Clever English Cozy

Title: Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion’s Fox. By Mike Ripley
Publisher: Severn House 272 pp
Genre: mystery, English mystery, English cozy, series, murder mystery
4 stars****
Author: Mike Ripley is an award winning British author of mysteries (Fitzroy MacLean Angel series) and historical novels (Legend of Hereward and Boudica). He also writes a brilliant column (March 2015 was his 100th: gems include an axiom of Raymond Chandler “…with agents, it’s enough that you let them live.” And “This column prides itself on being reliably unreliable.”) Working with the Margery Allingham Society he wrote the first Campion mystery in 40 years Mr Campion’s Farewell (2014). He is obviously a long time fan and finds her voice, not just of Campion and his companions but also of the English countryside. I read every Allingham, as well as Sayers, Marsh Tey and Christie. Lord Peter Wimsey was my favourite, but Campion developed his own following, not just as a similar detective (English, aristocrat, well educated, amateur sleuth helping Crown and Scotland Yard). Campion is an alias as he disliked his first name (Rudolph) and as a second son wouldn’t inherit so was encouraged by his grandmother (the Dowager) to be an adventurer. (His grandmother who demanded the Church of Scotland change its name in 1884.) Campion is an old french word for champion, but also may refer to martyr St Edmund Champion given other clues.
Story Line:
These are character driven novels, more adventure than mystery. The Danish Ambassador has requested personal help as his daughter has fallen in with a shady chap. Then they disappear, and of course a body turns up. Finally, Campion’s wife Lady Amanda Fitton has a larger role (she wants him retired, and isn’t altogether approving when her son gets involved). No spoilers, read and enjoy! Campion has aged in this series, he is now in his early seventies(?), but is still mentally sharp, full of wit and t wisdom of age. He recruits his unemployed actor son Rupert, which involves his interesting wife Perdita. I always look forward to any appearance of Lugg too, the reformed burglar/ butler “with the courage of his previous convictions”! Lugg is now Beadle of Brewers’ Hall.
I think you need to know the series in order to fully enjoy these books, but it does make a delightful entertaining read as a stand alone. Lovely details with village map and building facades. I do hope there is another sequel to follow to continue their lives. I loved the glimpses of London, Suffolk countryside, Gapton Spit, and the pubs. North Sea seaside, in November. I am also picturing Peter Davison from the 1989/1990 BBC adaptations of the first 8 novels. (Not forgetting Brian Glover as Lugg and Andrew Burt as Insp Oates).
Read On:
Mike Ripley Mr Campion’s Farewell (2014)
Margery Allingham from 1929-1969) in order! Novels and short stories
(Tiger in the Smoke (1952) and Death of a Ghost (1934) were among the Best 100 mysteries of the 20th century)
Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey series
Josephine Tey Inspector Grant series
Julia Jones biographer Adventures of Mary Allingham
Several authors have also taken on these previous characters including Jill Paton Walsh with the Lord Peter Wimsey and Sherlock (by so many!). But of note also are novels using authors: Josephine Tey is the subject of excellent mysteries by Nicola Upson.
From the preface “For the insatiable collector of trivia, British passport number 1111924, which I have allocated to Francis Tate in this story, was in fact issued to Mrs Margery Louise Carter (nee Allingham) in 1947.
Opening: “My wife’s people have never quite forgiven you for the Battle of Maldon, Mr Ambassador.” (991AD!)
Like most titles, a hindrance more often than an advantage…
I hope you took an improving book with you…
Immediately would do very nicely, sir.
I reckon he’s the only man in England to go into mourning when the halfpenny stopped bein’ legal tender.

Received/read as an ARC from Netgalley- thanks (I had missed last year’s publication and rectified that!)


