Spring Ahead…

If I had known this was a sequel/continuation to her book My Name is Mary Sutter, I would have had it on amazon pre-order. As it was I found it as a display, noting a lovely cover and title: Winter Sisters.

Title: Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

Publisher: Viking February 2018, 415pp

Genre: literature, historical, mystery, suspense

5 stars highly recommended

Author:

Robin Oliveira (BA Russian Literature (1976), registered nurse, former literary agent (MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts 2006)), was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship for a work-in-progress. My Name is Mary Sutter won the 2011 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction. Originally from Albany NY, she now lives in Seattle, Washington.

Story:

Mary Sutter was an unforgettable character, fiercely passionate as a doctor, intensely loyal to her family and friends, and driven by an independent spirit. Fourteen years have passed and she is still challenging social norms, prejudices and conventions. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Mary is again a central figure, few would have her perseverance and defiance but she shares the story with her niece Elizabeth and mother Amelia. All are needed not just to save the girls physically, but emotionally. They provide a multifaceted, deeply layered view of the era, women’s roles, love and family bonds. They are lucky to have the strong unwavering support of men who understand their sacrifice.

This is a very dark, difficult tale of kidnapping, rape and court proceedings against a 10year old child, which was considered consensual by law at that time (1879). It portrays a society laced with greed, police corruption, social class, bribery and betrayal. It is also a rewarding tale of hope and perseverance. Oliveira knows Albany well and and her detailed research provides rich descriptions of Victorian architecture, commerce, historical detail, even the weather create a powerful backdrop to this complex mystery. The writing is evocative, sensitive and filled with vivid characters. The story is timeless and riveting. I savored the historical detail, was haunted by the conditions of the street women, restricted social climate and horrific rape, found comfort in William and Mary’s relationship and ended determined to continue the fight over 100years later.

This novel can be read as a stand-alone, but don’t miss her other books.

Read on:

Nicola Upson Josephine Tey series, Jacqueline Winspear Maisie Dobbs series

Quotes:

One joy in this somber story is Mary and William’s marriage. “Neither of them could think of a time together when either of them let each other down.” “Theirs was a tenacious love, as solid and true as granite.”

“I will gladly hear what you have to say, Dr. Stipp, but only after I speak to Emma. I do not want to contaminate my impressions with yours.”

“They are not impressions. They are facts.”

“There are facts and then there are alternate facts.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard anyone say.”

One day, I’m going to write a violin concerto and call it Number One Hundred Thirteen, and Elizabeth will play it” One hundred twelve days since they were taken, that day (113) marked the first day she wasn’t scared when she awoke.

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What fools….

Title: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Publisher: Harper January 2018, 385 pp

Genre: literature, literary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, English mystery

5 stars. Highly recommended

Author: Bernard Cornwell is a prolific writer of over 50 novels, including the Sharpe Series (21 episodes with Sean Bean), The Last Kingdom (10 books, Netflix). There is always a skillful blend of history, intrigue and witty dialogue. His writing is superb, well researched and richly detailed. He is an enthusiastic amateur dramatist, which shows in the accurate portrayal of actors’ rivalries, theatre competition, and fierce ambition. This telling brought Shakespeare, his troupe and Elizabethan London to light. I would love a sequel, although this is a stand alone novel.The telling is a credit to the Bard.

Story: Richard Shakespeare, younger brother, is a penniless actor, of pretty face and female roles, who wants to establish himself as a serious professional (e.g. male actor). Playing females doesn’t pay as well (even then, even as a man), but rival egos, a glut of actors and vying theatres prevent upward mobility. Opportunities arise with a new production, a chance romance, and the need to clear his name with stolen manuscripts (midsummer’s night dream and Romeo and Juliet). Sibling rivalry, cutthroat theatre rivalry (pre Globe, 1500 seats, 30plays a year), Puritan hostilities, are intricately woven into a tight fascinating character driven story. Thankfully Queen Elizabeth liked plays, especially Shakespeare’s.

Read on:

If you like Hilary Mantel Wolffe Hall, Robert Nye Mrs Shakespeare

Don’t miss Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare histories.

Rochester Public Library has ebook, audiobook and hardcover.

Quotes:

I went out into the yard where rain seethed on the cobbles, and I stood under the shelter of a wooden arcade that ran like a cheap cloister about the courtyards edge. I shivered. Winter was coming.

I was good. I knew I was good. And I wanted to be good because to perform well was one way to avoid Sir Godfrey’s savage beatings, or the whippings administered by his two ushers.

….audiences clamored to hear the play. And across the wintry river men were planning to steal it from us.

