A Few Books About Women

October had me in and out of stories about women –  all entertaining.  A ghost narrates in the first, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis has a cameo role in the second, the real socialites of New York City carry the plot in the third,  and a Greek chorus dominates the one I am currently reading.  Have you read any of them?

TCD-US-200x304   The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Morton can always be relied on for a mix of history, romance, mystery, and a touch of the other worldly.  In The Clockmaker’s Daughter she alternates between a nineteenth century mystery and a modern bride’s dilemma.  As with her other books, this story is an easy read with just enough Gothic tension to keep the reader’s interest.

Plot Summary from the Author’s website:

“In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river…

Told by multiple voices across time, THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss…{with one of the voices, the ghost of} Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.”

51czBXfdgkL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_  The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

A woman artist hides her identity in the 1920s, pretending she is a man, and Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan houses an art school.

Plot Summary from Barnes and Noble:

“Within Grand Central Terminal,  two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.

In 1928, twenty-five-year-old Clara is teaching at the Grand Central School of Art. A talented illustrator, she has dreams of creating cover art for Vogue, but not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist.”

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined and is the center of a fierce lawsuit: demolition or preservation. Virginia, recently divorced, has just accepted a job in the information booth to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. When Virginia stumbles on the abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust, she is drawn into the battle to save Grand Central and the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.”

636540551254787991-Caitlin-Macy-Mrs-HC-cover-image     Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

Following the model of Big Little Lies, Mrs. has a cast of women with disparate personalities and backgrounds coming together as the mothers in a prestigious New York City preschool. Secrets drive the plot, with a big reveal and a death at the end.

Plot Summary by Publisher’s Weekly:

“Gwen Hogan, Philippa Lye, and Minnie Curtis are all married to powerful men and send their children to the prestigious St. Timothy’s preschool. Gwen, married to a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, recently moved to Manhattan and is uncomfortable living in New York City. Philippa, married to the owner of an investment bank, seems both effortlessly stylish and aloof. Minnie, the wife of a wealthy financier, takes an unapologetic pleasure in her financial security that makes the other mothers uncomfortable. The three women bond over school gossip and the difficulties of parenthood, unaware that Gwen’s husband is conducting an insider trading investigation that implicates both Philippa and Minnie’s husbands. “

t_500x300The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

I just started this book – recommended by one of my favorite librarians – and the story and language have already captured my attention.  Have you read it?

Plot Summary from NPR:

“Reimagines “The Iliad” from the perspectives of the captured women living in the Greek camp in the final weeks of the Trojan War, as Briseis, conquered queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, becomes caught between the two most powerful Greek leaders.”




Books to Pass The Time

9781451649321_p0_v4_s192x300The Lake House by Kate Morton

This author always satisfies me when I need a mix of mystery and romance, and her latest book The Lake House, is a great addition to my list of favorites.  Morton sets the the story in the beautiful Cornish countryside, and uses a suspected kidnapping as bait for a multigenerational saga. Detective Sadie Sparrow works to  solve the cold case of a missing toddler, seventy years after the incident.

Related Reviews of Kate Morton BooksThe Secret Keeper (with links to other reviews)


9780865477551_p0_v3_s192x300-1The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray

Although the movie, The Big Short, was categorized as a comedy, it seemed more like a horror story to me.  Paul Murray uses the same theme of banker corruption in his book The Mark and the Void, focusing on the European financial crisis. NPR’s Jason Sheehan calls it “the funniest banking book of the year” but to me, it was just scary thinking there are so many crazy people out there.

New York Times Review: The Mark and the Void


The Objects of Her Affection by Sonya Cobb

Maybe the financial crisis and the housing market were still on my mind when I read Sonya Cobb’s art heist mystery.  Despite the angst of her heroine, who steals precious artifacts from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where her husband is a curator, I could only focus on her attempt to pay off her mortgage.  The timeframe of the story would be about the time of the great real estate debacle when so many unsuspecting home owners were suddenly swept away under growing interest rates, and homes they could not afford in the first place.

