Recently a facebook friend lamented that she had to turn in "Maise Dobbs" because she couldn't renew it, but was tempted to keep it a few days extra to finish reading. I immediately wanted to know more, that is the kind of book recommendation that I appreciate! Thanks to that comment, I've discovered Jacqueline Winspear's "mystery" series featuring Maise Dobbs. These books are a bit hard to categorize, but I would say they are psychological mystery novels. Each book does have one or two investigations that the insightful private detective Maise Dobbs is engaged with, but there is a great deal of character development and backstory packed into these relatively slim little books. The setting is England after the First World War, which is a time that I am fairly ignorant of so I have really been enjoying that as well. (Another similar series that I like, but not as much, is by mother/son writing team Charles Todd- it also features an independent young woman investigating things, but she currently a nurse during the war during the course of the stories- the Bess Crawford series, also worth checking out though!) There is a bit of "spiritualism" and a sort of new-age vibe in some of Winspear's books, but I think that reflects the time period as well. (She likes to sit in a room shortly after a crime was committed and make observations and try to sense what the spirit/personality/mood of the person involved had been.) So far, I've read the first book, "Maise Dobbs", "Pardonable Lies", and then going backwards, I'm currently reading "Birds of a Feather".
The next book I've finished recently qualifies me for a "I can't believe I read the WHOLE THING!" award. If there isn't such an award, I hearby make it up and give it to myself. "Fall of Giants", by Ken Follett. I read and really enjoyed the other two historical books he wrote ("The Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End"). I had some concerns about starting this book, because I had started it as an audio book and didn't get very far. It is definitely a book that I needed to be able to read on my own. There were certain parts/story lines that really drew me in, and others not so much. This is book one of the Century Triology, covering the time leading up to the first World War (I can't say WWI, since at the time they obviously didn't know about the second one to come, thank goodness!) I really enjoyed most of the storylines, though there were really some unlikeable characters, though no villians per say. (Unlike Pillars of the Earth in particular, which had characters I loved to hate.) I've described Ken Follett's writing style to my husband as excessively detailed at times- in terms of actions (building a cathedral, but a good kind of detailed), relationships, and ummm intimate bedroom scenes. Almost more like a man describing a detailed battle (which he does quite a bit) except he is describing a more intimate encounter- almost a dry, clinical, detached description at times. One positive is that really there was a bit less of the latter in Fall of Giants than in his other two books, which as a mom who is often reading while watching her kids at the park or taking care of them generally, I do appreciate. I hate to be a kill-joy but some things are best left inferred, don't necessarily need a word picture!
That leads me nicely into a book which I also truly loved, and was quite an undertaking for me to read. "When Christ and His Saints Slept" by Sharon Penman. This was a wonderful historical novel about Empress or Queen Maud and her cousin Stephen, and their bloody decades-long battle over England's throne. I had some curiousity about this time period because of "Pillars of the Earth" by Follet (same time period), and also because of the history readings we have done for my daughter's homeschool. I felt this author had a wonderful writing style, character development and told a darn good tale that spanned decades and countries. And thankfully, the bedroom scenes were very tastefully done and appropriate. I am excited that I enjoyed this book so much, because this author has been quite prolific so I have a lot of good books to look forward to! Next up is "Time and Chance" which picks up with Henry II's marriage to Eleanor of Acquitaine. Between Penman's books and the Winspear series, I will have plenty of good "curl up and read" books to keep me occupied this winter!
Oh, but how could I forget- I'm also getting current on old favorite, Father Tim! I have "In the Company of Others" by Jan Karon in my reading pile as well. It will be nice to pick that up if I am feeling overwhelmed by all the historical fiction I'm reading!