You must believe in spring (Tony Bennett)

Title: How to Mulch by Stu Campbell
Publisher: Storey Publishing (new edition, Amazon digital)
96 pp
Genre: gardening, mulch, horticulture, how to,
3.5 stars****
Author: Stu Campbell has been writing gardening how to books, especially on mulch, for some time. They are concise, straightforward and easy to read.
Story Line: As the title indicates, this is a beginners guide to mulching, simply illustrated, informative and basic. It will provide you with how and why to mulch, the types of mulch available and what will suit your budget. It would be useful for beginner gardeners, and a refresher for others. Given the importance of water restrictions in many climates of the U.S., this book is more relevant today. It would appear this is an updated digital version, which is also timely for the spring market. I would be tempted to peruse it from the library or in the bookstore before purchasing, to see if it suits your needs. There was nothing new for me but I am a serious mulcher (in three locations on two continents).
Read On:
How to mulch by Catherine Moravec
Mulch it! 2000 by Stu Campbell (128 pp)
The complete Mulch Book (1991) Stu Campbell (120 pp)


Gracias a la Vida!

Title: The Heart has its own Reasons by Maria Duenas
Publisher: Atria Books (Nov 2014). 384 pp.
Translated by Elie Kerrigan
Genre: translation, literature, Spanish
3.5 to 4 stars****
Author: Maria Duenas has a Phd in English Philology and is Prof at University of Murcia, Spain. Her debut The Time Between was translated into 25 languages and inspired a television series (it was dubbed Spanish Downton Abbey). This novel was exceptionally well translated by Daniel Hahn. I loved the story and rated it 4.5 stars. It was given to me by new Spanish friends; and increased my interest in this author.
Story Line: Blanca Perea is a Spanish professor of linguistics but after her husband of 20 years has an affair she accepts a position at a university north of San Francisco to escape and distract her. There she will organise the papers of a Spanish writer Andres Fontana. There are two parallel poignant tales of intricate lives in disarray. The alternate stories, with flashbacks can be distracting but I enjoyed the accurate descriptions of academics and university culture. There is also fascinating historical commentary on Spanish culture. Both tales concern betrayal, renewal, loss, grief, healing and the havoc of love. While it is well written, it didn’t have the lyrical cadence of her first novel, for me, perhaps the difference in translator. It did, however, have a deeply moving message of recreating your life at any stage. It was a pleasure to read of complicated lives of interesting mature adults and their choices, options and hopes. The resilience of the human spirit is amazing.
Gracias a la vida! Here’s to life!

Read On:
Highly recommend her first novel The Time in Between (2011). The library does have both books!
Opening: Sometimes life comes crashing down, heavy and cold as a dead weight.
…she must be one of those indispensable secretaries who, with a third of their superiors’ salaries, are usually three times as competent.
…not delve into the reasons why a Spanish professor with a secure professional career, an impressive CV, a good salary, family, and contacts had decided so swiftly to pack a couple of suitcases and move to the other end of the world like someone fleeing the plague.
My job had suddenly become clear to me: to rescue and bring to life the buried legacy of a man who had been long ago forgotten.
…a night of sharp knives. I never thought ghosts could come back with such force.
…reason is sometimes useless.
I’ve spent my entire life jumping onto moving trains.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley

Extraordinary History of Botany

Title: Flora Illustrata. By Susan Fraser and Vanesa Sellers
Publisher: Yale University Press and NYBotanical Garden
320 pp
Genre: botany, horticulture, history, plants, gardening, natural history, botanical gardens, library
5 stars*****

Author: Susan M Fraser is the Director of the LuEsther Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Gardens. Vanessa Sellers is the Humanities Research Coordinator at NYBG and a landscape and garden historian. This brilliant book was just awarded the 2015 American Horticultural Society Book Award.

Story Line: The Mertz library is not well known outside botanical circles and deserves greater recognition. It has an astonishing array of botanical and historical material, spanning 8 centuries. This volume showcases the intricate relationships between science, art, culture and books. While only a portion of their collection could be used, the selected material is brilliantly displayed with excellent essays, fantastic photographs and informative interpretations. This is an outstanding resource for many, and a wonderful book for others. It would be a great gift for any plant enthusiast.
Note too,that much if the collection has been digitized and is available online at
This is well written, well edited, well illustrated (279 colour and b/w) and well done! It is SO much more than a coffee table book, and will be enjoyed for many years to come. Is it too much to hope for a second volume?