On a more serious note:

Life Lessons by Elizabeth Kubler-Rosss and David Kellser caught my eye.  You may remember Kubler-Ross for the famous categorizing of the five stages of grief –  from denial to acceptance?  This book focuses on managing life, with chapters on guilt, anger, fear, and patience – pick your poison and learn a few management skills.

How To Keep People From Pushing Your Buttons by Albert Ellis and Arthur Lange in next on my bedside pile.





The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Although we may worry that someday we will become our mothers, their lives before we were born  – that young woman who still exists behind the aging eyes – usually remains a mystery, no matter how well documented the family history.  In her latest novel, Kate Morton uses the mystery of a mother’s youth with the backdrop of the London Blitz to reveal a captivating story of love, war, and deception in The Secret Keeper.

Laurel, the eldest daughter now in her sixties, is haunted by an incident she accidentally witnessed when she was a sixteen year old girl; she saw her mother stab a man to death.  The only other witness was her two-year old younger brother, Gerry.  The secret, kept for fifty years from her other three sisters, now surfaces as her ninety-year-old mother is dying.  Morton alternates the action from wartime London in the 1940s to the bucolic modern setting of Greenacres farm, the family homestead.  As the story unwinds with each character revealing another piece of the puzzle, Morton cleverly maintains the suspense:

“Never discount the possibility of turning up an answer none of the current theories predicts.”

As Laurel and her brother investigate clues they find in their mother’s trunk – an old white fur coat, a dedication in a book, a photograph, a note with only the words “thank you,” each piece is explained with a flashback to one of the key characters: Dorothy, Laurel’s mother; Vivian, the mysterious wealthy friend; and Jimmy, the photographer who documented wartime existence, its horrors as well as its poignant moments.

Kate Morton is one of my guilty pleasures; each of her books has that curl-up-in-a-comfy-chair storytelling quality with just enough romance and Gothic mystery.  With its subtle twists, this tale has her usual formula and takes a little longer than usual to get to her trademark surprise ending.  If you’ve enjoyed her other books (see my reviews below), you won’t be disappointed in this one.

Reviews of other Kate Morton Books:

the Distant Hours

I cannot tell you about my latest read – “the sacrilege of just blurting out what had taken chapters to build, secrets hidden carefully by the author behind countless sleights of hand…” (Kate Morton).  And the possibility that you won’t like it as much as I did would hurt too much.

But if you enjoyed Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale or if you are a fan of Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages – or even Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind…

if you love to reread Jane Eyre… you might try Kate Morton’s latest – The Distant Hours.  

In her third gothic mystery, this time within a castle during World War II as the setting, Morton uses an undelivered letter reappearing fifty years later to trigger the search into a mother’s past that leads to a delicious unraveling of characters and plot.

Starting slowly and with detailed description that annoyingly slows down the narrative, Morton lost me several times to her nostalgia before yanking me back to the mystery.  Satisfying and comforting, the Distant Hours is an escape – easy to get lost in it for a long time, and leaving you a little startled when it ends.

Related Posts:

The House at Riverton

Having liked The Forgotten Garden, I decided to check out Kate Morton’s first novel, The House atRiverton.   Maybe the success of the second – making it to the NY Times best list – would rub off – like other authors who have the second hit, and then have readers backtrack – like Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill

Morton’s first novel has her familiar penchant for secrets, as well as her Gothic style.   The characters reveal themselves more slowly in this one, and the story seems a cross between The Thirteenth Tale and Atonement.

Grace is 98 years old when she is interviewed for a documentary about Riverton, the house where she served as a young maid for Hannah, daughter of a wealthy and established family in pre World War I Britain. From casual conversations, it’s clear that Grace has had a good life since then, and yearns to see her grandson, a writer, once more before she dies.

She tells her story as she dictates into a tape recorder, reminiscing and setting the record straight about her employers and a final confrontation that has made the house a legend. You might think you suspect her secret, but the ending is a whopper, and uses shorthand (Gregg was invented in 1888) as the device.

This is post-Victoria England – upstairs/downstairs British families, two world wars, money made and lost, secret lovers, and, of course, scandalous secrets – whispered in the scullery – an upscale soap opera – juicy and fun to read.

Know shorthand?