Thursday, November 15, 2012

A "Mysterious" Change of Heart

Mysteries have never been my thing.

Well, I guess that's not really true. I used to adore "Choose Your Own Adventure" books which are a kind of mystery in themselves and I had an Agatha Christie thing for a while, but my stereotype of mysteries has always been similar to my stereotype of romance novels--that they are poorly written with obvious plots and are good for plane rides but not much else.

So really, no. Mysteries have never been my thing.


A few weeks ago, I got a couple more books from HarperCollins and though I knew that they were mysteries, I wanted to try something new. Expand my horizons. I mean, that's what my whole 25th year has been about!

And I'm so glad I did, because Elegy for Eddie and The Stockholm Octavo were perfect for November reading and for breaking the stereotype.

Here's what I thought:

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear: When I first read about this book, I was nervous because it's part of a series that follows Maisie Dobbs, a woman living in the first half of the 20th century who falls into being a private detective of sorts. I was worried when I started the book that I would feel left behind because I hadn't read any of the prior books, but it was quite the opposite. Though I'm sure that if I had read the other books, I would have caught on to some little inside details, but I don't feel any loss from not having read them. The novel opens with the story of a woman who works in a stable in the late 1800s. She is pregnant and ends up delivering the baby in the stable. Jump to the 1930s, post-WWI, and the baby that was born, Eddie, has been murdered. Eddie grew up relatively slow, but he had a way with horses. As he grew up, he worked odd jobs and made a way for himself with the help of his mother. Maisie, the private detective, grew up knowing Eddie from a distance, but they grew up in the same poor part of town. Maisie found a way out of her old neighborhood and when Eddie's death doesn't seem like an accident, some of his friends seek out Maisie to try and figure out what was behind it. What could easily turn into a trite "whodunit" quickly becomes about something else all together, and Eddie is just one piece of the larger puzzle. Maisie Dobbs is an interesting character, and we learn a lot about her: she grew up poor and inherited a great deal of money after the war which she is very uncomfortable with because she doesn't know how to live a privileged life. The novel follows not only the search for the truth about Eddie's death, but also Maisie's growth as a human and her realization of what she wants in life. I really enjoyed Elegy for Eddie: it's a quick read that will keep you intrigued until you figure it out! Here's a little more about the book.

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann: Take The Night Circus and Shadow of the Wind, stir them together and you get The Stockholm Octavo. With hints of magic, conspiracy plots, psychics, geometric intrigue, card games, mysterious folding fans, and a search for love, you really can't get much better. Really--from the first chapter I was hooked. The story follows Emil, a sekretaire (basically a customs worker) in 1790s Stockholm, or "The Town" as it's often referred to, who gambles at a local establishment. He goes about his general life until Mrs. Sparrow, the establishment's proprietor and a "seer" senses something in Emil and offers to lay what she calls an "Octavo" for him which uses cards to determine the eight people who will play the greatest roles in a very important act in his life. The first few chapters are full of the actual laying of the Octavo which takes eight nights. Each card laid represents a certain character who will play a role: the Trickster, the Magpie, the Key, the Courier, and so on. Once Emil has his entire Octavo laid for him, he must seek them out (or pay close attention to what surrounds him) so he can use them to influence an important event. Initially, Emil's important event in his life is to find love, which he (of course) thinks he has figured out. But he soon learns that he is part of a larger web when Mrs. Sparrow reveals that he is part of her own Octavo, and the stage becomes wide. Told in a kind of journalistic way (each chapter is attributed to one or more sources and we are warned at the beginning that much of the "history" told are based on half-truths, hearsay, and outright lies), the story of Emil's quest for love becomes the story of the eight people in his Octavo. Though the story revolves around Emil, the larger plot is in the conspiracy to assassinate the king of Sweden and the woman (called "The Uzanne") who makes the attempt. Though I really did love this book and highly recommend it, I wish that I had known more about the history of Sweden during this time--I think the political intrigue and the underlying fervor for political revolution would have resonated more. Regardless, Engelmann obviously knows what she's talking about and creates a very palpable and colorful world that is changing before Emil's eyes. His love of The Town and of his life can't stop it from changing, and that holds true in today's society. Emil is a great character who you love and hate simultaneously, but above all, you want to keep reading to figure it all out. There is very subtle but gripping element of magic that really catches you and characters that keep you on your toes. There is so much that is going on at once, and I don't want to give too much away, so I apologize if my summary is all over the place. Full of card games, mysterious fans, and the overriding idea that we are all connected in some way, The Stockholm Octavo is one that really makes you pay attention and rewards you for it. Here's a little more about the book!

So that's what I've been reading the past few weeks. Though life has kept me plenty busy, I'm so glad I got the chance to read these two new books!

The next few weeks promise to keep me busy with holidays and such, but I'm excited to come back in December and regale you with what I got done (and didn't get done) in my 25th year, seeing as it's all over in about 3 weeks! I just started Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse which will wrap up my "Read 5 Books from my To-Read-Before-I-Die List" goal.

Though I'm not freaking out about turning 26 (yet) like I was freaking out about turning 25, I have to say that I'll be a little sad to see the year go--it's been such a good one, and I want to keep it around a little longer. So I'm going to live it up and then start a whole new awesome year!

On that note, a happiest of Thanksgivings to you and your family! I hope you get to spend it with the ones you love, celebrating old traditions, making new ones, and being thankful.

Until next time, keep reading!


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