Read as an ARC from Netgalley (my copy did not download well, but colleagues who purchased it loaned me their version.) With any luck Santa might read this review.



Tartan Day is ahead of us (April 6), celebrating the many contributions of the Scots to the United States. It was chosen to commemorate the Declaration of Arbroath (6 April 1320) upon which the Declaration of Independence was modeled. The water of life (whisky) is certainly in the warm welcoming spirit of America. Andrew Carnegie funded thousands of public libraries in The United States, recognizing their role in the American Dream, and his in particular as a poor scottish immigrant. In past years I have held many fundraisers, often whisky tastings with the wonderful support from Andy’s in Rochester and numerous distillers. I had many warm memories reading the following book, and miss RPL and Andy’s!

Freedom and whisky gang the gither (Robert Burns)

Title: Scotch by Ted Bruning
Publisher: Shire Publishing, Oxford, March 2015
137 pp
Genre: whisky, nonfiction, food/ beverage, single malt scotch
3.5 Stars ***
Author: Ted Bruning has written several interesting books on spirits, including Home Brewing (2014) and Historic Pubs of London (2000). He usually provides a nice list of places to visit and includes here websites and regional distilleries. This would make a nice gift to add to a whisky connoisseur’s collection.
Story line:
This is a small book but is an interesting and informative history of single malt scottish whisky. I have read dozens of book on this subject and enjoyed the concise, entertaining text with good quality informative photographs. There are interesting shenanigans of the corporate whisky world in the 1980/90s. It was depressing to read how many are now foreign owned. At least they are still producing.
After reading, I have a couple new artisanal distillery offerings to try (Abhainan Deag on Lewis since 2008, and Kilchoman, the first new Islay since 1908).
Read on:
Ian Banks Raw Spirits, in search of the perfect dram
MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky (or anything published by Charles Maclean)
David Wishart Whisky Classified
Phillip Hills (Ed) Scots on Scotch
Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch
And a recent favourite
Heather Greene’s Whisk(e)y Distilled (2014)
Eradour, Scotland’s smallest distillery, was founded legally in 1825 by a cooperative of local farmers to supply their own needs; but mysteriously, they seems to have been already experienced stillmen.
Victorian consumers seem to have taken it for granted that whatever they bought might contain more or less anything from innocuous to the lethal; and whisky was no exception.
By the mid 1870s brandy was on short supply. Scotch wasn’t.
In one sense it doesn’t matter what you drink your whisky out of so long as the hole is at the top and not the bottom.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley


Think Spring: Gardening!

Title: The Red Book of Primrose House by Marty Wingate
Publisher: Random House/alibi.
Genre: cosy, mystery, English historical mystery,
3.5/4 Stars ****
Author: Marty Wingate is the author of The Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new mystery series, Birds of a Feather: The Rhyme of the Magpie will be published June 2, 2015.
Marty writes about gardening in the PNW and travel (she also gives European garden tours). She can be heard on A Dry Rain (, a free podcast available on iTunes. Wingate is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Writers Association.
Story line: The Potting Shed Mysteries take place in England, where Pru Parke has transplanted herself to find herself and become a head gardener. In the first book, Pru (short for Prunella, a lovely garden weed in my yard) of course finds a body in her odd job but is introduced to DCI Christopher Pearse. There is a charming developing romantic relationship as both characters are in their 50s. In the second book on Primrose house, they have a long distance relationship as she has found her dream job at an 18th century Manor house in Sussex, near the spa town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. She is to restore the 1806 garden design by Humphrey Repton, for opening day in 6 months time. Some comic moments occur with ghastly gardening ideas from the owner (emails, postits) who want to add personal contemporary ideas to complement the original plan. But then another body mars the landscape after vandals seriously delay the project. Murder and mayhem don’t help deadlines either. There is a side plot involving locating her mother’s family.
Pru is a curious and interesting protagonist. Her relationship with Christopher is also a plus. These books are the definition of cosy: fast easy reads, delightful secondary characters, solvable mystery and fun. There is a nice blend of history, gardening and romance. I would have loved a garden design and plant details.
You will want spring to come soon with all the gardening. I would be tempted to wait for the third book and read them all in a row as a summer beach read. I was glad I had read them in order.
Read on:
If you like Rosemary and Thyme or Agatha Christie
Pru wouldn’t be surprised if Davinia seized on a fairy garden or a collection of gnomes next.
Her longing for some family relation in England has led her to dream up all sorts of connections.
He shook it firmly, with a good gardener’s grip…it’s always easy gardener to gardener…
…and wondered if there was a point to showering at all these days, as she seemed to be in dirt more than out of it.
You can never have too many cups of tea…it’s an especially fine conversation lubricant.
It was just one cup of tea and a generous slice of bakewell tart, but it was a restorative visit.
She reminded herself to check back in about fifty years to see how it was doing.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley


