The Windsor Knot: A Novel
(Her Majesty the Queen Investigates, 1)
by S.J. Bennett
Set in 2016, Queen Elizabeth II is in residence at Windsor Castle where she hosts a “dine and sleep”. This is a coveted invitation where participants enjoy wonderful food, entertainment, and get to spend a night at the castle. A young Russian musician is found dead in his room. Staff want to shield the Queen from the news and horrific circumstances of the death, but she soon finds out. The Queen quietly participates in solving the murder with the help of her Nigerian assistant, Rozzi.
This is a winning premise for a new series with lots of name dropping. I particularly enjoyed Queen Elizabeth II and her assistant Rozzi and look forward to more installments. Fans of “The Crown” and “Downton Abbey” will enjoy the novel.
Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig
It’s 1917 when 19 graduates (1888-1914) from Smith College formed the Smith College Relief Unit and headed to Grecourt, France. The French government had asked the volunteers to work there. People were desperate. Their lives and homes had been totally disrupted and destroyed by the Germans. They needed basic necessities.
There are three main characters in the novel including: kindhearted Emmie Van Alden, Kate Moran a good friend of Emmie’s who was a scholarship recipient at Smith, and Dr. Julia Pruyen disliked by Kate and a cousin of Emmie’s. All of the women came with necessary know-how and willingness to learn new skills including assembling a truck delivered with all the parts in boxes, driving, taking care of livestock, and basic nursing care.
The story is based on real-life experiences found in documents stored in the Smith College Archives. Those records include directors’ reports, financial information, letters, journals, photographs and albums, news clippings, correspondence with the War Service Board and information about the reconstruction. The novel showcases bravery, perseverance, a little romance and a few secrets revealed in the midst of constant danger. This is a treat for fans of historical fiction.
I read and loved The Outlander by Gil Adamson when it was released in 2008. Set in 1900 in the Canadian wilderness, this novel follows Mary Boulton, a young woman who is on the run from her two brothers-in-law, after having killed her husband. Atmospheric and suspenseful, with quiet moments of introspection and flashbacks of Mary’s earlier life, this character-driven novel is just exactly my favorite type of reading. If you asked me for a good historical fiction to read over the last 12 years, it is likely that I handed this one to you.
Finally, this story continues with the release of Ridgerunner, which was published in February. Ridgerunner is set in 1917 and focuses on 12-year-old Jack Boulton. Jack is the son of the recently-deceased Mary and also the son of the man known as the “Ridgerunner,” a notorious wanderer, loner, and thief. Jack is left in the care of a nun with a dark past, as his father robs mining towns and distant outposts in order to build a nest egg for Jack’s future. Don’t let this book’s online description as a “literary western” put you off. Not only does it have the descriptive and well-researched renderings of Canada and the Great Plains that won me over in The Outlander, Ridgerunner also explores the area’s physical landscapes changing due to tourism and the challenges of homesteading at the beginning of the 20th-century. Ridgerunner is a suspenseful ride, as well as an emotional journey between father and son, with twists, turns and secrets that you won’t see coming.
While The Outlander and Ridgerunner can be read independently of one another, why not thoroughly immerse yourself and read both? You can find these books and others by Gil Adamson on our library’s catalog.
The Four Winds
by Kristen Hannah
The story begins in Texas in 1921. Having suffered from scarlet fever as a young girl, Lisa Wolcott's family over-protected her. She wasn't allowed to finish her education and could rarely leave the house except for church. At 25, Lisa decides to attend a dance in town where she meets the man who would become her husband, Rafe Martinelli. Rafe doesn't really love her but marries Lisa when she becomes pregnant. The wealthy Wolcott family will have nothing to do with Lisa and her new family, but the Martinelli's welcome her. The promise of a better life in California convinces Rafe to abandon his entire family. Lisa and her two children stay in Texas as long as they can. Eventually they head to California where life for them is just as difficult as it was in Texas. They pick cotton where the owner takes advantage of his workers with low wages, a nasty migrant camp, bigotry and the constant threat of violence. This is a story of a mother's love, perseverance, friendship, courage and sacrifice. It's hard to imagine the suffering these people endured. ~Emma
If you like captivating and compelling historical fiction, The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly should be on your to-read list. This novel explores themes including love, loss, hope and friendship and its plot unwinds over three different time periods.
