The Absolutist by John Boyne – Book Review

The Absolutist by John Boyne
Published by Other Press

It is 1919 and Tristan has survived WWI – at least bodily.

“I may not be buried in a French field but I linger there. My spirit does, anyway. I think I’m just breathing, that’s all. And there’s a difference between breathing and being alive.” -p. 137

Now that he is physically safe and has had some time regain his bearings in life outside of war, Tristan is on a mission to meet with the sister of a man he once served with. Ostensibly he wishes to return to her the letters she sent Will while he was enlisted, but in reality there is more to it than that; Tristan has a secret that he can no longer keep entirely to himself.

I actually believe that it is better not to know too much about The Absolutist going into it. Tristan’s story unfolds gradually, alternating between his trip to see Will’s sister and his time in training and on the battlefield. The Absolutist is about Tristan and Will’s relationship, the horrors of war, and the attempt to recover mentally from what one sees in war.

Boyne’s writing is beautiful, and he drags the reader immediately into Tristan’s world and life. The Absolutist is mesmerizing and difficult to put down, the reader can feel Tristan’s pain and the secret he harbors almost bodily, but Boyne still manages to keep The Absolutist from turning into  a morass of sorrow and pain.

The Absolutist is an absolutely beautiful, painful, and moving novel of war and humanity and I very highly recommend it.

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An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd – Book Review

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd
Published by William Morrow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

This is the fourth book in the Bess Crawford series. I previously reviewed the first three books, A Duty to the Dead , An Impartial Witness, and A Bitter Truth.

It is 1918, and now there are things on the battlefield more dangerous than German shells. The Spanish Flu is spreading across the lines on both sides, reaching even to those back on the home front. Bess is in the middle of tending to the myriad of sick and wounded when an orderly alerts her to the fact that there is an unaccounted for body in his storage room. Bess discovers a man who has clearly been murdered, a man she knows from her father’s old regiment. Unfortunately, before Bess can do anything about it, she faints from the influenza she had not yet realized she had. When she fiwhethenally comes to, she is in England, unsure whether any of this actually happened, or whether it was just a dream – at least until she learns that the man who alerted her to the presence of the extra body was found dead, presumably by suicide, almost immediately after she fell ill. Now Bess is convinced that what she remembers is real, and she hopes to bring peace to families of both dead men.

Like the rest of the books in the Bess Crawford series, An Unmarked Grave is compulsively readable and incredibly engaging. I found myself completely wrapped up in Bess’s story, worried about the danger in which she had put herself, and intrigued by her continuing relationship with Simon, and the attentions of a new man. There were a couple of aspects of An Unmarked Grave which failed to thrill me, however. The first was the incredibly brief reappearance of Bess’s Australian admirer from A Bitter Truth. In the midst of war – not to mention a murder investigation – I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if she had not come upon him at all, and the throwaway mention of him tracking her down in the midst of her illness only distracted from the story being told. My other issue was with the resolution. The ending was weak, and not particularly well supported by what happened in the rest of the book.

These issues would cause me to downgrade the rating I gave An Unmarked Grave, if I were the sort who rated books. However, I would say that overall they didn’t not significantly decrease my enjoyment of the book, and are certainly not a reason to discount the merits of the series as a whole. I can still say honestly that I am sad to have finished the existing Bess Crawford books, and can only hope that Charles Todd will be continuing the series, and soon!

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Source: Publisher.
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A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd – Book Review

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks

This is the third book in the Bess Crawford series. I previously reviewed the first two books, A Duty to the Dead  and An Impartial Witness.

Newly home on Christmas leave, Bess finds a woman huddled on her doorstep, a huge bruise spreading across her face. Bess is not one to ignore anyone in trouble, so she invites the woman – Lydia – in and even agrees to return home with her, to act as a buffer between Lydia and her husband. While staying with Lydia’s husband’s family, a family friend also staying at the house is found mysteriously dead after accidentally spilling a huge secret. Suddenly everyone, including Bess, is a suspect and Bess’s involvement in the case could make her a potential victim as well.

Bess always seems to get herself in these situations in a slightly improbable manner and this is no exception, but the plot of A Bitter Truth actually seemed more plausible than the first two. Certainly the appearance of Lydia on Bess’s doorstep is quite coincidental, but Bess’s actions from that point on are all completely in character and believable. Who, when under suspicion for a murder, would not look further to try to clear their own name and determine the true culprit?

The Bess Crawford series continues to be one in which I gobble down each book as I get to it and look forward to the next book. The sad thing is that after the next book, I’ll be all out of Bess for the time being.  Recommended.

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Source: Purchased.
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An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear – Book Review

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

My reviews of the first four books in the series: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies, Messenger of Truth.

Whether the problem is summer or simply the increasingly dire economic depression, business is tough for Maisie. So tough that she is quite happy that her employee, Billy, will be off picking hops in Kent for a week with his family, because it relieves her from having to pay his salary when there is no work coming in. Coincidentally enough, when work does come in, in the form of James Compton, son of Maisie’s benefactor Lady Compton, Maisie finds herself heading for Kent as well. Compton’s company is interested in a brickworks, but is concerned about the small fires that occur in the town yearly, as well as the acts of petty vandalism. Eventually, the mystery traces back to what happened during the war, both in France and at home, as all of Maisie’s cases do.

This is probably my favorite Maisie Dobbs book so far, which is a relief since the fourth book, Messenger of Truth, was probably my least favorite. My love of this one is a combination of a couple factors. First was the exploration of community and how small towns dealt with losing most of their young men in the war, and what that left them in the aftermath. Secondly, we were able to explore more of Maisie’s past and her family history. It is revealed relatively early on in this book that Maisie’s grandmother was a gypsy, which accounts for her gift of something that is a little more than intuition. I was happy to finally have an explanation of that, because Maisie’s occasional near clairvoyance has always bothered me just a bit.

The most captivating and moving of the Maisie Dobbs book yet. Bring on book five! If you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for?

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Source: Personal copy.
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Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear – Book Review

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

My reviews of the first three books in the series: Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather, Pardonable Lies.

When Nick, an up-and-coming young artist, falls to his death while setting up a gallery for his much buzzed exhibition, the police are quick to rule it an accident and to rule his sister Georgiana, who believes that Nick was murdered, a meddlesome pain. Georgiana is not content to merely accept either of these rulings, however, and enlists the help of Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, to prove that Nick’s death was no accident. In investigating the case, Maisie finds herself pulled into the world of art and wealthy art collectors, watching people spend obscene amounts of money on paintings while her assistant cannot even find the money to take his very sick little girl to the doctor. At the same time, Maisie finds herself pulling farther and farther away from her beau, Dr. Andrew Dene.

There has been a lot of upheaval in Maisie’s life over the course of the books three and four. First she breaks away from her mentor Maurice, then from her boyfriend Andrew. Both rifts are based partly in Maisie’s need to establish her own independence, but I cannot help but wonder if her new problems with Maurice contributed to her problems with Andrew, as he was a mentee of Maurice’s as well. Although at times all of this made me very frustrated on Maisie’s behalf, these difficulties about what it means to be an independent working woman in the 1930s help truly bring Winspear’s setting and characters to life.

This mystery was a little more obvious and less compelling than the others I have read so far, but the book was still very engaging overall, and we got a glimpse of Maisie actually acting as a therapist for some clients, which was surprising and will possibly offer some interesting plot points in the future. Considering this is the 4th book in this series I have read since the beginning of the year and I am still excited to read the next one, I am continuing to recommend this series.

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Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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