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The Confession by Charles Todd

Charles Todd is actually an American mother/son writing team.  They write mystery novels set in the World War I period.  This happens to be a time that I am completely obsessed with, so I’ll forgive them their lack of firsthand Britishness.  The Todd team, henceforth to be refered to just as Charles Todd, currently write two series.  My favorite is the Bess Crawford series.  Bess is a nurse during WWI and her penchant for investigation dovetails nicely with her desire to help those she encounters.

This book is in the longer Ian Rutledge series.  Rutledge was an officer in the war and now serves as a Scotland Yard inspector.  What sets Rutledge apart from the many other war veterans of fiction is his severe shell shock.  During the war Rutledge was forced to convene a firing squad and execute his sergeant, Hamish McLeod, for refusing an order during battle.  Rutledge’s shell shock takes the form of Hamish’s ghost.  He never leaves Rutledge in peace, but acts as part conscience, part confidant, part torment.  Despite, or perhaps because of Hamish’s presence, Rutledge manages his investigations with keen insight into human nature and a dogged determination to bring criminals to justice.

The Confession centers around an incident wherein a man, calling himself Wyatt Russell confesses to the murder of his cousin.  Rutledge cannot hold Russell because the alleged murder occurred five years earlier, in the height of WWI.  There is no body or any other corroborating evidence.  Rutledge has no choice but to let the man go and poke around on his own.  He begins to suspect that Wyatt Russell is not the man’s real name, however, before long the man is the victim of murder himself.  Several strange things begin to surface about Wyatt Russell and his family.  Russell’s mother is a presumed suicide.  Russell and his cousin, the putative victim, are both listed as deserters from WWI.  Something happened at River’s Edge years ago and someone is still willing to kill to keep it quiet.

Smut: Two Unseemly Stories by Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett wrote An Uncommon Reader, which is a charming novella about what happens when Queen Elizabeth discovers a mobile library on the grounds of Buckingham Palace and checks out a book.  It was a very fast read and I quite liked it.  So, I thought that even though the subject matter of his next book was somewhat more unconventional I’d give it a shot.  If nothing else, I could read it in an afternoon.

Sadly, I did not enjoy Smut nearly as much.  It wasn’t the subject matter.  I read torrid romance novels with abandon.  But this book was just… awkward.  The first story, The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, is about a widow of a certain age.  She has a rather unusual job acting as a hypothetical patient for medical students.  One of the patients rents a room with her boyfriend in Mrs. Donaldson’s house, but they’re always late with the rent.  Eventually, they work out an arrangement.

The second story, The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, centers around a very proper, very annoying matriarch.  Her husband keeps his private life on the internet and her son keeps his private life in a variety of clubs for gay men.  Both men try to shield Mrs. Forbes from anything that might discompose her.  Graham eventually marries a woman his mother does not approve of.  He cares about her, but by this time is being blackmailed by one of his previous paramours.  The whole story is about people hiding things from one another for no terribly good reason. 

I didn’t feel much of an attachment to the characters in either story.  I suppose, in retrospect, there wasn’t much of an emotional attachment to the protagonist of An Uncommon Reader, but since she is a queen I suppose I wasn’t expecting there to be.  However, when I’m delving into the foibles of middle-class Britain I would hope to like or sympathize with the people whose lives I am observing.  But I didn’t.  It was only a couple of hours of my time, but I rather wish I’d stopped with the first book.

Elegy for Eddie by Jacquelin Winspear

Elegy for Eddie is the ninth installment in the Maisie Dobbs series.  The year is 1933 and Maisie is once more in London.  She is approached by several old friends of her father’s who want to hire her.  Eddie Pettit, a young man from Maisie’s old neighborhood, has died in an industrial accident.  But the costermongers and Eddie’s mother aren’t satisfied with that explanation.  All of the factory workers have been forbidden to discuss the incident on pain of losing their jobs.  Maisie remembers Eddie fondly as a kind, gentle young man with an almost magical way with horses.  The idea that someone might deliberately have harmed him is repellant to her.  However, the case quickly proves much more dangerous than Maisie suspected.  Maisie’s assistant Billy is severely injured while asking questions about the accident.  Maisie herself is warned away by her paramour when her investigation leads toward prominent men and state secrets. 

I was very happy that this book was a return to Maisie in London dealing with a very personal problem.  I enjoyed A Lesson in Secrets, with it’s flavor of espionage, but I wouldn’t want the series as a whole to trend in that direction.  I like Maisie to be herself, to walk around and talk to people openly.  I also like that Maisie is having to take stock of herself in this book.  She can see very clearly when it comes to other people, but her own life is in quite a muddle.  She begins to sort some of that out in Elegy for Eddie.

