Another reading year gone and it was a strange one: an intense reading summer, testament to the plethora of reviews I managed to write, and a dry autumn with barely any reading done. Nevertheless, I read some good romance among others genres and I’m going to herein name the ones I think might withstand the test of time and taste. With this first post of 2020, I wish you all the health, happiness, prosperity, and love the world can bring. Without further ado, here are the titles that resonate with me still. I’ve written about all of them, so you’re welcome to check out my reviews to see why I liked them. With apologies that I can’t manage more commentary than that, but 2019 was the year I was tired. I’m hoping to have more blogging energy for 2020! Continue reading
Though it’s been a slow-reading year since the fall (thanks, all-consuming day-job), the Christmas holidays offered an opportunity to polish off two books I’ve been making my way through: Ben Macintyre’s A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal and Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway murder mysteries #7, The Ghost Fields. I enjoyed both in that distracted, desultory way one does when other obligations and responsibilities get in an uber-reader’s way. Of the two, Macintyre’s book proved the more compelling. An account of the activities of one high-profile Soviet spy in the UK’s MI-6, Macintyre, rightly so, is more interested in telling the story of how the old boys club that was Britain’s spy agency bolstered, supported, and lauded a traitor, a snake in their arrogant, smug grass. Griffiths’s volume, on the other hand, contained a lacklustre mystery, but my love for Ruth, her five-year-old daughter, Kate, friend Cathbad, DCI Nelson and his team, and Nelson’s wife, Michelle, proved to be strong enough, and their continued relationship complications interesting enough, to keep me reading past the ho-hum mystery plot.
Wendy Roberts’s fourth Bodies of Evidence mystery finds our heroine and psychic body-finder caught between her past and future, as she has been for the past three books. Without spoiling the series if you’ve yet to read it, heroine Julie Hall uses “dowsing rods” to find missing, deceased people, bringing closure to their families and, more often than not, helping the police solve cold cases. Set in moody-broody Washington state, our Julie is a trailer park gal with supernatural abilities, an up-close-and-personal relationship with beer and wine, and a past as haunting and painful as the murderous circumstances of the bodies she discovers. In each volume, Julie tries to make peace with her abusive past, fend off dipsomania, and draw comfort from a life she’s forged with will power, the wisdom of a great therapist, and the love of her twenty-years-senior FBI-agent boyfriend (I know, but it totally works). Continue reading
Though I’m no fan of the new stylized covers, Freeman’s Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder WAS pink and I love pink as much as a murder mystery set in late Victorian times among the aristocratic and privileged. If only there’d been a murder at Downton … (well, there was, but it was in a hotel room). I thought Freeman’s plot convoluted, but I wanted to find another historical murder mystery series to follow, as if I didn’t already have quite a few.
Ah, the complicated plotting: young, widowed, single mother, Lady Harleigh, American Frances Price by birth, aristocratic British by marriage of convenience, much like Lady Grantham, is our amateur sleuth. When the novel opens, we learn Frances has refused marriage to her charming neighbour and partner in sleuthing (does he work for the Home Office?), George Hazelton. Frances lives with Rose, her seven-year-old daughter; recently affianced sister, Lily; Aunt Hetty, and the comic-relief, klutzy, American heiress, Charlotte Deaver (left to Frances’s care by her globe-trotting, toy-boy-collecting mother). Frances has a lively social life, now she’s out of mourning, and a wide circle of friends, one of whom is Charles Evingdon, a harmless, handsome, air-headed aristocrat. Frances has tried to set Charles up with one of her friends, Mary Archer. Sadly, Mary is murdered and Charles is implicated. With George’s help, Frances extricates Charles from the police. However, as she, George, and their coterie of friends, including Charles, learn more about Mary Archer, things are curiouser and curiouser. Continue reading
Gosh, I love these Ruth Galloway mysteries. Totally hooked. Reader-ga-ga. I have six in the TBR and one anticipated in 2020 before I await the next volume (as I do C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr historical mysteries). As always, I try to read each volume slowly and savor, but the last quarter sucks me in; today, errands and chores forgotten, I sat in the old reading chair and inhaled A Dying Fall.