We were the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. And no one pissed on our stage.

Aye, but we would be nothing without the words.

The Chills Continue

Settle old scores – Or promote healing of old wounds?

Title: Old Scores by Will Thomas

Publisher: Minotaur Press (2017) 294 pp

Genre: mysteries, English mystery, historical mystery, detective fiction

5 stars, highly recommended

Author:

Will Thomas (b 1958) writes an award winning Victorian mystery series featuring Cyrus Barker, a Scottish detective or “private enquiry agent,” and his Welsh assistant, Thomas Llewelyn. The Barker/Llewelyn novels are all set in the 1880s with accurate historical events. Martial arts/ combat is featured throughout the series. Thomas has said that Barker is based on characters such as Richard Francis Burton and Edward William Barton-Wright, founder of Bartitsu (which Thomas also studies).

Previously, Thomas wrote essays for Sherlock Holmes society and lectured on crime fiction of the Victorian era. Thomas’ first novel Some Danger Involved was nominated for a Barry Award and a Shamus Award, and won the 2005 Oklahoma Book Award. The Black Hand was nominated for a 2009 Shamus Award. Fatal Enquiry won the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award. He was a librarian with the Tulsa City-County Library System. Thomas enjoys Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe mysteries. His wife, Julia Thomas, recently published her first mystery, The English Boys (2016) followed by Penhale Wood (2017).

Story:

This is the 9th in the series and provides many answers and background to the previous 8 stories. Barker has always been quite mysterious as an unusual private investigator, as well as dangerous, and has been the cornerstone of this developing series. Llewelyn, witty narrator, provides the engaging and entertaining commentary on 19the century Victorian London. Thomas is a fantastic suspense writer, with attention to detail of class, traditions, culture, lore as well as weaving an intriguing tale of betrayal, secrets, honor and love. This is fast paced prose with fascinating suspects, red herrings and a satisfying conclusion which also hints at a continuing story thread. I read it straight through in a night, and then just reread it several months later, still enjoying and savoring the details.

Read on to Laurie King’s Mary Russell series (Mrs Sherlock Holmes). If you like Sherlock Holmes, this is not a clone as so many are. I also recommend Anthony Horowitz’s Sherlock series. I was surprised to learn of his wife’s two books and can recommend those English mysteries too!

Received as an ARC from netgalley and the publishers. Purchased my own copy, to continue my set.

The Butler Did It!- Again!

Title: Judgment of Murder by CS ChallinorPublisher: Midnight Ink Nov 2016

Genre: cozy, mystery, English historical, British mystery, Scottish barrister, 

4+ stars

It’s the 100th anniversary of Agatha Christies first published novel and cozies are all the rage again. They provide good reading and are multi-layered nuanced entertainment. The Solution depends on observation not technology and there is little graphic violence or sex.

Author:

Challinor was born in the US, educated in Scotland and England (joint Hons in Latin, French) and currently lives in Florida. She also holds a diploma in Russian from the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild, New York, and writes the critically acclaimed Rex Graves mystery series featuring the Scottish barrister-sleuth. The cozy series begins with: Christmas is Murder (September 2008, Midnight Ink Books, a Kindle best seller), and continues with Murder in the Raw (2009), Phi Beta Murder (2010), Murder on the Moor (2011), Murder of the Bride (2012, a Mystery Guild book club pick), Murder at the Dolphin Inn (2013) Murder at Midnight (2014) and Murder comes Calling (2015). I particularly appreciate the understated humour and banter between Rex and and his fiancé Helen d’Arcy (schoolteacher) and have enjoyed the series more with each new book. Challinor keeps most readers guessing as she cleverly spreads suspicion and clues and red herrings. Cozy fans will enjoy this traditional series featuring a witty, charming and engaging sleuth. Her light touch makes them entertaining reads, perfect for cold winter nights. JoM will make a lovely Christmas gift.

Story Line:

An old colleague Lord Gordon Murgatroyd, the infamous Judge Murder, dies in England, but his daughter Phoebe, newly widowed, suspects foul play. Rex Graves QC develops his prosecutorial expertise to sleuth his way through possible method and probable motive and near death. His trusty likable colleague Alistair helps investigate and even saves Rex at one point. Both are caught up in another regional case with abducted girl(s), linking cold cases, murderers and suspects. Rex does like to announce the murderer in a denouement, continuing the Golden Age style. Challinor’s mysteries are a welcome and charming modern take on Agatha Christie. I felt this one was more multilayered although they remain descriptive stories. Reading enjoyment may benefit from knowledge of previous cases and character development. 

