Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Mystery Monday! Book Reivew: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

51Zj7ohwK1L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgClick here to purchase this book

Product Details (via

  • Series: A Mary Russell Mystery (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 20 Anv edition (May 27, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250055709
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250055705

Book Synopsis (via

In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past. Full of brilliant deduction, disguises, and danger, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first book of the Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is “remarkably beguiling” (The Boston Globe).

My Thoughts…

When one of my Goodreads book clubs selected The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for their monthly read, I was apprehensive at first.  I don’t typically read mystery novels…. like ever.  You would think with majoring in Criminal Justice in college that I would frequent the murder/crime mystery genre, however I find that many books and TV programs over exaggerate and embellish the criminal justice system (investigations, forensics, legal proceedings, etc)  which tends to ruin it for me.   When I read the synopsis and found out that this book takes place during the early 1900s, I relaxed a little bit.  I was still  going to be within the realm of historical fiction (insert sign of relief here)  Also while reading the synopsis, I discovered that Sherlock Holmes was going to be one of the main characters, which peaked my interest.  I was intrigued with the premise of the book being about Holmes taking on a apprentice, and that apprentice being a 15 year girl none the less.  I decided that this may not be so bad after all!
I am so glad that I overcame my reservations and took the plunge.  This book kept me interested and wanting to know what was going to happen next.  For me,  the author had just the right amount of mystery, without over-doing it.  The cases were the stereotypical “Sherlock Holmes types of cases” where things are not what they seem, which keeps you guessing.   This book isn’t graphic or gory, which I liked.  I also liked how the book was not just about the cases, but also about Holmes and Russell and their evolving relationship.  The witty banter and dry humor between Russell and Holmes was entertaining.   I will admit though, at times I was often confused about the relationship between this young Russell and the much older Holmes… often worrying that the author was going to switch from the “father-daughter” type relationship to a inappropriate romantic relationship… I am not sure if I was reading certain situations the wrong way, or if this was intentional on the author’s part.   Since I have never read any of the Sherlock Holmes books by Conan Doyle, I did not have any preconceived notions on how Holmes should be  portrayed. However, after reading discussions on the book, those who had read Doyle’s books generally agreed that Holmes seemed more realistic in this series.  I also read some mixed reviews about the character Mary Russell.  Some thought that she was too conceited and essentially a spoiled brat.  I can see what they are saying to a degree, however I feel like her egotistic tendencies were more of a front to keep people at a distance.  Traumatic life events tend to make people guarded.  I like to think of Russell as confident in her abilities, and that she demanded respect.  She was not going to settle for being treated as anything less than a intellectual equal to Holmes.  I admire a girl who goes after what she wants and won’t let anything or anyone get in her way.   I’m all about strong female lead characters.
I will defiantly be looking into the other books in the Mary Russell series!  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys lighter hearted historical mysteries.  This was a charming read.
“A hive of bees should be viewed, not as a single species, but as a triumvirate of related types, mutually exclusive in function but utterly and inextricably interdependent upon each other.  A single bee separated from its sisters and brothers will die, even if given the ideal food and care.  A single bee cannot survive apart from the hive.”
-The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

My Rating: 4/5 stars

 Click here to read an excerpt from The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

About the Author (via

7404-d3_Laurie_R_King_Mystery_Author_Bay_Area_Portrait_Photography_editLaurie R. King is the third generation in her family native to the San Francisco area. She spent her childhood reading her way through libraries up and down the West Coast; her middle years raising children, renovating houses, traveling the world, and doing a BA and MA in theology.  (Her long autobiography goes into detail about how she uses these interests.)  King now lives a genteel life of crime, on California’s central coast.

Her crime novels are both serial and stand-alone. First in the hearts of most readers comes Mary Russell, who met the retired Sherlock Holmes in 1915 and became his apprentice, then his partner. Beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Russell and Holmes move through the Teens and Twenties in amiable discord, challenging each other to ever greater feats of detection.