Sherlock in Love by Sena Jeter Nausland

   Dr. John Watson, now in his twilight years, has decided to write the definitive biography of Sherlock Holmes.  His little adventures have been put down to paper, but a truly in-depth analysis of the man’s personal life has never yet been penned.  However, shortly after he places an advertisement in the papers asking for any stories about Sherlock Holmes strange things begin to happen.  He starts to see a figure who looks very much like Holmes shadowing his steps.  People begin to warn him away from his project.  Several of his case logs are stolen and pages are removed from others.  Eventually, even the illusive Irene Adler shows up to warn him off.

However, Watson is dedicated to his project.  He feels that he cannot rest without the world having the opportunity to know his friend as he did.  Somehow, everything that is happening seems to revolve around a curious period of their acquaintance when Holmes began taking violin lessons.  Those lessons led to several abrupt trips; first to Edinburgh and then to Bavaria where adventure and tragedy were to be found in equal measure.  The more Watson digs into those events the more he realizes that there was a part of Holmes that he had never seen.

This book is quite fun for a Sherlock Holmes fan.  Interestingly, out of everyone at my book club, I was the only one who had read any of the original Conan Doyle stories.  That was fun to discuss.  I will say, I figured out the direction the story was going fairly quickly, but that didn’t really stop me from enjoying it.  The resolution is a bit surprising and will probably offend some Holmes fans.  I think even so, it’s worth a read.

 

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

I picked this book up from Audible during one of their sales.  I had actually had an advance review copy kicking around my house for years, but somehow I never quite got around to picking it up.  But, I needed a new audiobook and this tickled my fancy for some reason.  And, I must say, I made a good decision.  The book is a little reminiscent of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic, but with a southern bent. 

The book is set in North Carolina.  All of the Waverly women have a gift.  Some of them are more useful than others.  Evanelle Waverly might give you something.  It could be anything; two quarters, a rain hat, a new shirt, a mango peeler.  The thing is, you’ll need it.  Somehow, some time in the near future, you’ll need whatever it is that she gives you.  Claire Waverly takes care of the family garden.  She can use the herbs and flowers in her cooking to bring out particular emotions and memories.  Her rose geranium wine will make you remember the happiest times of your life.  Sydney Waverly is the family black sheep.  She left town right after high school and hasn’t been seen since. 

The Waverlys are a breed apart.  Even though everyone in town has something a little bit different about them, the Waverlys are special.  They’re special because of the apple tree.  The apples from the tree in the Waverly garden will reveal to you the most important moment of your life.  Sounds great, but you have to remember that it doesn’t show you the happiest moment, not the best moment, just the most important.  What if that’s your death?  What if the most important moment of your life has already happened?  What would you do then?  The Waverlys are the guardians of the tree.  They make sure that no one ever eats those apples.  Some people think they’re keeping them for themselves.  Some people think it’s all a bunch of hooey.  But the Waverly women keep guarding the apples.  Then Sydney rolls back into town and upsets the whole system.

My only complaint about this book is that the ending seemed a little rushed.  The story for the most part unrolls like honey; clear, and slow, and sweet.  But then, all of a sudden, Sydney’s storyline gets resolved.  It’s like you were expecting pound cake and got flaming baked Alaska.  Still good, just unexpected and much flashier than you were prepared for.  I would absolutely recommend the book.  It’s got a little bit of steamy stuff, but not so much I’d shelve it in our romance section.  There’s enough of an edge of danger to keep you on your toes.  And I really enjoy the way Allen builds the special attributes into the people of Bascome, North Carolina.  It could feel forced with a lesser writer, but as it stands it creates a lovely, magical background for the main characters to act on.

 

 Claire DeWitt & the City of the Deadby Sarah Gran

I really don’t know how to explain this book.  Drew has done a pass at it over on the Little Professor website.  I want to tell you everything, but I can’t because then you wouldn’t need to read the book.  I want to explain Claire to you, but I can’t because I don’t really understand her.  I know that I like her even though I’m not sure I’m supposed to.  Claire DeWitt is a detective.  Or, I suppose maybe she is a Detective.  She lives to solve mysteries.  She does not make friends by this.  She does not want friends.  She had friends once.  There were three of them.  One disappeared and the other two were consumed by that.  She is their mystery.  The unsolvable Holy Grail of a problem that, if ever resolved will probably destroy the detective. 