Read On:

Anne Cleeland (Shetland), Deborah Crombie, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, MC Beaton (Hamish McBeth), Rhys Bowen (Royal Spyness), Anna Lee Huber (Lady Darby), Alexander McCall Smith (Sunday Philosophy Club), Paige Shelton  (Scottish bookshop), Sophie Hannah (Poirot)

Quotes:

The golf could wait. Murder could not.

In the event he was on a wild goose chase, he thought he might as well do some sightseeing and make the most of his sabotaged weekend.

Miss Bird had been their housekeeper since he was a boy, and she and his mother persisted in calling him by his given name, instead of its derivative “Rex,” which he preferred. Now that they were well into their eighties he had lost all hope of their changing the habit.

She spoke in the genteel tones of Morningside ladies, which Rex often thought belied a razor sharp mind that had lost none of its acuity in her advancing age.

“Well, I wish you’d just hurry up and marry the woman. You know how I love weddings.” Rex gazed at his friend in mild frustration.

I’m aboot as lethal as one of these chips.” 

Rex commended his friend’s foresight, without fully comprehending how he had been able to run with a crowbar secreted in his coat, but now wasn’t the time to ask.”

“Your mother must be so proud of you, as am I. I suppose you could go about incognito but you’re a hard person to disguise.”

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Most in the series available from Rochester Public Library.

Being the 13th


Title: Jane and the Waterloo Map by Stephanie Barron

5 Stars *****

Publisher: Soho Crime 320pp

Genre: regency mystery, historical fiction, Jane Austen, mystery series

Author: Francine Stephanie Barron Mathews (b 1953) is a mystery writer and has written several series. As Francine Mathews, Merry Folger is a police officer in Nantucket while the Caroline Carmichael series are spy thrillers based on Mathews CIA analyst career. Her descriptive writing was influenced by one of her Princeton professors, John McPhee (one of my favourite non fiction writers!). As Stephanie Barron she writes the Jane Austen mysteries, presented as lost diaries edited by Barron. They are extremely well researched, witty, charming and a lovely homage to Jane Austen. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since the first novel. Worse, this novel takes place in November 1815 and Jane died in 1816. Barron writes for the thinking reader. These are gentle, entertaining mysteries with careful staging and intricate characters. You will enjoy the wit, charm and satire of Jane Austen in this beautiful homage. There are many Austen spin offs: Barron is my personal favourite.

Story line:

Being the 13th novel in the series.

The battle of Waterloo has left the British economy in shreds, and Henry Austen is nearly bankrupt. Jane is editing her proofs of Emma while nursing her beloved brother in London. There are wonderful quotes from Emma throughout. Jane hears the two words Waterloo Map from the young, dying Calvary officer Col McFarland and sets out to unmask the poisoner. Jane’s keen observations and wit provide interesting details of social conventions, daily life, and personal reflection that make this a wonderful period piece. Misdirection gives a nice twist at the end.

I still miss Lord Harold Trowbridge, her previous romantic interest and fellow sleuth (5 books ago) but delighted to see her reacquainted with the fascinating artist Raphael West. This is a rather fast paced two weeks in her life. Persuasion is next! 

Read on:

Laurie King’s Mary Russell mysteries as period diaries.

For period mysteries : Nicola Upson, Jacqueline Winspear, Deanna Raybourn, Barbara Cleverly, or Anne Perry.

For intricate historical novels: Diana Gabaldon, Susanna Kearsley.

Quotes:

Opening line: There can be few things more lowering to the female sensibility than to be caught in a shower of rain at exactly the moment one desires to appear to advantage.

Closing line: But as I watched West’s equipage pull away from Hans Place, I felt a blank pit of loneliness just below my heart. And hoped, for all of us, in the promise of spring.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library.

It’s Cool to Read!

Summer  time and the reading is easy…

At any one time I have a dozen library books checked out. A stack of bookstore purchased TBR. Numerous ebooks are just waiting for a flight or extended travel. Some of today’s list I have reviewed before, as Laurie King’s Mary Russell series, but reading a book in hardcover has such appeal to me. It was great, however, to have the ebook well ahead of publication! I was so pleased when a house guest recently discovered this series in my shelves and is now devouring them. Binge reading at its best. 