In the Russell & Holmes stories, King explores ideas—the roots of conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan; feminism and early Christianity; patriotism and individual responsibility—while also having a rousing good time.  Various stories revisit The Hound of the Baskervilles and Kipling’s Kim, set a pair of Bedouin nomads down in a grand country house in England, and offer an insider’s view of the great quake and fire of 1906, all the while forging an unlikely relationship between two remarkably similar individuals who happen to be separated by age, sex, and background.

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Book Events

Orphan Train Meet the Author Event – Christina Baker Kline



Orphan Train

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Book Details (via

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; F First Edition edition (April 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061950726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061950728

Book Synopsis (via

Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train is an unforgettable story of friendship and second chances that highlights a little-known but historically significant movement in America’s past—and it includes a special PS section for book clubs featuring insights, interviews, and more.

Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.



I first came across Orphan Train while scrolling through recommendations on Goodreads.  The cover immediately caught my eye.  I will admit that the cover is often a deciding factor in whether or not I read the book description.  After seeing this beautiful cover pop out at me, I did not hesitate to scroll down and read the book description.  This book seemed right up my alley, so I added it to my lengthy to-read list.  Not even a month later, I stumbled upon a Facebook event from my local library that Christina Baker Kline, the author of Orphan Train, would be making an appearance at my local Books&Co on February 24th, just two short weeks away!


For the past few years our local library district has participated in an annual celebration of reading called “The Big Read.”  Basically, a book is chosen, then everyone is encouraged to read the selected book and participate in group discussions held at various local library branches.  Essentially this is a community wide book club.


Click here to learn more about the Miami Valley Big Read.  Group discussions will be held March 6-April 16 at participating library branches in the Miami Valley area.

This would be my first “Meet the Author” event, so I anxiously awaited the two weeks until February 24th.  My friend, Nicole, had expressed interest in going to the event with me, but unfortunately she was unable to secure a babysitter.  I decided it would be good for me to fly solo.  I am a adult after all, it was time to pull on my big girl pants.  I was determined to be one of those people who felt secure enough in themselves to go to a event alone.  I must admit, I was feeling pretty intimidated since I had never been to one of these types of events before.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had chosen to hold off on buying the book so that I could purchase a copy at the event and have the author sign it.  I was a little nervous about going to a Meet the Author event without reading the book, however I was too cheap to purchase 2 copies of the book.  What if the author asks me if I enjoyed her book?  Do I lie and say I read it?  What if the author starts discussing the book and gives away spoilers?  As it turned out,  I was not the only one at the event who had not yet read the book, nor was it uncommon to attend a meet the author even without reading the book.

I arrived 40 minutes prior to the event start time, which turned out to have been a good decision because seats were already filling up at that point.  By the time the event started, a number of people were forced to stand along the back.  Once the author arrived, which I might add was 10 minutes early, she announced that she would sign some books before she began her presentation in order to allow people to take off after her presentation.   We had been given numbers as we had come in to the store, so she called numbers 1-30.  I happened to hold #25, so I lined up and eagerly awaited my turn to meet Christina.  What I liked the most about Christina, was that she seemed so down to earth.   You know those people who you meet and instantly like?  Those people who can light up a room?  Christina Baker Kline is one of those people.


After the first 30 people had made it through the line, it was time to get started.  During her introduction, we learned that Christina had been in Cleveland earlier in the day.  She had been scheduled to take a early flight from Cleveland to Dayton, but it had been canceled.  She was forced to rent a car, and drive the 3.5 hour trip to Dayton.  When Christina took the podium, she opened with the story of her trip to Dayton.  Apparently, she was scheduled for an interview in Dayton earlier that day before the event.  She had assumed that it was going to be a radio interview, so she opted to be comfy and wore her pajamas on the 3.5 hour drive down.  Much to her dismay, she arrived here in Dayton to find out that the interview was not a radio interview, but a TV interview in which she was obviously not prepared for.  She laughed it off and said it was an “interesting” interview for sure.