Claire is a follower of the french detective, Jacques Silette.  He once wrote a book called Detection, which is like Claire’s personal bible.  It only makes sense to the sort of person who can become his type of detective.  Claire is one of those people.  She found her copy of the book in the dumb-waiter of her family’s crumbling Brooklyn mansion.  It was like it was waiting for her.  It changed her life.  Whether that is a good thing remains to be seen. 

The client, according to Silette via Claire, doesn’t actually want their mystery solved.  They think they do.  They swear they do.  They believe that they do.  But really, they don’t.  To solve a mystery one must first understand the hows and the whys that the mystery occurred.  Think about it.  Think about everything in your life that has led you to this moment.  Would you really want someone turning all of that up?  Would you want someone to tell you all those things about the people you loved?  Would you hate that person for telling you or your loved ones for making it happen?  Are you sure you want your mystery solved?

Claire finds herself in a post-Katrina New Orleans looking into the disappearance of Vic Willing, a New Orleans D.A.  He went missing sometime during the storm.  His nephew has hired Claire because she’s the best.  What he really wants is reassurance that his uncle died accidentally during the craziness that was Katrina.  But Claire doesn’t really do reassurance.  She provides truth even when you don’t want it.

For Claire, being back in New Orleans is a special sort of hell.  She trained as a detective here until her mentor was murdered.  Now she’s back.  Claire is having to pick up the threads of  a city that is still repairing itself and work her way back in.  Her New Orleans is a grim, dangerous place.  There are drugs, and gangs, and secrets, and hate.  There is beauty, but it’s always tainted.  Claire exists on an almost magical plain.  Everything contributes to the investigation.  The green parrots in the trees, a dirty business card on the street, the drugs she takes, the dreams she has, the thugs that want to steal her car; they’re all threads.

I can’t really tell you why I like this book so much.  Part of it is the writing.  Gran has crafted something truly special.  Part of it is Claire herself.  I should hate her.  She’s abrasive and self-destructive.  But I like her.  I don’t know that I’d want to hang out with her frequently, but I kind of want to give her a hug.  She’d probably punch me though.  This is supposed to be book one in a series, so I’ll get to spend some more time with Claire.  Gran is a fairly slow writer, her books come out every few years rather than every year, so I don’t know when Claire #2 is coming, but I’m looking forward to it.

 
Giant Jonathan Maberry Review 
Book 1:  Patient Zero

 This is the book that introduces Joe Ledger and the DMS.  At the beginning of things Joe is a detective with the Baltimore PD.  He’s one of those guys that has good luck with languages so he’s been loaned out to a Homeland Security task force.  Mostly, this means sitting on his butt in a surveillance van listening to people complaining about sports and women.  Until one day, someone says something important.  It’s just a name, but it’s a name that catapults Joe from the surveillance van to the front lines of the war on terror.

However, it’s a kind of terror that he’s never seen before.  No one has ever seen this before.  Instead of bombs and guns these people are using bio-weapons straight out of science fiction.  They’ve come up with a pathogen that for all intents and purposes… raises the dead.  How do you fight that?  How do you kill something that’s already dead?  How to you train soldiers to shoot an enemy that looks like a sick child, or a grandmother, or a congressman?

Within days Joe has built a team of first line shooters and is racing against the clock to out-think the twisted geniuses behind these attacks.  It’s not even clear who his enemies are.  Islamic extremists seem to be the face of the attack, but how could they get their hands on this kind of beyond cutting edge medical research?  If they drop the ball then it could mean the actual end of the world.  No pressure.

Book 2: The Dragon Factory

 

You know your day is going to be rough when it starts with fleeing from the National Security Agency and then goes downhill from there.  Unfortunately, for Joe Ledger, that’s pretty much a Tuesday.  It’s actually a minor problem that the Vice President is moving against the DMS.  He has mobilized the NSA while the President is out of commission for some surgery.  He’s trying to make a clean sweep and shut down the entire DMS, pick up their field agents, and, most importantly, the DMS computer system called Mind Reader.  Mind Reader can intrude into any other system, collect data, and exit without leaving any traces.  In the hands of the DMS it’s a powerful tool against terror, but in unscrupulous hands it can be a weapon of untold power.

Because of this, the DMS is handicapped going into the real crisis.  Joe and Echo team brush the edges of it when they’re sent on a mission to Deep Iron, a subterranean storage facility inside the Colorado mountains.  They’re doing a possible search and rescue on another DMS team that has gone dark.  When they actually engage two enemy agents they are stunned.  These men are capable of superhuman feats of strength and endurance.  It’s like someone took a gorilla and gave him a combat exoskeleton and then sent him to murder Mrs. Ledger’s favorite son.

