The first half of Laurie King's A Monstrous Regiment of Women was really good, but the second half was excellent. The Beekeeper's Apprentice was very much a first novel, but I say that only with the idea of a novel introducing two characters whose lives will intertwine and who will find themselves getting involved in a number of mysterious and threatening circumstances. Laurie King's writing has been superlative throughout both novels. I'm not going to go into any more detail about the story as by now you might well be Mary Russell'd out, but I will say that the second half has an 'edge of your seat' quality to it and was very hard to put down. What happens is somewhat menacing, and if Mary Russell was really no more than a youth in the first book, she has very much come into her own as a mature young woman this time around. Mary and Holmes come together as equals and yes there is a dash (but literally only a dash) of romance at the end. Sherlock Holmes is a very prickly type of character and Mary an intellectual as well, so that aspect of the story was handled tastefully and believably. While the first book was almost a hodge podge of items that needed sorting--introduction of characters, setting up of relationship, education of Mary, and yes, some mystery as well, this second novel was much more a straightforward mystery--very well planned and executed with all the right details to fill in the rest of the story.
I've already pulled out A Letter of Mary, which is the next book in the series, but I will probably not start it right away (though I'm very tempted to do so). I have a stack of mysteries that I want to read (not least these and these, which were recent purchases) and I always have such a difficult time choosing--something new or is it time to revisit a series I started to read some time ago (like Mary Russell). At the moment I'm in the thick of things with Christianna Brand's Green for Danger. It's set during WWII in a military hospital outside of London. With the Blitz in the background an ordinary citizen is brought in with minor wounds from a recent raid. He's nervous about being operated on, and although the nurse reassures him he'll come out of it all just fine, something happens and he dies on the operating table. Worst case scenario, eh? I've always had a fear of anesthesia! Anyway a detective is brought in to sort things out as the patient shouldn't have died, and the only people with access to the victim are the nurses and doctors. Apparently this is Brand's masterpiece and so far its' held my attention nicely.
In keeping with my 'Shakespeare Sunday' reading I had planned on starting Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as Stage, but as I'm not really catching up on my reading as I had hoped (I do say some foolish things sometimes, don't I), I thought it better to spend time with books I'm already reading this afternoon. I also have the Slaves next book, The Post Office Girl ready to start very soon. And I recently received my next postal reading group book in the mail. If you're curious what it is, click here. It's supposed to be a cross between a social satire and a comedy of manners. I'm really intrigued by this one. I had never heard of it before and am looking forward to seeing if it's as good as the rest of the postal book choices have been!