The Lake House by Kate Morton

lakehouseI’ll just paste what I wrote on Goodreads at the time of finishing this book because it was my immediate response: “What a fully satisfying book and a great way to wrap up the year. Holy cow was this great. My mind is satisfied by a neat and clever puzzle, my heart is full of warm feelings, my eyes had a couple tears, and my pocket is a little poorer because it was overdue and I couldn’t renew it but wouldn’t it bring it back until I finished it.
As with her other novels, Morton has crafted a rich complex story with many layers, and characters who have a depth not immediately recognizable to either the reader, or the other characters. I loved the Cornwall setting, the parallel stories, the mystery, and the skipping around in time.
A beautiful big story. Wonderful!”

What else can I say? This was a great story. Similar in style to Morton’s other novels where there is a family secret hidden and it turns out to be more than anyone realized. In this case in the glamorous (uh-oh, time period? 1930s?20s?)past, a beautiful family has a tragedy occur when their beloved little son goes missing. The case was never solved, a body never found, a murderer never charged. The family leaves their estate, which was of course completely enchanting and secluded with a lake.  Many years later (current time) a police detective is taking a break from work and comes across the abandoned estate. Her curiosity is piqued and the mystery begins.  This was a wonderfully absorbing big fat story that I just really loved.

Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett

ostcardsIn my reading funk last November finding a Marcia Willett that I hadn’t read was just what I needed. Cozy and old-fashioned (even though it was contemporary), and rather predicatable. Evenly paced with a slight mystery with sinister overtones-why is this terrible step-sibling from long ago resurfacing and threatening?? I thought it all ended a bit anticlimactically, but I did enjoy this. And there’s really not much more to say about this!

The Doomsday Book By Connie Willis

doomsdayThis was a re-read for me,and one that was a long time coming. I probably first read this back in college and have been fondly remembering and referring to it ever since! I love time travel stories, and especially enjoy Willis’s version of time travel-set in Oxford, it’s for academics and historians.As usual with Willis the history in this story is impeccably researched and lavishly detailed. It’s easy to imagine her sitting in the Bodleian Library poring over prime sources and ancient original documents, to make sure that everything-village names, distances between villages, geography, speech patterns, etc.-are authentic and accurate.
Kivrin is an eager historian at the University ready to take her first trip to the Middle Ages, a trip her informal mentor thinks is ill-advised and dangerous. She’s confident that since her destination is before the plague is known to have arrived she’ll be fine. Once she goes through, though, things go wrong in both times and you find yourself quite caught up in the mysteries and race against time. The parallel plague stories are heartbreakingly similar, something I either didn’t remember or possibly didn’t even notice the first time I read this?
I was pleased to find that it had been so long since I read this that I didn’t remember the ending! There were bits and pieces that did come back to me as I read though. (One detail my mom and I never forgot is that they wanted to cauterize Kivrin’s nostrils, or inside I guess, thinking the odor of the Middle Ages would be too intense for a modern person.)This was every bit as wonderful as I remembered and I shall continue to recommend it and think well of it for another twenty years!

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen

spynessThis might be one of my favorite Royal Spyness books (and it came out last year, so shame on me for not even knowing about it, but what a happy surprise to just see it on the shelf.)
It was refreshing to see America, not just its 1934 Hollywood glamour, but also through Georgie’s eyes. I also enjoyed the variety of settings. At first it seemed like it was going to be a bottle episode, but then we had not just a ship crossing, but also a train trip, stay at the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, and more. It was fabulous and I loved all the details. I also enjoyed the notable absence of Queenie for much of the book. I do find her a bit trying.

Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil

needlesAs soon as I finished The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club I went to the library to pick up the second one.   #2 did not disappoint. This time there are weddings and babies thrown into the mix and now I am led to believe that if I lived in a little seaside town in England I would see babies wearing knitted shawls (?), tiny cashmere cardigans in cream and butterscotch, wee booties, and the like.  And, in a very Maeve Binchy way, even though it’s 2015 having a baby and going to school would be as if it was 1950.
As with the other Gil McNeil books the content is extremely low-stress. There is no concern over anything particularly terrible happening, nor much will they -won’t they worries either.  There actually are a couple of dramatic events in this one, but even they are easily resolved.
Again there is a ludicrous amount of tea drinking going on and even when they are down on the beach they easily put the kettle on in their beach hut to make a nice cup.  Everyone is “brilliant” or “clever” when they do anything positive, or “silly” when they are naughty.
As I continue my own learn to knit quest, I do cast some doubt on how quickly and easily everyone seems to knit up complicated patterns in these books, but it’s all such a fairy dreamworld, why not? I’ve noticed, too, that McNeil’s books very much are into creating a life for a woman where she has kids, babies, house, business, rich friends, awesome family, all without the burden? hassle? of a husband or man in her life, other than for occasional trysts.

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

Well. This was just as lovely as A Good Year for Roses, but with the charming addition of knitting. Let’s see if it hits all the cozy elements, shall we?

the main character: Jo, a relatable mum
the children: 2 charming children who are not perfect, but adorably naughty
the best friend: famous television personality, rich, impeccable fashion sense, loves to shop, string of boyfriends
the British setting: a seaside town
the sexy interest: a famous photographer
the added interesting character: a world famous A-list movie star who befriends Jo
the father/husband: conveniently dead after declaring he wanted a divorce
the cozy factor: Jo has inherited a knitting/wool shop, which is also what prompts her to move to the seaside town and gives her a fresh start in her life.

Nothing very dramatic happens, there is literally no suspense, and it is perfect because of it. It is like a long cup of tea, a hot bath, or whatever comfortable relaxing thing soothes you.  I cannot wait to read the others in this series.

A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil

rosesI picked this up last week thinking it would be just right for Christmas week-soft and British, inherited estates, by the sea, etc. I later found out that the reason it was on my to-read list is because my friend ML loved it and described it as a wonderful book in which “absolutely nothing happens.” And I have to agree.  Molly inherits a lovely estate by the sea, on the condition she not sell it and let her dotty old uncle continue to live there (the deceased was her aunt.) Molly’s family has a hotel, but her revolting father and brother are money hungry pompous asses who leave Molly and her mother out of it. Molly and her 3 boys move into the grand old house and begin to make it over to make it a more worthwhile B&B. The star attraction is the humongous rose garden. And that’s basically it. Everyone drinks gallons of tea and cocktails, the house comes with devoted servants, and it’s all just very warm and cozy.  Very little conflict to be resolved. It could have been a bit shorter for my taste given that nothing was happening, but that’s ok.