Saturday, September 14, 2013

Heirs and Graces Review

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I love Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgie series (aka the Royal Spyness series books. The series follows lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line for the British throne in the time before The King's Speech took place. It's the Great Depression and even royals are not immune to the economic disaster. Georgie is the younger sister of a Scottish duke who has gone bankrupt after having to pay his father's death dues. Technically, Georgie should be cared for by her half-brother until her own marriage, but that proves to be more complicated than it would seem given the family's lack of money and her sister-in-law's unfriendly demeanor.

Throughout the books, intelligent, clumsy (but not in an over the top Bridget Jones way - Georgie is a bit too practical for that) Georgie stumbles on and solves mysteries, while trying to keep herself afloat financially. She refuses to be married off, even to a prince, because she wants to marry for love, and also resists being made an elderly noble woman's companion. Each book puts her in a new position as she strives to live while only having skills taught in finishing school.

In this book, which takes place about six weeks after the last novel, Georgie is living with her flighty mother, helping to record her memoirs. This doesn't last long as her mother gets summoned to her boyfriend's side for the winter and leaves Georgie high and dry. Lucky, Georgie writes to her cousin, the queen (aka the mother of the king Colin Firth played in The King's Speech) to ask for help and the queen luckily finds something for Georgie to do. Turns out the dowager duchess of a wealthy home (think Downton Abbey) was desperate for an heir after her son (who clearly isn't too into ladies) refused to do his duty of marrying and producing a child. Duchess Edwina learned that her son John, who died in WWI, had been married to a school teacher in Australia, who was pregnant at the time of John died. The son, Jack, was raised on a sheep farm in Australia and while uncouth, is technically the actual heir to the estate, which of course is entailed and needs to pass to a male family member.

Georgie is enlisted to live at the estate and help Jack acclimate to high society, something she knows quite a lot about. The house is huge and filled with an assortment of family members from Cedric the rather nasty duke and his young male followers, two elderly aunts, Edwina's daughter and her two children and of course a ton of servants. The house is filled with tension once Jack arrives as he is the furthest things from an acceptable duke. Matthew Crawley was at least civilized, while Jack is more comfortable on a horse herding sheep. However, he's a nice young man and while he wants nothing to do with the dukedom, he is willing to try and learn.

Until, of course, the duke himself is discovered dead with a knife in his back. It's up to Georgie and her fiance, Darcy, to solve the crime with the sort of help of the local police inspector. Of course her friend, Belinda, makes an appearance and her horrible maid, Queenie pops up from time to time. There's a slightly forced appearance by Georgie's beloved granddad, who really has nothing to do with the story. I think that was just a concession to the fans. While the mystery is being solved, Darcy and Georgie grow closer although they aren't any closer to marriage, despite their engagement at the end of the last book. However, it seems as though they are getting there.

The story wraps up nicely although I wish I knew what happened to some of the characters in the family like the crippled Elisabeth. I had several guesses as to who the murderer would be but was pleasantly surprised by the final reveal. As usual, Rhys Bowen has crafted an entertaining historical mystery. Can't wait until the next one!

Buy it on amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, September 2, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed Review

I read The Kite Runner ages ago and really loved it. I've meant to read A Thousand Splendid Suns for a long time and never got around to it, but I spotted Hosseini's newest novel, And the Mountains Echoed on the list of summer reading books at my new school. They offered a bunch of fiction and non-fiction choices and part of my opening meetings tomorrow include a book discussion. I sort of waited until the last minute to pick this up but fortunately I finished over the weekend, just in time for the discussion.

And the Mountains Echoed is lovely and heartbreaking in a million different ways. The story begins with a simple fairy tale that a father tells to his young children. However, hidden within that simple story is the devastating choice the father has had to make. Impoverished and with a new (pregnant) wife to support, the father decides to sell his daughter to a wealthy couple who are unable to have their own child. Young Pari is only 3 or so when she is sold, but her brother, Abdullah, is seven years older and is devastated by the loss of his sister.

And the Mountains Echoed deals with the ramifications of the father's decision. Each chapter follows a different character in a series of interlocking stories as we learn what happened to Abdullah and Pari throughout their lives. The stories span from the 1930s through 2010 and from Afghanistan to Europe to the US. One of the earliest chapters follows Nabi, Pari's step-uncle, the chauffeur for the wealthy couple who at the end of his life writes a letter explaining his actions and the consequences. Another chapter follows Pari throughout her life in France. Yet another deals with a plastic surgeon who is connected to the house where Pari lived in Kabul.

It isn't always obvious how these stories are connected. The one about the plastic surgeon in Greece is probably the least connected but each chapter serves to explain something about Pari and Abdullah's life at some point or another from what happened to the town where they were born to how their father ended up with his second wife.

Most of the chapters except the last two are told in third person but then the narrative switches to first person, which is interesting. Additionally, Hosseini does an excellent job of giving each character a unique voice. Most of the chapters are quite long but the plot winds together nicely leading to a bittersweet but wholly satisfying ending.

I think I'm going to have to read A Thousand Splendid Suns ASAP as I really loved this book. It's definitely worth the read.

NY Times Review

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble