Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The Maisie Dobbs series was an accidental slip of fate which I’m pleased to have stumbled upon. Like many of you, I have Netflix. Also like many of you, I tend to watch an entire series consecutively (night after night) once I’ve begun watching. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries was one such Netflix find. I was also happy to discover that there is indeed a book series by Australian author Kerry Greenwoodbook series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood, about a sassy flapper-era female detective who is no stranger to adventure and intrique–Miss Phryne Fisher. Unfortunately, my library didn’t have any of the Phryne Fisher books and it wasn’t available as an ebook on Overdrive either. Which means if I want to read the Phryne Fisher books, I’ll have to buy them. And it’s a long series. Anyways, I came across an article which listed authors you should try if you like the Phryne Fisher books-historical mysteries with a plucky female heroine. Which is how I encountered the Maisie Dobbs books.

Maisie Dobbs is not a flapper-era female detective but she is a detective of sorts. She is a well-educated British ex-nurse who opens her own detective agency with interest in helping people. She’s not a scandalous, sassy flapper, she’s a lady with dignity and composure and a strong sense of decorum.

The first novel in the series by Jacqueline Winspear is simply called Maisie Dobbs, and it’s her first case after the Great War ends and she comes back home. She investigates a sort of commune in the country where wounded war veterans are going to get a break from the outside world and live together in peace and harmony among other men who understand them…The problem is that they never seem to come back, and there are some very suspicious deaths out there in the commune. When a close friend in the aristocracy asks for Maisie’s help finding out what is going on out there, Maisie doesn’t hesitate to jump on board.

If you like historical mysteries, definitely try the Maisie Dobbs series. Worth reading.

A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd

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A Pattern of Lies, by Charles Todd, is the 7th novel in a series starring the heroine Bess Crawford, a Nurse during World War I who uses her wit and solid reputation to help friends and acquaintances to solve mysteries and get out of dire situations.

A Pattern of Lies is set in Kent in 1916, Bess is on leave and visiting the Ashtons, a well-to-do aristocratic family beset with tragedy. Their gunpowder mill burned down, killing more than a hundred men, and the town seems set on blaming the father of her friend and watching him hang on the gallows. But Bess thinks there is more to the story and she uses every resource available to her to find the truth. Someone is sabotaging the Ashtons, vandalizing their property and even setting fire to their home. Who could want to harm the Ashtons and can Bess sniff them out before someone is hurt, or worse?

The Bess Crawford novels are a dignified, proper read with intelligent language and a slow, simmering pace that can’t be rushed. The reader is tickled with details gently up until the final climax and it’s a slow burn with a satisfying ending. If you like novels that are perfect for a slow, breezy, quiet day, A Pattern of Lies, by Charles Todd, will be a great choice for you.

The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin

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Lisbeth has nothing left. Abandoned by her husband, her newborn son stolen, she has been forced to work as a tavern wench and unable to leave the France to return to her native Britain in dangerous times with Napoleon plotting to take over the world. A handsome stranger saves her from an unpleasant encounter with ruffians, and offers her a deal she can’t refuse.

He will save her from her miserable situation, get her son back for her and take her to safety…If she will help the British spy network to spy on the American inventor who is working on submersible watercrafts which could change Britain’s efforts against Napoleon and bring them levels of intelligence they’ve never had before. She will, of course, do whatever it takes to convince the inventor that she can be trusted…Even if her virtue is at stake.

Thrown into a world of politics, crime, murder, espionage, and even a touch of romance, Lisbeth’s life is being turned upside down. Can she escape to safety in the end? Can she get her son back? Who can she trust? What will she do to save her son from the clutches of his horrible father? Will she give up all of her principles? Where will she end up, if she fails?

The Tide Watchers, by Lisa Chaplin, is NOT a quick, easy weekend read-the novel is intelligent and full of history and politics. If you want a novel that’s meaty and complex, The Tide Watchers is for you. I, personally, enjoyed it very much and look forward to the inevitable second installment of Lisbeth’s story.

Stella Bain, by Anita Shreve

 

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A woman is found wandering, lost, confused and ill during World War I. A kind and generous couple takes her into their home and nurses her back to health, realizing with time that the self-named Stella Bain actually has no idea who she is, and has no place to go. The couple observes only that she has been serving in the war, based on her uniform, and that she has an American accent.

Stella must overcome her amnesia and get her life back-but how long will it take? Does she have family and friends who are worrying about her? Why can’t she push away the nagging guilt that arises whenever she tries to remember who she is? What if she doesn’t want to know the truth about her past?

Suddenly, it all comes back to Stella, and she must decide what to do with the rest of her life and rediscover who the real woman inside her wants to be.

Stella Bain is very historical fiction/women’s fiction in genre. The tone is very serious and rich in description and sentiment. I found it to be an excellent audiobook to hear at work- but I also have a special weakness for historical fiction set during the Great War-I just think it was a great time for women to start showing the world what they were made of, don’t you?!

 

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

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Lady Elizabeth wants what every young woman wants…A little independence, a purpose in life, and maybe, if she’s lucky, fulfilling true love. Unfortunately, in 1914, a blossoming lady from an aristocratic family has only one true purpose. To find a husband who will be suitable for the fortune of the family line and become a respected lady of society, just like her mother.  Elizabeth longs to see the world, experience life, help people in need…But her mother will hear none of this, and the young lady of the house is forced to walk away, with almost nothing to her name, and no survival skills whatsoever, braving a world that would resent her if she told them her true social standing.

Seeking the one man who ever seemed to see her for who she is and what she can become, Elizabeth works hard to learn skills that would make the ladies back home faint with shock. A young lady driving a vehicle? A young lady in a war zone, hauling men from battle to the hospital? This young lady faces a world that barely embraces women in the workforce, experiences events that would give anyone nightmares, risks her own life every day, all without complaint…But with her heart full of love for Dr. Robert Fraser, a man who cannot acknowledge their relationship but whose passion for her surpasses all sensibility.

If you love novels with a “Downton Abby” feel, you will adore this novel. I, personally, love novels set in World War I, although I’m not sure I can tell you why, specifically, that is so, except that women came into their own during that war, they joined the workforce, they learned to survive at home without men to take care of them, in the most dire of situations…Which sets the tone for these novels, making you want nothing more than to see the heroine come out on top before the novel ends…

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

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Upon the death of their father, the Goethem sisters are suddenly trying to survive on their mother’s wages as a laundress (or what remains after she spends half of her money on absinthe), and they are forced to go to work. Antoinette gets her sisters Marie and Charlotte into the Paris Opera, where they will train to be dancers, a grueling and demanding task.  Antoinette, herself, finds work in the play, L’Assommoir, and falls in love with a young man who will soon threaten the bonds of the entire family. While dancing, Marie catches the interest of the artist, Edgar Degas, and becomes the model for his famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen…And in the process, inadvertently catches the interest of an older gentleman with less than honorable intentions.

The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan, is about everything a woman had to do to survive in Paris in the late 1800s. Life was not parlors and needlework for ladies of the Parisian working class, and even less glamorous for young ballet dancers than you would ever imagine. This novel is dark at times, heartbreaking time and again, and the reader just wants the girls to finally overcome it all and find peace and protection from the scary world in which they live.  The novel has a satisfying conclusion, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for the Kleenex box or craving chocolate (or both) while you read this one.