In Hungry Spirits, set in 1920s Pasadena, Daisy Gumm Majesty knows how to make ends meet, for herself and her fractured family. Husband Billy, gassed in the war, is in a wheelchair struggling to breathe. Aunt Vi cooks beef wellington for the rich and famous while Daisy learns to scramble an egg. White bread, and the effective use of stale breadcrumbs, unites the students of a Salvation Army cooking class. And Daisy, who's still not sure about those eggs, becomes their teacher.
I've seen the Pasadena of today, and I loved imagining how it was through author Alice Duncan's words. I grew up knowing the consequences of war in British families, but Alice Duncan brings those consequences to life on this side of the Atlantic too. I loved Daisy's Methodist roots (yeah, I have some too). And I loved her concern for people, her ability to set aside her own doubts (about Germans) and her neighbors' (about "communing with spirits") in order to get the job done.
Daisy doesn't in fact commune with spirits. She reads the cards because it earns money and keeps the listener satisfied. She channels her imaginary spirit for the same reasons. She makes her own clothes, looks and acts her part in public, and in private is just a really nice young woman holding her own in a complicated world. If that world's complications happen to include cooking classes and car chases, well so be it.
Hungry Spirits is definitely a fun and enjoyable little slice of life, with mystery and history entwined, and a pleasing humanity. I'll be looking out for more of this series to add to my to-read list.
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About the reviewer
Sheila Deeth (SheilaDeeth)
Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
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This enjoyable series deserves to be much better known. It takes place in Pasadena in the early 1920s. WWI has had an immense impact on the Gumm-Majesty family. Billy Majesty returned from the war with wounds related to being both shot and exposed to mustard gas. As a result, he cannot walk or work and has become addicted to morphine. Daisy, his wife, supports the family working as a spiritualist. Billy doesn’t approve, but Daisy and the Gumm family are much more pragmatic. In this adventure, Daisy is asked to teach a cooking class for disadvantaged immigrant ladies at the Salvation Army. That sounds innocent enough, but Daisy can’t cook. She manages to stay one step ahead of the class, but she lands right in the middle of an anarchist plot, forcing her to turn sleuth and, along the way, confront her prejudices against Germans, whom she blames for her husband’s disability. Daisy’s upbeat attitude in the face of serious problems gives her great appeal, as does Duncan’s grasp of the period. Recommend Daisy to fans of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. --Judy Coon