At the same time, in several places around the world, isolated populations are seeing a dramatic increase in genetic diseases.  Illnesses that traditionally affect small parts of the population are becoming epidemics.  People are catching inherited diseases.  Illnesses that have treatment protocols are killing people who should be getting better.  People are dying from diseases they should never have even had.  Somehow this is all tied in with the records Jigsaw team and the strange soldiers were looking for in Deep Iron; records that date back to the Nazi death camps and the genetic experiments that were performed there.

 Book 3: The King of Plagues

Joe has been a long time healing from the events at the Dragon Factory.  He’s actually on vacation in London when the Royal London Hospital is bombed.  As the only DMS agent available in Europe he is attached to the investigation.  Just as he is starting to make some headway he’s called out to the Orkney Isles to attempt to contain a situation at a bio-weapons research lab.  Someone is terrorizing ordinary men and women into committing atrocities; someone who is working for a shadowy organization calling itself the Seven Kings.

The Kings are dedicated to destabilizing the world.  Anything that might cause chaos, and result in profit for them, is fair game.  Terrorism, assassinations, disease, scarcity, coups; all of these are weapons in the King’s arsenal.  But the Kings themselves remain shrouded in darkness.  The DMS has tangled with the Chosen, the street level minions of the Kings’ organization.  They have once engaged the Kingsmen, the upper level of soldiers, but of the Kings themselves there is no sign. The only thing they know is that the Kings want to drown the world in a river of blood.  That is ominous, but terribly vague.  How do you fight something that sounds like a biblical curse?

Book 4: The Assassin’s Code

 Echo team is doing a covert operation in Iran.  Three American hikers have been captured and accused of spying by the Iranian military.  Joe and Echo team go in to rescue them, hopefully, without sparking off a war.  The mission goes well.  The team is away and Joe is getting ready to follow his own exit plan when everything goes to hell.  He plays tag with a couple of snipers, meets with the head of Iranian Intelligence, and gets attacked in his hotel room by a man with superhuman strength and filled teeth.  Then things get ugly.  Safe houses have become bloodbaths.

Three different groups seem to be tracking Joe through Iran.  One group is ruthless, but amateurish.  They can deal damage, but nothing like the professionals Joe is used to going up against.  The second group is headed by his new best friend, the sniper named Violin.  When she doesn’t have a laser sight on his… assets, she seems like a nice lady and she’s great backup when the chips are down.  The third group is… something else.  They are known as the Knights of the Red Order and they are fast, strong, and utterly vicious.  All three groups seem to want the flash drive given to him by his Iranian contact.  A flash drive that shows pictures of a nuclear weapon that is supposedly hidden somewhere in Iran.  To make matters worse, the nuke is one of several hidden around the world.

 

Yes.  I’m a fan girl.  I admit it.  I gush.  (Although, lucky for me, he is not the proud recipient of my most embarrassing author interaction.  That honor goes to Dan Wells.)  For some reason, there is something in Maberry’s writing that answers a need in my weird little psyche.   The books are fast and Joe Ledger is the sort of person I can unreservedly cheer for.  No, he doesn’t follow proper police procedure.  Hell, he doesn’t even follow the Geneva Convention, but he’s fighting monsters, the ultimate politically correct villains!

 
 Longitude by Dava Sobel

Longitude is the story of John Harrison, a self-taught clockmaker who ultimately solved the difficulty of calculating longitude while at sea. 
I read this for the book club I run and, honestly, didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.  We have a history of picking non-fiction books that sound interesting, but turn out to be fairly dry.  Sobel managed to talk about the life of a rather interesting man and add scientific and historical facts to that rather than drowning the reader in detail.  It seems like in many non-fiction books the author seems to say, “I did all this research and you’re going to see it whether you like it or not!”

Harrison was one of thousands of inventors and scientists competing for the Longitude prize offered by the British Parliament.  The difficulty with longitude was that in order to accurately calculate it you had to know the time in your present location and the time in your home port down to the second.  But none of the pendulum clocks of the era were able to keep accurate time in the face of pitching seas, moisture, and massive temperature changes.  Harrison managed to create a series of clocks that could do just that.  His most elegant and final effort looks very much like a pocket watch, but is quite a bit larger. 

However, Harrison’s clocks were in direct opposition to the other main group of contenders – the astronomers.  Most people believed that the solution to the longitude puzzle would be found in the stars.  Harrison’s timepieces were all well and good, but the common man couldn’t tell how they worked.  They were almost magical in an era when the best pocket watches lost several minutes per day.  Harrison had to fight almost his whole life to finally be recognized for his efforts.

