-that-be who are carving up the spoils of war, befriending none other than Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and, somewhat, Lady Gertrude Bell.

As she hovers around the periphery of these world-altering talks, Agnes befriends Karl Weilbacher, a German spy.  She struggles with deciding whether he wants to be with her for her or whether he is using her to gather information about the Peace Talks – and whether or not she really cares.

Rosie, her faithful dachshund keeps her company, and Agnes forever hears the warring voices of Mildred and her mother as her “voices on her shoulder.”

The story is engrossing and colorful, full of rich details that take you right into Egypt in the 1920’s.  It is interesting to watch Agnes blossom as she tells her story – learning how to become her own person, think her own thoughts, and make up her own mind.

As I finished the book, I just had to research further the history – to know how things wound up with the Peace Talks and what happened to Lawrence of Arabia.  As I re-read my history, the characters seemed that much more realistic, thanks to Russell’s characterizations and storytelling.

I’ve been reading another of her books and hope to share that one with you, too, soon.

As for the bottom line here, I’d most definitely recommend this story to you. It’s a great read and one that will definitely keep you entertained throughout. It’s not a vapid, cotton-candy kind of book, but rather one that makes you think and engages your mind as it whisks you away to another time and place.

Book Review: House of Silk

I read this book a while ago when I was looking for an escape – for something to suck me in and transport me to another realm where I could relax and unwind.

I have to say, this book really did the job.

House of Silk

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you will love this book.  Written in the true tone of the original Sherlock mysteries, the story weaves in and out of two different mysteries – keeping you guessing and enthralled throughout.

The story is actually one of the only Sherlock Holmes novels to be officially sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, which, I think, says something about how true it is to the original Sherlock-ian style. It is written from the point of view of Dr. Watson and he is writing the story about Sherlock’s greatest mystery. It’s a story he didn’t feel he could tell until long after Sherlock was dead.

It was impossible before – and I am not just referring to Holmes’s well-known aversion to publicity. No, the events which I am about to describe were simply too monstrous, too shocking to appear in print.  They still are. It is not exaggeration to suggest that they would tear apart the entire fabric of society and, particularly at a time of war, this is something I cannot risk.”

Makes you curious, doesn’t it? What exactly DID go on in this story he’s about to tell?

The book is actually two stories in one ~ The House of Silk and The Man in the Flat Cap ~ and how these wove together and unfolded as I read kept me enthralled throughout the book.

As the book opens, a London art dealer asks for Sherlock’s help in tracking down a mysterious man in a flat cap who he feels is threatening him.  Sherlock takes the case and through tracking down the mystery of the man in the flat cap, he finds his own life in jeopardy as he is accused of murder, his own life is put in danger, and he finds that some of his methods are not always fool-proof.

Add in a mysterious Flat Cap Gang, art thieves, opium dens and other assorted bad guys and you have quite the tale.  Watson, as usual, is a few steps behind Sherlock in most things, but this loyal friend does his part to assist in bringing the mystery (mysteries?) to a conclusion.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you – I want you to enjoy it, to savor it like a rich, dark chocolate confection – and so I’m not going to tell you much more.

This book is perfect for a rainy day with a cup of tea and a comfy chair.

Book Review: Wild

I’m a little behind in sharing my latest reads with you – this one I actually read during the Christmas holidays. But, I wanted to share it with you because I really enjoyed it and thought it worth passing along as a recommendation.

What were you doing at twenty-two?

I know what I was NOT doing at that age – and that was contemplating taking off anywhere on my own for any length of time. Much less changing my name, leaving behind all that was familiar to me, and striking off on a hike ALONE along the Pacific Coast Trail.

But that is exactly what Cheryl Strayed did.

And then, eventually, chronicled the entire experience into this story – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail.

The book is really, at its essence, a story about overcoming tragic circumstances and finding at the core of oneself strength and peace.

At times the book was difficult to read – “watching” the self-destructive behavior of a person who was lost and searching – reading about the pain and heartbreak of her mother’s death and the disintegration of her marriage and family afterwards – the mother in me wanted to comfort the girl-child in the book and tell her it would all be okay.  Strayed’s brutal honesty with her emotions, her actions, and her motivations both enthralled me and broke my heart.

And yet, there were parts that were charming and I cheered her on as she found her inner strength, learned to survive along the trail and even found peace and solace from her solitary journey.  In some ways, I envied that journey of discovery – when you’re left with nothing but yourself to rely on and your own mind to spur you on.

I can’t say that I ever considered hiking a trail (not even the Appalachian, which is close to home) with anyone, much less all alone.  And most definitely not at twenty-two years old. The extremity of what Strayed did was in proportion to the misery that she was in – finding herself all alone with ties to her life severed – partly out of her control and partly of her own choosing.  That she was able to complete the journey, physically and metaphorically, speaks to her strength and tenacity.  That she’s taken the story and turned it into a best seller speaks to her savvy.

