Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen (Her Royal Spyness)

I’ve been especially looking forward to this one since it is enticingly set in Africa (Kenya, to be exact.)
As usual there is a little of the Queen, Mrs. Simpson and cousin David (the Prince), and fussy sister in law Fig. (Fig, Binky, Diddy–these names crack me up) which is all very entertaining, but the bulk of the story has Georgie and Darcy in Kenya, ostensibly on their honeymoon, but really Darcy is investigating something and then of course someone gets murdered and they investigate that.
It is so interesting to read about how they get to Kenya–a long and difficult journey, which included a surprising amount of glamorous air travel. And once there everything was new to me–how the Brits were “settling” in valleys and farming, but also being aristocrats, terrible to the natives, and so on. Just like Lady Georgiana I was fascinated by the big animals and how they were just in the wilderness with them-but also horrified by how casually people talked about killing them.
The biggest surprise of all I won’t explicitly state here-I’ll just say that I was TOTALLY surprised and the author’s note afterward explains that she didn’t make it up-it really happened. Fascinating.

 

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Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

I think Rhys Bowen is a top notch historical fiction writer and I love Her Royal Spyness, and really liked the Molly Murphy mysteries I’ve read.  So I was surprised to find myself bored enough with this book that I paused it to go read something else. It just felt plodding and predictable. Now, the book did end up taking a turn midway through and coming up with a slightly unpredictable and interesting turn of events, but overall it still felt long and a little tiresome. Maybe standalone books are just not her thing.

Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding by Rhys Bowen

I’m startled to see that this is #12 in the series because I’m fairly certain I haven’t read twelve Her Royal Spynesses. I guess that means that I can always go back and have more to read-it certainly doesn’t make you unable to follow what’s going on. I love this series so much. It’s mystery the way I like it-light and British and historical. And, although I consider these light and fun books, Bowen’s historical detail is wonderful.
In this latest installment Lady Georgiana is finally (FINALLY) about to be married to Darcy, having received approval to renounce her right to the throne (because honestly, if she were to be queen a crazy plague would have had to wipe out at least 35 members of the royal family.) I was getting a bit annoyed with how drawn out this was, so was glad it was finally about to happen.
I enjoyed this one very much, in part because I enjoyed seeing Lady Georgiana finally get bold and assert herself in various areas of her life (that nasty Fig! those terrible servants flaunting her instructions! even Darcy!)
As usual she is able to pick up on all sorts of clues that something is not quite right and bravely investigate and put pieces together.
Tremendously enjoyable

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.

Heirs and Graces by Rhys Bowen

heirThis is the latest in the Her Royal Spyness series and while it had most of the elements I love have to expect and love in the series, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the others. In fairness-I read this in dribs and drabs and very disjointedly. But the flip side of that is that I didn’t find it compelling enough to just finish in a few days.
The setup this time is that the Queen arranges for Georgie to go stay with an old friend of hers (a dowager Duchess.)  This lady wants her at her estate because a new heir to the dukedom has just been found-a young Australian man who had no idea he was British nobility. His uncouth behavior and the duchess’s shock at it is a wonderful pairing. It’s also great how his not-raised-there take on the nobility and class structure is voiced and basically calls it all out for the ridiculousness that it is. Anyway, the current Duke, Cedric, is a total ass who won’t care for his family and announces he’s going to adopt his French valet so that Marcel will be the next Duke and it’s all a mockery of everything everyone else holds dear. Fortunately (or unfortunately, in Cedric’s case) Cedric is promptly murdered and of course, discovered by Georgie.  The investigation begins and I have to say–the solution is nothing you could figure out on your own (which I’m fine with.)
I don’t know if it’s because I read it so slowly or what, but it just didn’t seem to have the same witty momentum as the other installments in this series.

A St. Patrick’s Day Reading List

My Irish soda bread is in the oven and my corned beef and cabbage is in the crock pot, so I thought I’d take a moment to recommend some of my favorite Irish authors/books.

First up, Maeve Binchy.  Although Ms. Binchy may be responsible for me having a rather outdated (it must be) view of what life in Ireland is like, I simply love her books. She has a long writing career and many of her books feature characters who’ve shown up in other stories. Romances, secrets, heartdrama, and heartwarming tales are her mainstays. She’s often a rather cozy writer. Some of my favorites are:  Nights of Rain and Stars–in which the characters are in a small Greek village and bound together by sharing a tragic day together.  Her depictions of the setting are wonderful, as is the way she tells the individuals’ stories and their collective story. Heart and Soul is a great one and features one of the characters you’ve met in Nights of Rain and Stars, which is nice. It’s about a woman trying to establish a heart clinic in Dublin and at odds with other hospital administrators.  Whitethorn Woods sets up a framework for a story that has each chapter telling a character’s story. Again, overall story and interconnected stories. I’ve read many, many of her novels and the ones that I’ve reviewed can be found here. Not all of her characters are sweet and happy-there is real bitterness, anger, and poor choices in many of them, but they are a necessary balance in the stories.  She’s a really love writer!

sushiMarian Keyes is also an old favorite for me.  I haven’t read anything in a while but there was a period where her novels came out more frequently and I was beyond excited for each of them.  Please don’t dismiss her as fluffy chick lit (especially as newer book covers might make them appear that way.) All of her writing is funny and sassy but the books I want to recommend are now marketed as the Walsh Family books: Watermelon, Angels, Anybody Out There?, and Rachel’s Holiday. The Mystery of Mercy Close is the newest, due out next month. They are not really a series, it’s just that in a family with 5 sisters each one gets a book. I was possibly on the third book before I recognized the siblings, so they are not dependent on each other-it’s just a nice tie in.  Anyway, Keyes writes about real difficulties and hard times with a wonderful touch of humor and love. Sushi for Beginners, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, and The Brightest Star in the Sky are not included in that group about the Walsh family, but they are equally wonderful and hilarious.  One of her books that most impressed me was Rachel’s Holiday. Rachel ends up rehab even though she doesn’t really believe she has an addiction problem.  The reader moves as slowly as Rachel herself in realizing that she really does need to be there. And The Brightest Star in the Sky is really touching and lovely. It’s been 10 years since I read Watermelon, and just writing this makes me want to go back and reread them all.

mollyFinally, the Molly Murphy mysteries by Rhys Bowen are wonderful works of historical fiction and good mysteries to boot. Start with the first one, Murphy’s Law, to understand the Irish immigrant experience.  Molly Murphy escapes a murder charge in Ireland and travels to America in steerage with two young children.  Their arrival on Ellis Island is somewhat harrowing and presumably a very accurate description of Irish immigration.  I’ve read three of the books so far and you can see their full reviews here.

 

So there you have it. Get your green on with some Irish reading, whether it be contemporary, historical, cozy, or mystery.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!