Sobel does a brilliant job of keeping Harrison and his opponents very human.  It would be all too easy to turn his nemesis, Reverend Maskalyne, into a caricature, but she manages to make him comprehensible, if not sympathetic.  

 
 The Witness by Nora Roberts

I admit it.  I read romance novels.  There, I’ve said it.  You can judge me if you want to.  Seriously though, they’re fun.  Some of them are better than others, and I’ve read some of everything.  The Nora Roberts hardcovers are usually about 60% romance and 40% thriller, which is a mix that keeps me pretty happy.  In a way, they’re a bit like that show “Harper’s Island” that was on a few years ago.  About the time things are getting to gooshy someone gets killed.  Also, there’s usually one or more dogs.  This makes me happy.

In this particular book, our protagonist is a young genius named Elizabeth.  She’s a little bit of a cross between Doogie Howser and an abuse victim.  She’s incredibly smart.  She’s ready to start Harvard Medical at 16 and she’s never made a single decision for herself.  Her mother has controlled everything – what she wore, what she ate, what she studied.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her one night of rebellion goes horribly wrong.  She goes out and ends up witnessing a hit by the Russian mafia.  She has always done what she was supposed to and in one moment her entire life is shattered.

Twelve years later a freelance security consultant named Abigail Lowry has moved to a small town in the Ozarks and caught the attention of the police chief.  He’s not quite sure if he wants to date her or arrest her for the small arsenal she keeps around her house.  So, he keeps going out to her place, risking attack by her remarkably well-trained guard dog, and taking her flowers.  He hopes that eventually she’ll trust him enough to open up about whatever has her so scared and why the most common social interactions seem so foreign to her. 

This book was fun, pure and simple.  It’s not incredibly complex and it’s not going to change your world.  But it will entertain the heck out of you.  It was especially appealing for me because of the Russian connection.  Little known (or cared about) fact about your’s truly is that I was a Russian lit major in college.  So I’m always  a little bit tickled when I run into unexpected Russian.

 
Dead Rekoning
by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill

 It’s awesome!  It’s a little bit steampunk, and a western, AND it has zombies in!  what more could a girl ask for?

Our primary protagonist is named Jett, a young woman from Louisiana who is out west searching for her twin brother.  He went missing during the Civil War and she’s convinced that he’s somewhere in the wide open spaces of the western territories.  Of course, she can’t just travel as a genteel flower of the South.  Jett has disguised herself as a gunslinger and has the skills to back up her costume.  She’s small and looks young so people test her frequently.  When she gets into yet another saloon brawl she has no reason to think that anything different will happen this time.  However, her private argument is broken up by a horde of zombies!  Only the fact that her horse is brave and loyal saves Jett from the horrible fate of the rest of the town.

Outside of town Jett runs into the other two driving forces of this book; Miss Honoria Gibbons, a socialite and inventor from San Francisco, and White Fox, a freelance scout for the Army.  Tensions are initially high as Jett has no reason to like those who worked for the Union army, but White Fox soon proves a staunch ally and a good friend.

Both Honoria and White Fox are in search of the same thing.  Entire towns have been going missing all over the southwest.  Honoria’s father is a rich, but terribly gullible man.  Shysters have written to him claiming that flying machines have come and stolen all the people.  They could bring him proof, for a modest consideration.  Honoria travels constantly trying to debunk the hundreds of crooks who write to her father.  She uses her travels as chances to test out her new inventions.  Her latest invention is a sort of steam-powered horseless wagon with a few surprises for less than friendly visitors.

White Fox is also following the path of the missing.  He was asked by a soldier to find out why his family had stopped writing.  When he arrived at the settlement he found everyone gone and signs of a struggle.  He began to track rumors and follow clues until he arrived at the same place as Honoria and Jett.  Together, the three new friends will try to discover what the creatures that attacked Jett and the townsfolk are and who or what created them.

There are definite overtones of COWBOYS VS. ALIENS here, but only in the best ways.  The two authors have come up with engaging characters and a fantastic world for them to play in.  There are indications that this will not be the last we see of Jett and her companions, and I for one, am hoping for many more books!

