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