Monday, November 27, 2017

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

In The Story of Arthur Truluv, a loner teenager meets an elderly man visiting his wife’s grave and the two bond. We learn about life, love, growing up, growing old, and the meaning of family as their relationship grows and they bring others into their circle.

The story is heart-warming, if extremely predictable and manipulative, and there are some neat turns of phrase. For example, Maddy tells Arthur she feels things from the graves, “Mostly peace. Like … relief. Like, ‘Okay, that’s all, put down your pencils, even if you’re not done.’” (p. 39 of the digital advance reader copy). Another phrase I liked was a thought from Arthur on page 49: "What the kids can't do with those computers! He's seen what look like four-year-olds seated at little computer screens at the library, intent on their business as air traffic controllers." I think this novel will find many readers and will be chosen by many book clubs in the coming year.

Arthur imagines the lives of the people under the graves at the cemetery, and I was not crazy about this thought: “This one was a librarian, the prettiest thing you ever saw in spectacles….Wore her hair up in a bun that always immediately started falling down in a most attractive way.” (p. 35 of the digital advance reader copy). It may be Arthur thinking it, but it is Berg writing it, and I’m disappointed in her for continuing the old librarian stereotype. She surely could have come up with something more original.

If you enjoyed A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Pixar’s movie Up, you probably will enjoy The Story of Arthur Truluv. It struck me as a merging of the two

I read an advance reader copy of The Story of Arthur Truluv. It was published on November 21 and is available at the Galesburg Public Library as a print book and as an ebook.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

Kat Holloway takes a position in a Mayfair mansion and soon finds herself immersed in the odd household of Lord Rankin. Kat is unbothered by the family’s eccentricities as long as they stay away from her kitchen, but trouble finds its way below stairs when her young Irish assistant is murdered. Intent on discovering who killed the kitchen maid, Kat turns to the ever-capable Daniel McAdam, who is certainly much more than the charming delivery man he pretends to be. Along with the assistance of Lord Rankin’s unconventional sister-in-law and a mathematical genius, Kat and Daniel discover that the household murder was the tip of a plot rife with danger and treason—one that’s a threat to Queen Victoria herself.

Death Below Stairs is the first book in a mystery series set in Victorian England. Main character Mrs. Kat Holloway is young (29) but already an established and well regarded Cook. Although, like all cooks of her station, she is called Mrs., she is in fact not only single but has a 10-year-old daughter born of a relationship that turned out not to be legitimate. Kat’s main reason for being is providing for her child, who lives with friends.

Being single, however, leaves Kat open to an undefined relationship with the mysterious Daniel McAdam, a master of disguises working as a detective? for the police? Kat doesn’t know and Daniel can’t tell her, but she trusts him all the same.

Death Below Stairs is competently written, with likable characters and room for growth. The characters are very modern in behavior, so this book may not be for those readers who want historically accurate historical fiction and characters who behave true to the times. Kat spends way too much time out of her kitchen – it is hard to imagine her keeping her position no matter how good a cook she is.

The language is very modern. For example, Kat thinks, “I next tackled Mr. Davis; metaphorically, of course.” The author skirted (ha) around two women who dress as men, one clearly a lesbian, but this never becomes important to the plot. One murder was resolved in a very unoriginal way, but the other plot line was interesting.

 All the bits about the food Kat makes and serves did ring true and according to an author note were taken from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Beeton, first published in 1861.

Although billed as a first in a series, I felt I was missing something as I read Death Below Stairs; it turns out there is a long short story/novella that introduced the main character. Unfortunately, A Soup├žon of Poison is only available as an ebook and is not available for purchase by libraries.

If you enjoy historical fiction and don’t worry too much about historical accuracy, you may want to read Death Below Stairs. It’s a fun read and the series has a lot of potential.

I read an advance reader copy of Death Below Stairs. It will be published in January 2018 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and as an ebook.