 
RENEGADE MAGIC by Stephanie Burgis

What can I say about how much I love this series?  It’s magically delicious!  RENEGADE MAGIC is book 2, following KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, which will be out in paperback in April.  It’s Jane Austen for the Harry Potter crowd.  Kat is the youngest of three girls.  Her father is an absent-minded vicar and her stepmother is a horror.  She’s not evil, she just desperately wants the family to be respectable and fine.  Kat is not respectable.  Her mother, you see, was a witch and the witchcraft has passed to her daughters.  Kat however, has gotten a little more than her sisters.  Their mother wasn’t just a witch.  She was actually a Guardian, one of the people entrusted with special powers to defend the realm against the misuse of magic.   Kat has inherited her powers, her responsibilities, and her enemies.

Kat’s oldest sister, Elissa, is terribly respectable.  She would never dream of doing anything so outre as using magic.  The middle sister, Angeline, is a little too interested in magic.  In fact, in book 1 she accidentally ensnared a suitor using magic.  Now his mama has burst into Elissa’s wedding shouting accusations and casting aspersions on the entire family.  With Elissa gone on her honeymoon, Kat and Angeline are left to deal with Stepmama alone.  She decides that the only thing to be done is to take the girls to Bath and try to get Angeline safely married off to someone who doesn’t know about the magical skeleton in the family closet.

Kat soon finds herself in a difficult position.  Her brother is dodging in and out of the house, obviously up to no good.  Her sister is taunting the most notorious rake in Bath in an attempt to drive Stepmama into apoplexy.  The entire family is staying with relations who may be under the misapprehension that Lady Fotherington, Kat’s greatest opponent, is actually, her godmother.  To make things worse, Lady Fotherington has had Kat banished from the hall of the Guardians.  Kat is on probation, one step out of line and her powers will be bound.  But there is more going on in Bath than family troubles.  Someone is using the ancient Roman baths to draw power and Kat’s idiotic older brother is caught up in it.  Soon, so is her hostess’s youngest daughter.  And Kat’s Guardian mentor won’t believe a word she says about Lady Fotherington, the buildup of wild magics in Bath, or the danger to her family.  Once again, it looks like the incorrigible Kat will have to save the day on her own.

 
CLOVER TWIG & THE PERILOUS PATH by Kaye Umansky

This is a sweet book, which again, is part of a series.  (I love series books.  They’re like meeting up with old friends.)  Clover Twig is a neat, tidy, young girl who does housekeeping for a witch named Mrs. Eckles.  She’s a nice witch, if a little behind the times.  Unfortunately, as is so often the case, Mrs. Eckles has a horrible sister named Demelza.  Clover thwarted Demelza in an earlier book (CLOVER TWIG & THE MAGICAL COTTAGE) and Demelza is out for revenge.

Meanwhile, the Perilous Path has shown up again.  The Perilous Path entices the unwary onto itself and then throws them up against seven magical dangers.  When Clover’s baby brother goes missing everyone suspects that he has been lured onto the path.  Clover and her accident prone friend Wilf set off onto the path after him.  Mrs. Eckles stays behind to provide logistical support through the latest in crystal ball technology.  She cannot risk setting foot on the path.  Everyone knows it turns witches mean.  Just look at her grandmother.  Or her sister!

CLOVER TWIG & THE PERILOUS PATH is an adorable book.  It’s not terribly complicated as it is written for the 1st – 3rd grade market, but everything, much like Clover herself, is neat, tidy, and in its proper place.

 

Cooking the Books is a mystery novel by Australian novelist Kerry Greenwood. 

The book isn’t actually due out in the US until later this spring, but I am an impatient person.  I got a friend to pick up a copy on her holiday trip to Australia.  I finished it in two days.   One thing to know, I’m mildly obsessed with this author.  Cooking the Books is the latest book in her Corinna Chapman series.

Corinna is a baker in Melbourne.  She lives in a reconstructed Roman apartment building named Insula.  She has an apprentice named Jason and a boyfriend named Daniel.  All of this, except perhaps the apartment building, sounds very tame.  But these books are to tame what Wonderbread is to homemade focaccia.  Insula is studded with interesting people; two aspiring actresses, a retired Classics professor, a witch, a weaver, a society hostess, and a rotten little doggie named Traddles.  Jason is a 16 year old recovering addict who has managed to rebuild his world around feeding people.  Daniel is ex-Israeli army and now works as a private detective.

In this installment of the series Corinna’s bakery, Earthly Delights, is closed for a month’s vacation.  Jason is out at the beach.  The shop assistants have gotten roles in a new tv pilot.  Daniel is on a fiendishly difficult case involving mislaid bonds.  Corinna is expecting a month of relaxation and quiet.  However, events and old school chums conspire against her.  Thomasina, former school chum and current caterer has had a baking related disaster.  Her pastry  chef has broken a leg and is unable to work.  This is a disaster because the company has just gotten a contract to do all the catering on a new tv pilot that is about to start filming.  Corinna reluctantly agrees to take up her rolling pin in a good cause.  Besides, it gives her an excuse to check in on her assistants and make sure they’re eating enough.