March is national reading month!

I had a lovely extended weekend away which involved several airplanes and therefore reading opportunities with a loaded kindle. But new cities and airports are new bookstores and several new books leapt into my luggage. So in addition to required reading I had a fantastic time. AND also learned of several more books by favourite authors to be published later this year.

Title: A Love Most Dangerous by Martin Lake
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing January 2015
Genre: historical fiction, Tudor, Henry VIII, English history,
3.5 Stars ***
Author: Martin Lake is an English author who has written several historical novels, primarily self published. It appears he writes series, his first concerned the Norman invasion of England, The Lost King: Resistance, Wasteland and Blood of Ironside (soon to be a fourth). Another concerns the Crusades: Outcasts. I had not read this author previously, so was unprepared for the abrupt ending, which of course generally signifies a sequel. Indeed, an interview states an interesting historical character, Nicholas Bourbon will participate. While I would consider these to be superficial historical fiction (there are just enough facts and interesting characters) Wikipedia is a primary reference. Modern language and behaviour are annoying (an editor would also be useful). But they are entertaining reads. Tudor fans will enjoy.
Story line:
It is 1537, Jane Seymour is Queen, but Henry’s roving eye finds another mistress. Alice Petherton (not an historical figure, but Lake later discovered the Shelton mistresses around the same time period) is a Maid of Honor to the Queen’s Court. She’s 17, innocent but determined to control her life (never to be queen, but unrealistic for the turbulent masculine time period). I found it hard to believe that men found her so irresistible or she was seemingly unaware of this (until Cromwell points it out at the end). She is a survivor though, and became a fascinating character in the course of the year (although I am still not clear on the timeline). I would continue this series, especially at the beach.
There are several side plots, and power twists, but descriptive London locations made for interesting reading. Unexpectedly, I liked Thomas Cromwell best.
This is more of a bodice ripper with more physical assault and gratuitous sex than I expected. Hilary Mantel it is not. But not every book needs to be a history lesson. And it is Henry the VIII, with graphic detail of poverty and decadence. Tudors sell.
(Just opened my Daedalus catalogue and discovered 4 page of Tudormania, evidently it sells well! But I found three to read, the Marlowe papers by Ros Barber, The Divorce of Henry VIII by Catherine Fletcher and King’s Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes).
Read on:
He recommends reading Alison Weir and Ian Mortimer.
I recommend Hilary Mantel or Vanora Bennett.
Phillipa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) and SJ Parris (Prophecy) are favorites.
Leanda de Lisle Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder.
Opening line:
To be a servant at the Court of King Henry is to live with your heart in your mouth.