To sustain a great series, as Griffiths and Harris do, requires a lovely balance of various elements: firstly, there must be an element of surprise in the mystery, its context and motivations; secondly, an element of familiarity, in the detecting figures; thirdly, those familiar figures, if they prove introspective about their lives, which Ruth and Harry prove to be in every volume thus far, and the events occurring around the crime, grow more compelling. So, the new, the familiar, and the nuance in the familiar make for a beloved, anticipated-next-book series. Continue reading
With an ARC of Wendy Roberts’s Bodies of Evidence #4 waiting in the wings, I went to the first because I cannot bear coming to a series midway. Besides, I like two of the series’ premises: a heroine with divining powers and a May-to-December romance (her twenty-five to his forty-five). From the get-go, Roberts’s heroine, Julie Hall, aka Delma Arsenault, is a mess, but a likeable one. She lives with her Rottweiler, Wookie, in an old trailer on her grandfather’s property . She works at the local gas station, plays with her dog, takes care of Gramps, and fights off the urge to drink. Julie is a woman with dark, difficult memories of abandonment (by her mother) and physical abuse by her grandmother. Despite this, she is neither lugubrious, or weepy. I liked her for that: she’s darkly funny, caring, even loving, but rough around the edges and her mouth makes a sailor blush. She also carries an unlikely ability: to locate the missing dead with the use of divining rods, or as they’re called in the novel, dowsing rods. Into Julie’s work-home-walk-dog life walks FBI Agent Garrett Pierce, on the trail of a serial killer. He wants Julie’s help to find the missing girls, to recover their bodies, to bring him closer to catching the killer. Continue reading
Death In Kew Gardens, number three in Ashley’s Kat Holloway Below Stairs mysteries and, at least in its first half, the best one yet (I’d still recommend you read the first two, I loved’em). As you know, I don’t read mysteries for the “puzzle-mystery-solution”, or for the criminal’s motive or psychology, but the detecting main character and, in Ashley’s series’ case, her marvelous detecting team of “below stairs” maids, butlers, housekeepers, and mysterious policeman/detective/government agent Daniel McAdam (man of many roles and disguises) and his friends. Of all the mystery series I read, I love Ashley’s for her protagonists and friends, who help Kat Holloway, an inspired cook by profession, solve crimes and bring justice. Kat is talented, smart, beautiful, and kind. In Death In Kew Gardens, Kat’s kindness sets off the novel’s mystery. As Kat shops with her mercurial, temperamental, and hilarious cook’s assistant, Tess (I loved her!), she accidentally knocks over a passerby, Mr. Li, whom she then helps up. That night, Mr. Li knocks on the Rankin house kitchen door, where Kat cooks for the Bywaters and their niece and her friend, Lady Cynthia, and gifts Kat with a box of aromatic tea. Continue reading
As I mentioned in a previous post, when I had an Audible account, I listened to Elly Griffiths’s first three Ruth Galloway mysteries. Recently, I read #4, A Room Full of Bones, and it may be my favourite yet. (I have the rest stacked and ready to go all the way to the most recent, #11, The Stone Circle. I’m hooked, yes, and a fan.) Like her standalone mystery, The Stranger Diaries, Griffiths has a winning combination of elements: a likeable, detecting, female lead, literary and genre allusions to make a reader smile fondly, a snappy style, smooth voice, moreover in the third person (my preference), and a great balance between the central mystery (the variable) and the personal lives of her detecting team (the given). That combination of original material with the steady thread of a group of compelling characters can see me follow a detecting series for years (witness my love for and obsession with C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mysteries, all the elements of Griffiths’s within a historical setting). Griffiths’s protagonist, Ruth Galloway, is an academic, a forensic archaeologist professor at North Norfolk University, who’s drawn again and again, thanks to her “bones” expertise, into police cases headed by DCI Harry Nelson of the Norfolk police and his team members. Continue reading
Today, alternating reading with work tasks and making full-use of a quiet lunch hour, I finished Dorothy Sayers’s The Unpleasantness At the Bellona Club (1928). BTW, I’m rereading Sayers’s murder mystery series. Because I never read for plot and promptly forget it when I’m done, I might as well have never read it. What I did and do retain is Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s acerbic writing, and the feeling that everything is precariously tottering on the edge of tragedy. This post is by way of expressing some of my random thoughts while I read. I don’t spoil, so feel free to keep reading. I don’t summarize or review, therefore, these comments may only be of interest to someone who’s read and/or is interested in Sayers. Or not.
The Unpleasantness At the Bellona Club centres around the murder of elderly General Fentiman, found deprived of his mortal coil when he spent too long snoozing in his usual chair at the Bellona Club, a London gentleman’s club. The first thing that struck me, and I don’t remember thinking about this when I first read the Wimsey mysteries, was the noise of The Great War in the background. Though the war has been long over, most of the characters, including Wimsey, live in its shadow, are yet haunted by the mud of the Somme so to speak, and carry the bitter, cavalier and frightening knowledge of witnessing death, feeling his breath on their napes. They are marked and Sayers’s novel is in turn marked by a macabre memento mori. The War, as Wimsey refers to it, is the great dividing line of before and after, what we were and what we’ve become because of it: “Wimsey said that nothing was what it had been; he thought it must be due to the War.” Wimsey’s diffidence marks all the characters; euphemism stands in for death, horror, evil, masked, out of fear, out of not-to-be-borne. Continue reading
Mariah Fredericks’s second Jane Prescott mystery, Death Of A New American, has a rich, layered, vivid backdrop: 1912 New York. Indeed, Fredericks’s vibrantly-rendered historical detail may be as immersive and compelling as her mystery and characters. Of the latter, her amateur sleuth, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is eminently sympathetic: intelligent, observant, and compassionate. Jane’s lowly social status allows her the freedom to fade into the background and take in the details of the wealthy, privileged, and as aristocratic as Americans can be, families she serves. Fredericks may write about the rich and powerful, but the moral core of her mystery lies with the people of the “downstairs”. Their lives, thanks to the historical context in which Fredericks situates them, will change as social, economic, and political tides sweep over early twentieth century New York.
Fredericks has penned a novel as richly conceived historically as it is domestically. When it opens, the papers are crying the news of the Titanic‘s sinking. On the domestic front, Jane is preparing a trip to the Long Island home of the Tylers, as her mistress, Louise Benchley, prepares to marry their nephew, William. Charles, William’s uncle, is the powerful, influential, and famous-for-fighting-the-emerging-Italian-NY mafia, police commissioner. But, who is the “new American” and how and why does she die?