Naturally, things get more complicated.  The production is being plagued with mishaps.  Most of them seem to be aimed at the highly temperamental star of the show.  If the star walks then the entire pilot collapses.  Thomasina and all her assistants are out of a job.  Corinna’s assistants lose their best chance at breaking into acting.  The director loses her pet project.  Soon all of the cast and crew are looking at Corinna to figure out a solution.

Meanwhile, Daniel is trying to help a young accounting intern who has managed to mislay a huge stack of bearer bonds.  He knows that one of the bonds has been cashed in by a homeless man named Pockets.  Unfortunately, Pockets’ connection with reality is tenuous at best so he can’t just tell Daniel where the rest of the bonds are.  They have been filed, Pockets states, in the proper place.  The intern who lost the is facing not just the loss of her job, but possibly the end of her career.  Things in the accounting firm aren’t what they should be.  For starters, why was an intern walking through town with millions in bearer bonds.  That just seems to be asking for trouble.  Daniel begins to suspect that the bonds may not have gone missing by accident.

Kerry Greenwood writes fun, fast paced mysteries with delightful characters.  If I thought I could find Insula I’d pack my bags and move to Melbourne tomorrow.   Her other series is the Phryne Fisher series, which is set in Melbourne in the 1920′s.  Phyrne is a well bred, well monied, charming young flapper who takes a dim view of murder.  She is dashing, lovely, and thoroughly unexpected. 

 
 
 
 
The Wide Awake Princess by E.D. Baker
I’ve started the year off with two books that are new to me.  The first I’m reading in hardcopy – The Wide Awake Princess by E.D. Baker.  It’s about Princess Annabelle who is gifted with immunity to magic.  This is great when it comes to dodging angry witches, but somewhat difficult when living in a castle full of magically beautiful people.  No one wants to spend time with her because her anti-magic can cancel out their gifts.  Her mother always insists that she is mad at the fairy’s gift not at Annabelle, but she still banished Annie from her presence.  But when Annie’s oldest sister is cursed with 100 years sleep Annie is the only one left awake to do anything about it.
 
 
 
 
 

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

The second book that I'm consuming at the moment is The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan.  I’m listening to it on my iPod so I’m making it through significantly slower.  Rick Riordan is good at mythology and now he is turning his sights on the Egyptian pantheon.  Two estranged siblings meet up with their dad in London.  What is supposed to be a quiet family visit turns into high adventure when their dad blows up part of the British Museum and then gets sealed into a sarcophagus.  Carter and Sadie, with the help of their uncle Amos must battle against Egyptian gods to protect themselves and find some answers about who their dad reallly is and how they can get him back.

  
 
Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
 
I just finished WRAPPED by Jennifer Bradbury. It's a cute YA novel about a young lady in 1815 London who dreams more of mummies and studies than of her debut. When she "inadvertantly" takes an artifact from a mummy unwrapping party she sets events in motion that will put her in direct oppositon to Napoleon's intelligence agents working in England.
I originally started it as an audiobook, but I got a bit bored. However, I sat down and finished the text edition very quickly and enjoyed it
 
 
 
 

A Bitter Truth  By Charles Todd

This is the third Bess Crawford mystery, and it may well be the best book Todd has produced.  Bold words when applied to a body of work that spans three series and totaling seventeen books.  But I’ll stand by them.  Bess is home on a precious Christmas leave when she finds a woman huddled on her doorstep.  When Bess invites her inside she has no idea that she’s putting herself in the middle of a damaged family and their secrets.  Soon Bess is facing a murder investigation as well as searching for a lost child in war torn France.  Duty pulls her to help her new friends in England, to help solve the murder, to find the missing child, and to tend the wounded in body and in spirit.  Just as she is beginning to see her way another body turns up.  The steadfast Simon Brandon once again lends Bess his support and a new and cheeky Australian sergeant adds his own antipodean spin to the matter.  The well crafted tension that Todd crafts so well is admirably displayed, but  there is also a light touch of humor that makes this book captivating and refreshing.
 