She (Anne Boleyn) took me as one of her Maids of Honor and my slow approach to the furnace began.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley


Spring Ahead with New Books

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.”
β€”The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows

Mary Doria Russell Epitaph
This is a fantastic sequel to Doc, her brilliant 2011 novel about Doc Holliday. This narrative concentrates on Wyatt Earp, dissecting the legend and creating a Homeric tragedy in turbulent American history. As only she can, she unearths truths out of myths, creating an epic. Dramatic backstory, detail and aftermath of the O.K. coral. Complicated bittersweet tale of the West in 1881. 30 seconds and several lifetimes. Complex characters, moving bonds of brotherhood.
If you loved the PBS special on the Earps you will marvel at this novel. I think reading Doc first would give you a greater appreciation of this story, as well as look forward to the vignettes of Doc.
All of her books are well worth reading, and five stars. She has a PhD in Biological Anthropology and her research skills are also legendary (19 linear feet of books and source material for his book, to say nothing of recreating a trail ride).

Ian Caldwell The Fifth Gospel
This is Caldwell’s second book and is a fast paced addictive read: part murder mystery, part family saga, part legal thriller and part papal politics. It is a thought provoking, intellectual thriller, again with extraordinary research and moving human drama. Fascinating history of Eastern Orthodox and catholic religions, the shroud of Turin and the gospels as historical teachings. Excellent balance of smart characters, intricate twists, sacrifice and forgiveness.
It needed a map, the Vatican is an intricate mystery on so many levels.
A second reading is possible to rethink some of the detailed information. Recommend listening to the audio book narrated by British actor Jack Davenport.

Neil Gaiman Trigger Warnings
If it has Gaiman’s name on it, I am going to buy it in hardcover preferably, with or without a coupon. In an Indie bookstore if I can. 25 stories and poems about the dark corridors of our imaginations. Most of these have been printed elsewhere: I strongly urge you to get your hands on the illustrated book version of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (2010). When I reviewed A Study in Sherlock (2011) I highlighted The Case of Death and Honey as one of the best. It is fantastic to have them collected here, as several were hard to track down. Do not read in one sitting.
(NB The Truth is a Black Cave is exceptionally read by Euan Morton in Stories by Neil Gaiman (2010) RPL has the audio book! I loved the audio book read by Gaiman himself, but first at the Sydney Opera House. BUT Morton’s Scottish voice is absolutely perfect for this Skye folktale. Yes, I have read this four times. Once when published, again when Eddie Campbell illustrated, once listening to Gaiman, and last night listening to Morton.)

Sarah Jio The Look Of Love (2014)
I am not sure how I missed this as I have read all of her novels. This is slight deviation from her usual style, but was a rewarding, enchanting read, once again in modern Seattle. It is an unusual fantasy with interesting characters and journeys we all make with love. The story reveals six types of love found in the family and friends of Jane Williams, who isn’t sure she’d recognize any. Pragma, Agape, Mania, Storge, Eros, Ludos. Happy endings are not necessarily found but it’s charming, heartfelt and well written. A perfect beach read, a perfect cosy Sunday read, or a perfect rainy day escape.

