This prequel to the post World War I Ian Rutledge mystery series is a great introduction to the series. Charles Todd and his mother Caroline Todd jointly write all their mystery novels together. On a beautiful June day in 1914, Inspector Ian Rutledge proposes to Jean Gordon at a house party. Jean hopes for a Christmas wedding like her parents, and is frustrated that Ian travels so much investigating homicides for Scotland Yard. Ian is looking into suspicious deaths of men who have nothing in common except that they once lived in Bristol. Possibly related, a few gravestones in different cemeteries have been blackened. The day Ian proposes is the day Archduke Ferdinand is killed, and as Ian struggles to solve his cases and make plans for his future, the situation in Belgium gets worse and worse. Superintendent Bowles wants a quick resolution, and it will take a lot to persuade him that the deaths are connected. Many young men are eager to join the army, convinced that they’ll be home from France and Belgium by Christmas, and Jean urges Ian to consider enlisting, to get his share of the glory. Readers of other books in the series know the Ian will go off to war, and will survive, shell-shocked and haunted, uncertain if he can continue in his work for Scotland Yard and with his other plans for the future uncertain. It was enjoyable to read about the young inspector’s careful investigation, frustrated by the delays in getting information and even finding a telephone, and driving long hours to spend a little time with Jean.
The Seasons on Henry’s Farm by Terra Brockman
If you’ve ever wondered what life is really like on a family farm, Terra Brockman’s book will give you a good idea. The Brockman family has farmed in central Illinois for most of the time since the 1880s. The fifth generation of Brockmans is growing up, helping on two of the extended family’s three sustainable farms. Terra lived in New York City and Japan for many years, but finally came back to write, and to work on brother Henry’s sustainable vegetable farm, among other pursuits. The days are long, but no one seems to work longer hours than Henry himself. His Japanese wife and three children, a longtime farmhand, a couple of apprentices and extended family plant, grow, harvest, and sell just about every vegetable imaginable. They use plastic hoop houses to extend the growing season, and Henry intensively tracks which varieties do best in which fields and what sells best. I enjoy shopping at farmer’s markets, and I wondered what happens to the leftover produce. Imperfect vegetables and fruit and leftovers go to feed the farmers, with much of it frozen for the winter. Although Henry’s detailed analysis of crops and sales probably doesn’t make for too many leftovers. I liked the arrangement of the book, starting with November, when garlic is planted by the thousands of cloves and moving through the months of the year until the end of harvest in late October. Terra won’t scare you away from farming or intensive gardening, but you will get a good sense of what it’s like to work in the intense cold or heat, and what the long hours feel like when you’re middle-aged. The children and animals on Henry’s farm provide some lighter moments, including Lucky Tom the turkey. More moving passages describe the declining health of Henry and Terra’s father and grandfather, and their father’s surgery and aftermath. I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the farms at different seasons and times of day, learning about the politics of plastic bags and farmer’s markets, and especially the simple recipes and photos throughout the book.
John Chatterton, featured in Shadow Divers, has already teamed up with diver/treasure hunter/history buff John Mattera when they are approached by treasure hunter Tracy Bowden to find the wreck of the pirate ship The Golden Fleece. Bowden has the lease to salvage treasure in the waters off the Dominican Republic where he believes the ship lies, and offers Mattera and Chatterton information and part of the treasure. Staying in a fancy but remote villa owned by Mattera’s future father-in-law, they tow a magnetometer in a grid pattern, then dive to inspect each hit, a process both time consuming and very expensive. Bowden keeps insisting he knows where the ship is, and doesn’t want them to search elsewhere. Mattera goes on a research trip, visiting libraries in Spain and New York, and interviews older treasure hunters to piece together the story of 17th century English merchant ship captain Joseph Bannister, and what could make him turn pirate and steal his ship, The Golden Fleece, not once but twice. The treasure hunters also look for information on the final battle of The Golden Fleece with two navy frigates, the Falcon and the Drake. At only 275 pages, this real-life adventure story is a fast-paced, compelling read. Chatterton and Mattera are currently in a legal dispute with Bowden, so some things are left unsaid, and their next diving project seems to be on hold. I can’t say more about their search for The Golden Fleece without spoiling the plot, but I think readers will enjoy the adventure.