I love a good mystery, and many of my favourite authors have extended series. Three recent books are interesting page turners which keep you guessing. I caution you to read these in order, so if you don’t know these great authors, you’re in for a treat (and a lot of summer reading!): Charles Todd, Elly Griffith and Amanda Quick all write historical fiction, period suspense that never fail to charm me. Nothing too heavy for he hammock, but well researched, interesting characters and wonderful sense of place be it the Norfolk broads, Victorian England or post WWI England. 
A read surprise for me was Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. (I am now finding her earlier novels, Dust and Shadow, Gods of Gotham.). Each chapter of Jane Steele opens with a quote from Jane Eyre, which just might make you rethink Charlotte Brontes gothic tale. This Jane is fun, and finds a hidden knife quite useful in Victorian society. Perfect beach read.

There are also series that have made the move to television. The next Walt Longmire mystery The Highwayman is also now in bookstores, just as I’m catching up with Longmire on Netflix. And while I am addicted to the program, I love the these books more. I thought his last, Any Other Name was the best yet. Really. Normally I would say that with the character development and overlapping cases, you should read them in order. But this is a novella, classic Longmire, and something of a ghost story. It could be inserted almost anywhere in the series. There is a warmth, a sense of humanity and a wonderful sense of place (Wind River Canyon) perfect for the armchair traveler. Walt is the stuff of Wyoming legend and Johnson doesn’t disappoint. I can’t wait for the next book (Sept) An Obvious Fact.

And then there is the nonfiction account of The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu! I confess after the first two chapters I had to read the ending to make sure he (Haidara) was alive. That the books and manuscripts had survived. That I wouldn’t hyperventilate anymore. I was intrigued by the Arabic manuscripts themselves, and every introduction of what he saved from Al Qaeda was astonishing. It is a truly aspiring but short account.

Chilling summer read

Title: Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (number 18)Publisher: Bantam (July 2015) 320 pp. 4 stars 

 Genre: mystery, series, crime, suspense

Author:

Kathy Reichs, is a multitalented, fascinating woman with two full time careers: forensic anthropologist and writer. Her credentials include: vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists; member of the RCMP National Police Services Advisory Council (Canada); forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec; and professor of forensic anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Her first book, Deja Dead, won the 1997 Ellis award for best first novel. She is also a producer of the TV series Bones. This is the eighteen mystery featuring Dr Temperance Brennan. I also like her YA mysteries, featuring Tory Brennan: Virals, Seizure, Code, Exposure and Terminal. Her novels are fast paced, clever and should be read in order. I am often a stickler for reading a series in order, but the early books are extremely well written and provide relevant background. Ignore the television series. http://www.kathyreichs.com.

Story Line:

After the previous novel, I was ready to continue the series for an expected presence of old blue eyes. Indeed Tempe has a plane ticket, hours away from visiting him. She’s getting cold feet and becomes absorbed in a chilling web sleuthing tale. It is vicious, compelling and easier to deal with than complicated relationships. These tales are devolving into soap operas for me and I am tired of such a strong female character, dithering, claiming to be independent while needy. Predictably, she gets into serious trouble on her own. How realistic is it to believe we can always take care of ourselves, alone, given the scale of the bad guys she deals with? It makes us complex, but she should have insight into her psyche by now. And give Ryan credit for understanding her given his own history. Perhaps character development suitable to their ages?

But as always I learn a great deal from these novels. Web sleuthing was unknown to me. Another genetic disorder provides clever clues. Astonished/appalled at the sheer numbers of missing persons (90,000) and unidentified remains (40,000). These books are extremely detail oriented with politics, crime lab routines, science, real people in all walks of life and emotional impact. 

This story takes place a few months after the last, and Canadian detective Andrew Ryan’s marriage proposal. Temperance Brennan is a consulting forensic anthropologist for Mecklenberg Co., NC. A horrific recording sets the North Carolina story in motion as cyber sleuth Lucky (Hazel) Strike believes it to be a missing girl. Except no one is looking for her. I like that Tempe can’t let the dead be forgotten, and that she is confident of her abilities. Tempe has a great sense of humour and I wish I would remember her zingers and apply them. Nothing is as it seems, yet everything is credible and fast paced. There is murder, mayhem, haunting, dismemberment, skeletal remains, personal, assault, religious fanaticism/zealots, backwoods cults, exorcism, decent county cops and family drama. Katy is in Afghanistan, Birdie is still overweight, and Mama has a beau.

A great summer read.

Read On:

Jefferson Bass, Patricia Cornwell or a favourite of mine: Simon Beckett (Chemistry of Dealth, Written in Bone, Calling of the Grave)

Quotes:

Please don’t kill me.

Please don’t kill me.

Please.

Kill me.”

“She sure as hell was speaking in blood.”

“You know Doc, when speaking in bones, you’re pretty good.”

“But you are a couple of such elegance.”
Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!