Reading, Reviews

Novellas for Your Beach Bag (Or Nightstand)

This week was a successful reading week, finally! The previous weeks were filled with book busts. I’ve discovered one of the best things ever for a beach reader, weekend reader, or a busy mom: novellas. The novella, a short novel or long short story, is a great form of literature because it gives a succinct plot, fewer characters to get to know, and the opportunity to be powerful and poignant without getting bogged down in details. I finished two last week.

The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader was delightful. It’s written by Alan Bennett, much better known for his plays and screenplays than his novellas, but I wouldn’t mind if he writes more literary fiction. The Uncommon Reader is an imaginary account of Queen Elizabeth’s discovery that reading is a pleasure. From the beginning when she steps into the travelling library (we call those bookmobiles here in SC) parked at Buckingham Palace, to the end of the book, Bennett gives his readers a fun and witty glimpse into how books and reading changes lives, even uncommon ones. Of course, it’s all made up. But it’s still a fun read and even insightful at times into how reading widens a person’s ability to empathize or notice the small things.

Stella BainIn Stella Bain, a very short novel that I am classifying as a novella, author Anita Shreve ventures into the historical fiction realm, and does a decent job of telling the story of an American woman in World War I. Stella Bain wakes up in an army hospital in Marne, France in the middle of The Great War, not knowing how she got there or who she actually is. All she knows at the beginning is that she has the abilities of a nurse and ambulance driver. Going only on a strong feeling that she needs to make her way to London, she unravels the mystery of her past and finds the strength to put together her present. Warning: this plot is implausible. If you read books because you want them to be as close to real life as possible, don’t read this book. But if you read because it’s fun to go on an imaginary adventure and maybe learn a thing or two, this is a good book. I liked it better than Shreve’s other novels I’ve read, though I can see by the reviews that most of her fans prefer her other work. I was reminded strongly of the book Maisie Dobbs while reading Stella Bain. There were many similarities in themes relating to the horrors of the field hospitals and soldiers’ recoveries during The Great War. When I’m immersed in a book or even movie (Downton Abbey, Season 2, for example) set during that time, I actually get nightmares about it. May trench warfare never occur again. But that’s only a small piece of Stella Bain. If you enjoy historical fiction, it’s a good read written by a good author.

Other notable novellas I’ve enjoyed:

Ethan Fromme – not so much in a “what a delightful book sense” but in a “that is a fine piece of art” sense

The Blue Castle – a “grown up” book from the author of Anne of Green Gables

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – yes, it’s as good as the movie

Happy Summer reading!





Reading, Reviews

Maisie Dobbs

Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1)I just finished Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. This is one of those books I grabbed when browsing at the library on the off chance that it was any good. In high school, I read a good number of detective novels by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, but I haven’t read many good ones since. I get bored with the private detective routine: a solitary and brilliant but quirky person devotes his or her life to figuring out what no one else can, and always succeeds, but also always comes into grave danger and escapes by the skin of his/her teeth.


There are some detective novels, though, that manage to rise above the ordinary and become something more. One such books is the first book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The characters in that book are so original. But in general, I am not a fan of the detective novel.

Maisie Dobbs was more than a detective novel, though. Here’s the summary from

“Maisie Dobbs, junior housemaid, is found reading in the library, assigned tutor Maurice Blanche who trains her in psychological investigative techniques and prepares her for Cambridge. After spending World War I nursing in France, she sets up as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.”

The structure of the novel is interesting because it begins with Maisie opening her own detective office and stumbling on some intriguing facts and coincidences, then jumps backwards to Maisie’s history of how she went from household servant to private investigator, and then goes back to where the story began to follow the original case as it unfolds.

Maisie Dobbs is a fun, not-too-gruesome, detective novel that also manages to make the history of the first World War become more real. It’s not a pretty history. I learned something about how much it changed those who participated in it. Maisie’s character is a little cut and dry, but it is a good starting point for a series. She is a very ladylike character, which I appreciate. I don’t know that I’ll read any of the other books in the series (10 books in all), but I’d recommend the first one if you like detective novels or historical fiction. This book is an even mix of both.



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