Bottom line –

Would I recommend it? Most definitely.  Not my normal genre to read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What I’m Reading Right Now: Executive Privilege

What I'm reading right now

I just finished this book not too long ago and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I found it via a new service I’ve subscribed to (Book Bub) which sends me links to discounted ebooks based on the genres I’ve selected and the format I chose (I chose Nook, Kindle and Apple Books because I can read any of these on my iPad.)  So far, it’s been dangerously good. Some of the titles have been iffy once I’ve clicked through to research them a bit more, but for the most part I am finding some new authors to check out and certainly filling up my to-read list on Good Reads.

Executive Privilege is a story that explores the mystery surrounding a set of serial murders in the D.C. area and their possible tie-in to the President of the United States.   As the story opens, a private investigator, Dana Cutler, is asked to follow a young woman for a mysterious, and anonymous client.  At the same time, FBI agent Keith Evans is called in to investigate the latest murder in a string of murders committed by the “DC Ripper.”  Out in Oregon, a young attorney is tasked with handling an appeal for a death row inmate who is convicted of being a serial killer.

As you read, these three people are entwined in an increasingly dangerous and twisted story as they independently work through their tasks and ultimately find themselves all facing the same conclusion – that there is a third serial killer on the loose and it just might be in the Executive Office.

Dana is an emotionally-scarred ex-cop who makes her living as a private investigator.  She’s asked to watch a young woman who is working in the campaign office of the presidential candidate.  As she is on surveillance, the young woman meets up with Secret Service agents in a shopping mall parking lot and goes to a secret rendezvous with the President.  Dana follows and watches from the woods, taking pictures, as the young woman’s tryst turns sour and she storms out of the hideaway with angry words and tears for the President.  As Dana tries to leave to follow her back, she is attacked by Secret Service agents guarding the President and barely escapes.  As she is fleeing, she realizes that the pictures she just took could get her into serious trouble.  She leaves her final update for her mysterious client and tells them she is quitting the job.  She’s on the run and hoping to keep herself alive.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, young Brad Miller, a new attorney, is asked by his boss to represent a convicted serial killer on his final appeal.  It appears to be an open and shut case and Brad is surprised when the killer, Clarence Little, wants to meet with him and insists that he has been wrongly accused of one of the murders and wants Miller to clear his name.  As Little gives him details to prove his innocence, Brad is sucked into the mystery and can’t stop looking for the answers – even as his boss warns him off and threatens him if he doesn’t.

FBI agent Keith Evans solves the D.C. Ripper case only to find that there is another murder that is being linked to the Ripper.  Except in this case, things don’t add up and he starts to wonder if there is a copy-cat killer on the loose.  The murder victim is a young woman who was working on the campaign of the presidential candidate.

As each main character continues to work their way through the maze of clues and lies they find their paths crossing and the reader is left to wonder – is the President the killer? Is it his right-hand man who is scarily loyal to him and has a military background and will stop at nothing to protect the president?  As they continue to figure things out, forces are working against them on both coasts, trying to keep what has been buried, buried.

This is a great story and kept me engrossed right up until the end. Although, I have to admit, I had figured out “who done it” pretty much halfway through the book, I still enjoyed reading to find out how Margolin was going to reveal the murderer’s identity and wrap up the story.  I would definitely recommend it – especially for a plane flight or vacation read.  It’s not one you want to put down once you get going.

Final Verdict: Read it

And in other news… this is what happens when you leave your editor window open and go cook dinner:

Hi this is MB mommy had a edit open so I added my own note heheSmile

 

Books, books and more books

free_books_onlineWhile I wasn’t blogging much in November and December, I was reading a lot. Partly because reading was a great escape from the stresses of work and a great way to unwind and clear my mind at the end of the day.  I found a few great books and I’ll be sharing my thoughts about them over the next few weeks.

This week, I thought I’d share this book with you – it’s one that I stumbled across (I can’t really remember how I did) and thoroughly enjoyed.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore was a really good read. It starts off innocuous enough and then before I knew it, I was sucked in and couldn’t put it down.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreThe story starts out with a former tech industry employee who is downsized out of his marketing job stumbling into a job at a 24 hour bookstore.  Clay is not really sure how the bookstore stays in business as his night-shift hours have relatively few customers and those that do come in ask only for the “special” books on the shelves in the rear of the store – and these they do not purchase, but return when they’re done.

Fascinated with the mysterious books and yet afraid of stumbling across what this bookstore may be a front for, Clay is irreversibly drawn into finding out what is going on.

What follows is a great story that weaves ancient mysteries with modern technology and keeps you enthralled until the very end. Clay’s quirky friends (new and old) as well as the totally unique Mr. Penumbra and a few of his cohorts are charming and entertaining and make a great ensemble of characters.

I have to say, once I finished it, I was online searching to see if Robin Sloan had any more books to offer – or even a sequel to this book. I hated to say goodbye to the characters and am really looking forward to whatever the next adventure Mr. Sloan has to share.

Final Verdict: Read it

 

What I’m Reading Right Now

I’ve just finished a really good book that I was asked to review: Searching For Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe. I have to say, I felt very lucky to have been given the opportunity to read the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The baseline of the story revolves around a young woman named Sophie Elliot who is adrift in life and in her career and hoping to restart her writing career by staying in Bath, England in the townhome owned by her family. She is fascinated with Jane Austen and when she learns that the townhome is next door do the one that the Austens lived in when they were staying in Bath, her decision is finalized.