In 1907, Venetia has been hired by the owners of the Highbury House, to design a series of extravagant gardens on its estate. When she gets there, she is well on her way to making a name for herself in garden planning, but catering to the whims of the overbearing lady of the house threatens to ruin Venetia’s plans.
In 1944, the English countryside has become home to many land girls who are helping farmers produce food for the war effort, and Highbury House has been conscripted by the British forces to serve as a military hospital. The house is now owned by Diana Symonds, a young widow who feels like her life is out of her control. Diana’s only consolations are her beautiful son Robyn and the time she spends in her home’s lavish gardens, which she can no longer afford to maintain.
In 2021, Emma has been hired to breathe new life into the very same gardens, now very neglected and barely recognizable. Emma has longed to work on anything originally designed by the long-ago famous and secretive Venetia Smith and is thrilled when she’s picked to restore the grounds of Highbury House to what Venetia intended them to be. As Emma sets out to discover the garden’s original plans, secrets from the past begin to unravel, connecting these three women in unexpected ways.
Like a flower opening to reveal its beauty, this book is one to savor as it captures the lives and dreams of the very different yet strong women whose lives are bound by this special garden. If you are looking for inspiration to start picking out your backyard plants (or if you just want a fabulous read), pick up The Last Garden in England.
It’s young adult fantasy fiction about a young woman who discovers that she has unique magical powers that may be the key to saving her country. It’s billed as dark fantasy but it’s mostly fluff with a love triangle, but sometimes fluff is what you need to read! Shannon
Continuing my year of biographies and memoirs I recently read The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel is about the author’s childhood and young adulthood. Her family is Iranian. Religious extremists take over her country. Her liberal minded family has a hard time adjusting to the years of war. From a very young age Marjane has always been outspoken and tends to get in trouble with teachers or other authorities for speaking out about inequality or injustice. She is sent to school in Europe for her safety, but being alone and coming of age in a whole new environment takes its toll. She finds her way back home, but it is no easier to fit into the traditional role her conservative society expects of her. Art and drawing and ultimately telling this story is what she needs to do. I watched the French animated movie based on this after reading it. I like the book just a bit better for providing details that are cut out of the film. Byron
Published in 1894 this early work of “weird” fiction by Machen was a great read. A short novel, this story pertains the consequences of investigating beyond the physical realm and the ripple effect that occur. The story begins with an experiment to see the spiritual realm by Dr Raymond, an act the Doctor notes the ancient called “seeing the great god Pan”. I won’t give more away about the plot as part of the joy of reading this story was watching it unfold. Recommended to fans of horror and supernatural fiction. Greg
After hearing multiple rave reviews of this fresh, feminist translation of Beowulf I’m finally reading it for myself! Fifty years after the translation of Beowulf that myself and many others were forced to read in high school, this new version is described as a “radical new verse translation” that brings to light elements of this classic tale that have never been translated into English. I just added this to my Kindle and am only on the introduction but looking forward to diving into the story. Nicole
After the death of her mother, a young woman’s compulsion to eat earth reveals that once ingested, she receives visions of the person with a connection to that earth. The first earth she eats shows her how her mother died. Abandoned by her adult relatives, she and her brother Walter live alone in the slums of Buenos Aires. Though many of the locales are put off by her ability, more and more people start leaving jars of earth and notes pleading for her assistance. A remarkable novel and the translator skillfully manages to convey a distinctive, youthful patois. Trent
During WWII Olive’s veterinarian father raises prize winning racing pigeons. Olive is very much involved in their care and training. She is contacted by British Intelligence to assist in top-secret missions using the pigeons as messengers. Olive wants to do her part for the war effort and is excited about this opportunity. As part of her cover, Olive dates a British officer which leads to all kinds of speculation in the small town. In addition, a local woman is found dead near the Bright’s dovecote (a structure used to house pigeons or doves). Olive participates in the investigation that uncovers many secrets including some about her family. Mystery, history, and a little romance make for an entertaining read. Emma
