Book Review

A Royal Spyness Mystery

I have inducted myself into the Cosy (British spelling) Mysteries. I couldn’t resist with Crowned and Dangerous: A Royal Spyness Mystery by Rhys Bowen.

As Louise Penny is quoted,

Brilliant...So much more than a murder mystery. It’s part love story, part social commentary, part fun and part downright terrifying. And completely riveting. I adore this book.
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With a Welsh named author, a heroine named Georgie who’s 34th in line for the British Crown, and an Irish hero named Darcy, that’s all it took for this Anglophile reader! Set it in 1934 November and December (Did you know airplanes were called aeroplanes?) and I’m in.

What’s a woman to do, when the man she loves tells her they’re heading to Gretna Green (in other words—eloping) but they’re interrupted by a blizzard?

Then they read a newspaper article about his estranged father being accused of murder.

Darcy goes to his ancestral estates in Ireland alone, then tells Georgie during a phone call that the elopement is off. She does not take that mildly.

What is a Cozy Mystery?

Elizabeth Spann Craig, a North American author, is my go-to blogger about all things Cozy. She shares a list of what makes a cozy different from other mysteries: thrillers, military, police procedural, and hard-boiled detective.

  • amateur sleuth

  • a body before page 30

  • no gory details about the body

  • little to no use of profanity

  • create a puzzle with red herrings, distractions, and clues

  • close the door on romance subplots

  • write as a series

  • create a pun on the title

  • and, of course, humor

She also lists things to avoid in cozies: too many characters, too much “hook” (subplot that series is based on such as the royal connections in the Royal Spyness series), too much mystery (not enough subplots), too dark, and supporting characters who steal the show (and this can happen in any genre).

If you’re ready for a light and fun read, this is a great book. Rhys Bowen has written twelve books in this series. She has also written two other cosy series: ten Constable Evans Mysteries and seventeen Molly Murphy Mysteries. Bowen is also author of two World War II novels which I have checked out to read next.

Enjoy!

Interstitial Lives

I started reading—Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys--last night before I went to bed and I woke up early in order to finish it! Talk about a story that relentlessly pulls you into it. 

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Placed in 1945, Salt to the Sea tells the story of the winding down of World War II from the point-of-view of four young people: a Lithuanian nurse, a Prussian art restorer, an intuitive Polish girl, and a German seaman.

Three are refugees, fleeing eastward, caught between the Soviet Red Army and Nazi Germany. We hear bits and pieces of their secrets, their generosity, their mistrust.

They link up with other refugees that the reader learns to care for: a wandering boy, a shoe poet, and a suspicious giantess.

Their aim? To board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship to carry them away to safety.

Wilhelm Gustloff

The Wilhelm Gustloff is one of the lesser known tragedies of WWII.

Boarded in Gotenhafen, (present day Gdynia, Poland) with mostly civilians, it carried 10,500 people, with an estimated 5,000 being children. A Soviet submarine launched three torpedoes against it, killing an estimated 9,000 people. It is now a ghost ship, lying off the coast of Poland.

In her author’s notes, Sepetys writes,

“It is estimated that in the year 1945 alone, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea. For months, bodies drifted to shore in various locations, haunting the coastline and its residents. Even today, some divers report a strong presence in the water near the enormous sea graves.”

In her book, Ruta Sepetys, a Lithuanian American, lists her face-to-face and book research sources. She met with a Lithuanian family and a Latvian couple who survived the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff and was in contact with more. She writes of her family connections—her father waiting in a refugee camp, hoping to return to Lithuania and her father’s cousin, who missed the Wilhelm Gustloff and sailed another ship.

Post World War II

The hardcover book also has a 1945 map of the area and a present-day (2016) map.

Many borders shifted after the war. East Prussia exists no more. Its port city of Konigsberg is renamed Kaliningrad and is part of the Russian oblast. The outer lands of East Prussia are now within the Polish border.

Poland lost its east edge to the Soviet Union, which have now become the countries of Belarus and Ukraine.

Not until 1989 did the Baltic States—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—become free of Russian rule.  

Winter Garden

This post is certainly not about my garden. It's a bit chilly here (It's down to 61 Fahrenheit in the house. I turned on the furnace!) but spring is still coming. The rhododendron is beautiful as are the daffodils and grape hyacinths. 

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Yes, there is a tiny autumn joy sedum trying to come up among the hyacinths. I'll need to get that transplanted otherwise, it will crowd  the other plants and I've plenty of sedum. 

But, the book! That's why you're here, right? 

Book Review

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah.  Lovely book. I stayed up all night to finish reading it. 

This story, located in the state of Washington at an apple orchard called Belye Nochi, is about the relationships between two adult daughters and their parents. I enjoyed Hannah's rendering of the two, very different, daughters: 

  • one married with two adult daughters of her own, living near and helping the father manage the apple orchard
  • the other a renowned photographer whom we meet in the jungles in Rwanda photographing the mutilated mountain gorilla left behind by poachers

A Russian Fairy Tale

The mother, a Russian war bride, is a seemingly indifferent woman who loves to sit on the bench in her garden in the winter. She likes a lot of solitude and she has been an emotionally distant mother to her daughters although her husband loves her dearly and is protective of her.

But, the mother does have a fairy tale that her daughters love to hear. A story of a peasant girl and a prince who live in a Snow Kingdom, an enchanted kingdom, but a Black Knight has come, like a virus, and wants to destroy it all. When the mother tells this fairy tale, her voice becomes different, more rich, more alive. 

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Family Relationships

I like the relationships that Hannah develops in this book. They are not easy relationships and she is deft in her detailing of how each sister relates to each parent, loving their father, remnants of yearning for their mother yet retaining their distance with her, and how each sister relates to one another. Both are strong-willed, each has adapted to the childhood that they have received from their parents, and they clash in the care of their father, of their mother.

The leading question that is asked on the back cover of the book is:

How can a woman know herself...if she doesn’t really know her mother?
— Kristin Hannah

We also learn more about the mother and about Russia during the reign of Stalin prior to and during World War II. 

The ending weaves the various strands of story together--the present, the mother's childhood, the fairy tale--and gives us a surprising twist.