Soaring fantasy

Title: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House March 2015
587pp with glossary and list of characters, maps
Genre: YA, Science fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, sequel
5 Stars *****
Author: Rachel Hartman won several awards for her debut novel Seraphina, including the William C Morris YA Debut Award, and Cybils Award for YA Fantasy. Seraphina quickly became a best seller, indie favourite and had many starred reviews. Her world building is fantastic, her plots clever, her story intricate and the characters unique and fascinating. Her love of music shines.
Story line: this is the sequel to Seraphina, and it must be read first. Seraphina, half dragon half human, searches for other of her ilk who can help end the war in the kingdom of Goredd. After reading the concise lovely prologue which introduced the previous story, I reread it anyway, remembering her magical prose and vivid descriptions. How dragons can seem real / normal is fabulous. Nothing about this story disappointed me. I wasn’t expecting where it went, rereading and savoring just amplified my enjoyment. Once to inhale, once to savor πŸ™‚
While Seraphina was about finding herself, Shadow Scale is about the journey, finding her place in the world, understanding herself and comprehending the choices we all make. Seraphina interacts with many people, the larger complex cast is colourful and complicates the story.
I loved the foreshadowing in both the first book and the history prologue. I liked that this wasn’t a conventional romance, but that was also not unexpected given the ending of the first book. Their relationships are more private/subtle and much appreciated. Life isn’t full of answers, perhaps we don’t even have the right questions. We don’t always have to live by the rules of others.
A wfew months have lapsed between books, although we have been granted an historical overview (read prologue carefully). I also like that this is a sequel and isn’t spawning a dozen more to anticipate. The author is returning to this fantastically created world with another pair of books, and I hope it is with some of the other notable characters. Although any story with an older Seraphina (and her Uncle) would be most welcome.
There are excellent themes on how relationships work; the greater good, motivation and choices; exploration of cultures and peoples; how maturing affects our perceptions. I enjoyed her exploration of a saint based religion, and how secret books create ignorant society.
I loved the ending. This is a brilliant captivating tale: Well told with rich settings and heartbreaking characters. I won’t forget them.
Read on:
Kirsten Cashore Graceling, Bitterblue etc
Anne McCaffrey Dragonsong
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, but also new Uprooted.
And look for her next books in Goredd.

Opening sentence
I returned to myself.
I rubbed by eyes, forgetting that the left was bruised and the pain snapped the world into focus.
Lars distracted him with bagpipes.
I wasn’t thirsty, but any trace of kindness in my dragon uncle was a thing to encourage.
Lars is designing new war machines.
Mud, on the other hand, is infinite.
Herself seemed a terrible place to be; I still wished I could have saved her from it.
All the trials of a day may be endured if you know there’s such a sky at the end of it.
I saw that my assumptions had blinded me…
The thing itself plus nothing equals everything.
Never beyond repair good heart.
This was going to take all my courage, and I needed a little more music to get there.

I confess I started my Netgalley copy, reverted to hardback Seraphina, discovered I had purchased an Ebook as I couldn’t wait for this (before I was approved by Netgalley), and didn’t know if I would be at a bookstore. AND actually read it as a hardback personal copy when it was placed on the shelf in Barnes and Noble a day before publication. So, I didn’t highlight many quotes, as I never mark first editions. Random pages always found a memorable quotable sentence.

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

Louise Erdrich Wins Library of Congress American Fiction Prize

Prize winning author Louise Erdrich has been awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. The award recognizes writers with “unique, enduring voices” whose work deals with the American experience. Past winners include John Grisham, Toni Morrison, EL Doctorow. Erdrich is the author of 14 novels, numerous volumes of poetry, nonfiction and childrens books including Love Medicine, The Round House and Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country. She is also the owner of magical independent bookstore, Birchbark Books and Native Arts in Minneapolis, Minn. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said β€œI don’t write from a compulsion to provide for the reader a Native American, Great Plains, or for that matter German-American experience,” she said. β€œI write narratives that compel me, using language that reverberates for me.”

She will receive this award at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., on September 5. This festival was started in 2001, and from 30,000 people it has grown to over 200,000 featuring authors, illustrators, and poets. Librarians from across the country are invited each year to represent their states at the Festival. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and commercial sponsors such as Target and AT&T have provided funding (2012).

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said that Erdrich “has portrayed her fellow Native Americans as no contemporary American novelist ever has. Her prose manages to be at once lyrical and gritty, magical yet unsentimental, connecting a dream world of Ojibwe legend to stark realities of the modern-day.”

In recent email interview, Ms. Erdrich, who has won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, said such recognition felt like β€œan out of body experience.” β€œIt seems that these awards are given to a writer entirely different from the person I am β€” ordinary and firmly fixed,” she wrote. β€œGiven the life I lead, it is surprising these books got written. Maybe I owe it all to my first job β€” hoeing sugar beets. I stare at lines of words all day and chop out the ones that suck life from the rest of the sentence. Eventually all those rows add up.”