This epic science fiction novel imagines the first voyage of humanity beyond the solar system, in a multi-generational ship. The ship, traveling at 1/10 the speed of light, is finally approaching Aurora, a moon of one of Tau Ceti’s planets. The ark-like ship is divided into 16 distinct biomes, with different plants, soil, climate, and animals, set into 2 large rings around a central spine. Chief engineer Devi and Ship, the artificial intelligence, are kept extremely busy as parts are wearing out after more than 100 years. Devi’s daughter Freya is a slow learner, but grows up to be a great listener, visiting all of the different biomes, each with its distinct small culture representative of its ecosystem. The ship can comfortably support 2,000 colonists, but this leads to major social and political strife when some colonists want to increase the population. The journey is a large part of this book, and I can’t say much of what happens as they approach Aurora and try to decide if colonizing the moon will work and is the right choice, or if they should look for another site. Ship is the narrator, and the strongest character. The pacing isn’t fast, but I kept turning the pages to find out what would happen. I also enjoyed the descriptions of life on the ship in the different biomes.
The Fold by Peter Clines
The Fold is a fun read, a thriller that has been described as a combination of mystery, suspense, science fiction, and horror. Mike Erickson, a high school English teacher in Maine, gets a summer job offer from his friend Reggie that he finds difficult to refuse. Reggie needs him to travel to the desert in southern California where six scientists are working on a teleportation device called the Albuquerque Door. The team keeps stalling on giving the U.S. government any information about the project. The only problem seems to be one man who went through the door and no longer recognizes his wife. The team doesn’t trust Mike, who’s brilliant and can remember everything he sees or read. Clearly something is terribly wrong, or there wouldn’t be a story. I kept waiting for Mike to volunteer to go through the Door, and hoping he wouldn’t. Then Mike realizes they don’t really understand how or why the Door works. A little romance and some completely unexpected plot twists kept me turning the pages faster and faster.
Wide-Open World by John Marshall
John and Traca Marshall were growing apart. Jackson, 14, wouldn’t put her phone down long enough to talk with her dad, while shy Logan was 17 and headed for college soon. It was time to reconnect, and John dreamed of taking the family and traveling around the world for a year of service. This was not the memoir I was expecting to read. They didn’t have a lot of money, and almost gave up on their dream. Finally, they rented out their Maine house and set out for a half year of volunteering. I thought the trip would be organized well in advance. While the author gives practical tips for other families who’d like to volunteer abroad, including how not to rent out your house, the Marshalls didn’t always know where they were headed next. I expected humor, adventure, illness, and increased closeness of the family. No one got sick although John did get attacked by a monkey in Costa Rica, on more than one occasion. They certainly had adventures, traveling to New Zealand, Thailand, India, and Portugal, and the people and settings they visited sound quite appealing. The teens grew and changed during their travels, and are continuing to travel and volunteer. There are some humorous anecdotes, but the family as a whole didn’t reconnect they way they had hoped and not all of the volunteer experiences were positive. A very honest, reflective memoir of a family who followed their dream to make a difference and see the world.
This summer there will be twice as many book discussions as usual. The Third Tuesday Morning group will meet in July and August, while the Fourth Tuesday Evening Group will meet in June and July. The Crime Readers do not meet in the summer. The Woodridge Public Library will be undergoing renovations this fall, and alternate meeting locations will be needed. Each group will take a different month off this fall. Also, by attending a summer book discussion, Woodridge cardholders will get another entry for our summer reading program, Escape the Ordinary. These are the books being discussed this summer:
Mornings – Third Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m.
July 21 Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett
Reclusive writer Amy Gallup hasn’t written anything new in years, and teaches online writing classes. A bizarre newspaper interview right after a head injury makes her slightly famous, and helps jumpstart her career. Quirky, witty, and funny.
August 18 Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
A traveling troupe of musicians and Shakespearean actors perform in small towns on the coasts of Lakes Huron and Michigan fifteen years after a flu pandemic changed the world. A beautiful, complex, nonlinear novel that I’m looking forward to re-reading.
Evenings – Fourth Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.
June 23 You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt
During the Cold War, Sarah and her friend Jenny write letters to the Soviet premier asking for peace. Only Jenny’s letter is answered, and she becomes a celebrity. In 1995, Sarah travels to Moscow to find out what really happened to Jenny. A suspenseful, atmospheric, and character-driven first novel.
July 28 Some Luck by Jane Smiley This sweeping, homespun, multi-generational novel, first in a trilogy, is the story of an Iowa farm family from 1920 to 1953. Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their five children take turns narrating the chapters, describing the changes in the family and their nation.