Much to my delight, Christina’s presentation was more about the history of the orphan trains, and how she had become so interested in this part of history.  The orphan trains were trains that relocated orphaned and homeless children from the grossly over populated east coast cities to the rural areas of the Midwest.  Experts believe that from the 1850s to the late 1920s, there were upwards of 250,000 children transported by these trains.  During this time, the east coast was in a state of turmoil.  The poverty rate was sky high and the amount of homeless children living in the streets was overwhelming.  Crime was at an all time high.  A man by the name of Charles Loring Brace had came up with an idea to get these kids off the city streets and into the country.  In his mind, this was the solution to the crime problems but also this would help Midwest pioneers develop and settle the west.  This was to be a labor program where the kids would serve as indentured laborers with the hopes that families would foster these kids with the intention of eventually adopting them.  Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the majority of these cases.  The children were stripped of their identities and any possessions, and put on these trains to their new fate.  Once they reached their destinations, the children would line up to be chosen by their new guardians.  The most desirable kids were able-bodied boys aged 9-14.  These boys would be forced into hard physical labor.  Many took the place of the slaves that had been outlawed during the civil war.  Girls were slotted into more domestic roles as house servants.  Many were mistreated and unfortunately, many were not adopted into their new “families” like Brace had envisioned.  Finally in the early 1930s the United States passed laws protecting those in poverty and developed the foster care system..

It was evident that Christina had undergone extensive research on this subject, but what sparked that interest?  Christina shared that once, many years ago, her family was visiting her husband’s family over the holiday when a blizzard hit.  As the days passed, and her kids growing more and more restless, her mother-in-law pulled a book off the shelf.  The book was a history of the family hometown in North Dakota.  In this book was a article article about Orphan trains featuring her mother-in-law’s own father and siblings.  After some research, it turned out that they were not in fact orphan train riders, but from that point on Christina was hooked and learned everything she could about orphan trains.

Christina knew she wanted to write a book about orphan trains, but she admitted that she was intimidated by it.  She wanted her book to be as historically accurate as possible, so she worked many years researching, learning, and even interviewing to prepare.  During her research, Christina learned that there were orphan train reunions where actual riders of orphan trains would meet and talk about their experiences.  Christina attended a few of these reunions, and was able to interview 7 people who had actually ridden on an orphan train.  She said many of the riders described similar feelings of not belonging and shame.  One woman in particular, Pat, mentioned to Christina that she felt like she missed out on not being raised by her own family, and went on to say that she never felt complete.

During Christina’s presentation, she showed us many pictures that she used as inspiration for Orphan Train.  Christina created a “inspiration board” while she was writing the book.  It was full of pictures, quotes, poems, etc.  She used this board to help capture the emotion of what it must have been like to be a orphan train rider.  I was struck at how devastating the children looked in the pictures.  They almost had an eerie feeling about them.  Some of the children she showed us were of similar ages to my own children, aged 2 and 9, which obviously stirred up an emotional response from me.   She also went on to talk about the current cover and showed us a few of the previous covers of Orphan Train.  She said she really struggled with the cover for this book, and did not like any of the previous covers, but is in love with the current cover (who isn’t?).

After a short Q&A session, the event drew to a close.  If all meet the author events were like what I had just experienced, I had really been missing out.  I learned so much in such a short time frame.  I was practically sprinting to my car in order to get home to begin my own journey with Orphan Train.   I look forward to finishing the book, and sharing my thoughts in the very near future.

Have you ever been to a book signing and/or meet the author event?  If so, what was your experience?

About the Author


Christina Baker Kline was born in Cambridge, England, and raised there as well as in the American South and Maine. She is the author of five novels: Orphan Train, Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Lines, and Sweet Water. She is co-editor, with Anne Burt, of About Face: Women Write about What They See When They Look in the Mirror and co-author, with Christina L. Baker, of The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk about Living Feminism. She has edited three other anthologies: Child of Mine, Room to Grow, and Always Too Soon. Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University from 2007 to 2011, Kline has also taught literature and creative writing at Yale, NYU, UVA, and Drew University. A graduate of Yale, Cambridge University, and the University of Virginia, where she was a Hoyns Fellow in Fiction Writing, Kline is a recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship and several research fellowships, and has been a Writer-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Kline lives with husband and three sons in Montclair, New Jersey. She is at work on another novel and an anthology.

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