Mastiff by Tamora Pierce

 

The final installment of the Beka Cooper series is amazing.  I received my ARC Friday around 11:30.  By 1:00 a.m.  I had finished all 578 amazing pages.  I’m a dedicated Tamora Pierce fan.  I have everything she’s currently got in print and on audio.  I’ve even got her run of the “White Tiger” comic.  So, I was already set up to be pleased.  But Mastiff surpassed every expectation that I had.  Mastiff picks up a few years after the events in Bloodhound.  Goodwin has become watch sergeant and Tunstall has become Beka’s partner.  Lord Gershom rouses Beka in the middle of the night and sends her and Tunstall on a secret mission.  The safety of the realm is at stake.  Soon Beka, Tunstall, Pounce, and a mage named Farmer are encountering royalty, traitors, and seeking the most precious prize of all; the four year old heir to the throne.

 

 

 
 
The Girl in the Steel Corset
by Kady Cross
 

Finley Jayne has always had something 'other' inside her.  This dark side sometimes takes over and Finley ends up in situations her lighter side can hardly fathom, much less escape.  The night that her employer's son accosts her it comes out in full force.  After leaving him in a (deservedly) bloody heap on the upstairs carpet she runs into the darkness of Hyde Park and almost gets run over by Griffin King, duke, entrepreneur, and Aetheric magician.  Finley is adopted into his group of unusually gifted secret agents.  Here she hopes to find a solution to her dual nature.  What she is not expecting is to find herself embroiled in a murder, accused of treason, and torn between the love of a duke and the regard of a dandy.

This novel is a good introduction to light Steampunk and manages to be entertaining despite the sometimes translucent plot twists. 

 
 
The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody

Steampunk, time travel, and, dare I say it… zombies?  Matthew Cody delivers all of

the above with aplomb in his forthcoming book “The Dead Gentleman.”  The story centers on two children, excuse me, young persons.  Tommy is a street thief in the New York at the dawn of the 20th century, and Jezebel, is an average young lady of today.  Tommy’s adventures start when he steals a clockwork bird from a rather dead looking gentleman, who nevertheless, resents the loss of his property.  The flight from the Dead Gentleman and his minions leads Tommy to Captain Scott, Explorer.  Explorers travel through portals to worlds beyond imagining and now Tommy finds himself an apprentice explorer.

Jezebel’s life is dull and just a bit uncomfortable.  Her parents have divorced, but that hasn’t stopped the fighting.  Her best friend has grown apart from her because of some guy.  With nothing better to do with her time she takes to exploring the basement in her apartment building.  She sees a strange boy, wearing goggles of all things.  He gives her a dire warning and then just vanishes.  She would really like to think that she just hallucinated him, but that night, strange monsters try to come out of her closet.  They whisper something about a clockwork bird…

Soon Jez and Tommy are lost in space and time; working together to survive.  They have a narrow window to find the bird and stop the Dead Gentleman from making Earth into an extension of his realm where everything is quiet, and still, and dead

 

 

Meeting
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
"Meetings" continues Nina Kiriki Hoffman's sparkling "Magic Next Door" series.  Maya is trying to cope with all the new, strange things that have come into her life since moving to Spores Ferry.  Rimi, the strange being she found in the first book, has become a part of her that Maya can't imagine being without.  The Janus House next door has begun to weave her into it's strange family of magicians and gatekeepers, but Maya isn't sure that she's fitting.  Her own family is tugging at her as her siblings start to pry at Maya's secret life.  On top of all of this there is a strange new girl at school who seems to know that there is something strange about Maya.  Maya has to balance the needs of her two families; her two worlds, magical and mundane; and her two best friends, Rimi who is now and Stephanie who was before. 
This book is magical and wonderful, but it is also real and grounded.  It is a story about balance and friendship, but it is also a story about healing after loss.  "Meeting" entertains and also comforts. 
 

The Attenbury Emeralds

By Jill Paton Walsh

 

Jill Paton Walsh has worked on two previous Lord Peter Whimsey/Harriet Vane books for the Dorothy Sayers estate.  “Thrones, Dominations,” which came out in 1998 and came from an unfinished manuscript left by Sayers.  “A Presumption of Death” came out in 2003 and was based of some letters Sayers had written detailing the trials of the Whimsey family during the fighting of WWII.  “The Attenbury Emeralds” is Walsh’s first unrestrained chance at the characters.  The story is fascinating because it deals with a modern (1951) case and gives the history of Peter’s first case; the theft of the Attenbury emerald.  I listened to the audio read by Edward Petherbridge, the actor who portrayed Lord Peter in the 1987 BBC adaptations.  His voice shows signs of age, but he still sounded like Lord Peter to me!

 
 
 
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