This is the story of Afi Tekple, a young seamstress raised in a poor rural village in Ghana. Afi is thrust into an arranged marriage to a wealthy businessman, Elikem Ganyo. After moving into one of Elikem’s many residences with very infrequent visits from her new husband, Afi starts to dream up how she can make the most of her new-found lifestyle. Beth
An earlier book by the author of The Sundown Motel, this novel follows the same model of a mystery with a (sort of) believable supernatural twist. Fiona Sheridan, a journalist, is drawn to the location where her older sister’s body had been found 20 years earlier. A mysterious woman has begun renovating Idlewild Hall, a school for “wayward and difficult girls,” that has long been abandoned and is the place where Fiona’s sister’s body was dumped. There is something unnatural about that place- a cold dampness, a constant aura of anxiety and fear, and a legend of a ghost that wanders the grounds. While covering the story of the renovation, Fiona is drawn into the tale of a group of girls at Idlewood Hall in the 1950s, one of whom went missing, presumed dead, and whose body was never found. Fiona learns about the lives of these forgotten girls who were basically abandoned by their families, and at the same time uncovers a secret about her sister’s murder that puts her own life in danger. Sara
The Kitchen Front
by Jennifer Ryan
Due to rationing during WWII, feeding one’s family became a real challenge. Four very different women decide to enter a cooking competition sponsored by a local BBC radio show. Contestants must use ingredients with food rationing in mind. The winner will co-host the popular “Home Front” radio show. Those competing included a widow with 3 boys, her wealthy sister, a timid kitchen maid, and a single pregnant chef. Due to a variety of unforeseen circumstances, these women end up living together, becoming friends and ardent supporters of each other’s talents and endeavors. In the end, it really didn’t matter who won the contest.
During the Second World War, millions of people actually listened to an early morning five-minute BBC radio program called “The Kitchen Front”. The Public Relations Division of the Ministry of Food gave the public guidance about the healthiest way to feed themselves and to make the best use of their rations. This is a heartwarming book with bonus wartime recipes.
Security consultant ‘Jane Smith’ receives a mysterious note with a key that leads her to an abandoned storage locker. Within is a taxidermy extinct hummingbird and a set of clues left by an infamous eco-terrorist named Silvina. As Jane follows the trail to find the matching salamander, she is plunged into a dangerous world where she races trained killers to find answers. Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, Hummingbird Salamander, is an intricate noir eco-thriller.
This latest offering from VanderMeer explores themes of trauma, identity, generational abuse, and environmentalism. It is more grounded and easier to follow than the surreal Annihilation and the Southern Reach trilogy, so it is a more accessible entry point for people new to VanderMeer’s unique brand of eco science fiction. But fans of those earlier novels shouldn’t worry, as there is still the same pervasive aura of unreality and surrealism that devotees have come to expect.
Look for Hummingbird Salamander to come out on April 6, 2021. Click the book cover above to be taken to our catalog, where you can place an advance hold with your library card number and PIN.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!
The Paris Library
by Janet Skeslien Charles
In 1939, Odile Souchet is working her dream job at the American Library in Paris. She loves being surrounded by books, co-worker friends, and wonderful subscribers (patrons) including her boyfriend who shows up on a regular basis. When the Nazis occupy the city, the library director, Miss Reeder, cannot guarantee the safety of the collections, employees or patrons. Soon the Nazis dictate who cannot use the library, especially French Jews, and what materials can be available.
Much later in 1983, Odile is living in rural Montana. 7th grader Lily Jacobsen befriends her elderly neighbor. Odile becomes Lily’s confidant and support when her mother becomes ill and dies. At times Odile’s home becomes an escape after Lily’s father remarries and she has two brothers to help take care of. Regrettably Lily snoops through Odile’s things, and their friendship is almost destroyed. By invading Odile’s privacy Lily uncovers decades old secrets.
The novel is based on some historical facts. Dorothy M. Reeder was the director of the American Library. During WWII, the library did manage to stay open. It started the “Soldiers’ Service”, providing books and magazines to British and French troops. When Jews were barred from the library, Miss Reeder and her staff personally delivered materials to them putting themselves at great risk.
This is a great book for lovers of historical fiction.