What follows is an interesting journey backwards and forwards through time as Sophie mysteriously passes back into time in the body of her cousin who is living next door to the Austens and has befriended the young Austen ladies.  Sophie becomes more and more entwined with the story of her cousin and her friendship with Jane and her sister – and brother, Charles.

In modern times, she befriends her neighbor, Josh Strafford, who happens to be working on an exhibit about Regency Bath, including displays on the Austens.  As Sophie bounces back and forth between time, she begins to have feelings for both Josh and Charles, which she fears will lead her to heartbreak on both fronts.

The story is cleverly woven between the past and present and quickly draws you into both times.  You hope that Sophie finds love with Charles Austen in the past AND with Josh Strafford in the present. You wonder how the events in the past have shaped the current and what changes may occur based on Sophie’s actions in the past.  Will she affect the future?  What will happen with Charles?  What does Josh feel about her? Is she just a friend or more to him?

Odiwe does an excellent job of portraying Regency England and the customs and challenges young women of that era faced.  I was enchanted by her portrayal of Jane Austen as a spunky, creative young woman bound by duty and honor – and most women of that age were.  I’ve visited Bath before and the descriptions she used in the book were true to my memories and took me back to the visits, wandering the streets and walking through the Pump Room.

She handles the time-travel relatively well, and I think, does a good job of portraying Sophie as someone who tries to sort out whether what is happening is a dream or if it is real – and which reality is really real?

I would most definitely suggest you read the book, even if you are not a Jane Austen fan, you’ll enjoy the story line and be enchanted by the characters.

This review is also part of the Layered Pages book review team. Hop on over to find more great books and reviews.

What I’m Reading Right Now

What I'm reading right nowOr, rather, what I just finished reading…

While I was on my recent business trip, I decided to purchase a few “real” books because there is that interminable period of time on the plane when you can’t have your electronics turned on and I don’t think you can bring enough magazines to fill that gap of time – or at least I don’t want to – they are heavy (and expensive!)

So, while I was in California, I stopped by the local bookstore and picked up a few books to read. I had forgotten what a heady experience it is to enter a bookstore – the smells,  the sight of all those books – it’s just heaven to me. As I was all alone (another wonderful experience) I spent probably close to an hour or more just browsing the shelves and looking at all sorts of books.

It’s something you don’t even realize you miss, when you move to digital books; the experience of being in a bookstore – perusing the stacks and stumbling across books you didn’t even know existed.

I was in heaven.

And one of the books I stumbled across was this one –The Yard, by Alex Grecian.  I have to say, it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may remember that I asked for book recommendations a while back. I had been reading a series and was finished with that series and in a bit of a quandary about what to read  next. I got some great suggestions but none really “grabbed” me as I read them and I was still looking for a new book to suck me in and take me away from the world for a few hours.

The Yard certainly did that.  My flight home just flew by (sorry, I couldn’t resist) and I found myself wishing I could just snuggle up on the sofa and read until I finished the book once I got home.  (the kids were having none of that, though)

The story is an old-fashioned murder mystery, set in Victorian England around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders.  In the story, a fledgling murder squad is formed at Scotland Yard and the detectives have been tasked with solving the murders occurring in London.  They have their hands full, often with close to 100 unsolved cases each. Confidence is low, morale is lower and they are scorned by the citizens who feel they were let down when the Jack the Ripper murders were never solved.

Enter Walter Day, a recently promoted detective who really feels he doesn’t quite belong on the murder squad even though he was hand picked by his predecessor for the job.  Walter is recently married – to a young lady above his station – and is hoping the detective position will afford him the lifestyle his wife had been accustomed to before their marriage.

When a train case is abandoned at the local station and the body of a Murder Squad detective is found inside, Walter is assigned to the case, simply because he was the first on the scene.  He teams up with Dr. Bernard Kingsley, a local physician who has appointed himself to the coroner’s position and who embraces “new” medicine and forensic investigation.

Together, they begin to research the murder and to try to track down the killer.  As the story progresses, other murders are intertwined and cause them to wonder if this is another serial killer or just coincidental similarities linking the cases.  Additionally, the murderer is hot on their tails and tries his best to interfere with the investigation at every turn.

At the same time, Constable Nevil Hammersmith is compelled to investigate the case of a missing young boy who is found dead in a chimney.  Young children were often abducted and pressed into labor as “climbers” for chimney sweeps and this child apparently died in service to one.  Hammersmith is instructed not to investigate but can’t let the death go because it brings back memories of his childhood labors in the mines.

Grecian does an excellent job building the characters and bringing them to life – you are not only following the mystery of the murders but the development of these three men as they find their way in investigating them and in establishing themselves within the Murder Squad at Scotland Yard.

I won’t tell you any more about the plot – I want you to experience it for yourself, but I will say this: I didn’t want to put the book down and I was really sad when it was finished. I’m hoping that there are future stories planned for this crew as I was sad to say goodbye when the story ended.

If you’re looking for a great summer read, definitely consider The Yard.