The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The last Discworld book from a beloved author is one to savor. The magical barrier keeping the elves out of the Discworld grows dangerously thin with the passing of powerful witch Granny Weatherwax. Young Tiffany Aching, witch and healer, is left Granny’s cottage and becomes the unofficial head of the witches. Swamped by work, Tiffany prefers her bedroom on her parents’ sheep farm, complete with her mother’s cooking and her father’s advice, but must take care of Granny Weatherwax’s people as well as her own. Finally she takes a most unlikely apprentice, Geoffrey, who wants to be a witch and has a calming influence, along with a very smart goat. The fierce, tiny Nac MacFeegle clan, along with the other witches help Tiffany defend the Discworld from the elves, aided by a group of older men organized by Geoffrey, and the deposed Queen of the elves. Fast-paced, enjoyable, and with plenty of adventure, this is a book about loss, duty, and hope.
Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan
Nell Stillman, a minor character in other novels by Sullivan, gets to shine here. This is Nell’s life story, from early married life to old age, all set in the small town of Harvester, Minnesota. After her husband dies suddenly, leaving her with young son Hillyard, Nell is relieved to be offered a job as third-grade teacher. However, teachers in the late 19th century and early 20th century were held to very high standards. Small town gossip can be harsh, and often anonymous. Nell brings a young cousin, Elvira, to live with Nell and Hilly in their apartment over Rabel’s Meat Market. A few years later, she leaves town in disgrace, and Nell is blamed. Nell’s main comfort in life, besides her loyal friends, is reading and re-reading the light, humorous novels of P.G. Wodehouse. My only complaint about this absorbing, character driven novel is that a book about the value of light humorous fiction shouldn’t be quite so serious and often melancholy in tone. I enjoyed reading about the changes in Harvester and in Nell’s apartment over the years including the building of a library, but two world wars and the depression do not make for light reading, especially as Hilly comes home from war shell-shocked. Nell does find love later in life, but a book that covers many decades inevitably includes several deaths. To cheer up I might read one of P.G. Wodehouse’s books (our library owns thirty, and they are quite funny, if now somewhat dated), but I plan to read more of Sullivan’s work, starting with The Cape Ann.
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Elsa is a seven-year-old living in an apartment building in a Swedish city. Elsa is too smart to fit in, and her best friend is her eccentric grandmother, who makes up fairy tales. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is sent on a quest to find and deliver letters to the residents of her apartment building, including a huge dog. The story is bittersweet, with funny and very sad moments. I skimmed some of the short fairy tale sections, but overall found the book charming and hard to put down. The characters are quirky and memorable, especially Elsa’s divorced parents and a man called Wolfheart. Some reviewers have compared the author to Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman.
Historical fiction readers may enjoy this two-volume novel that won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. I read it five years ago, and enjoyed rereading it almost as much. Three time-traveling historians visit Great Britain during World War II from Oxford in the 2060s. Eileen is in a country house, observing children evacuated from London during the Blitz, and has her hands full with anxious Theodore and mischievous siblings Alf and Binnie Hodbin. A measles epidemic keeps her from returning to Oxford as scheduled. In London, Polly is assigned to observe Londoners during daily life and in shelters during air raids by finding a job at a department store. When she tries to report back to Oxford, nothing happens. Mike Davies, with an American accent, is supposed to be a reporter in Dover covering the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk. He arrives in a small town down the coast and has great difficulty getting to Dover. Unexpectedly, Mike gets caught up in the action and helps save the life of a soldier who goes on to rescue hundreds more. He also suffers an injury that would be easily treated in his own time. Eileen and Mike make their way to London to find Polly, and the trio is concerned that their actions might have affected the war’s outcome or that something has happened in future Oxford to prevent their returning home. Two other historians are working hard to retrieve them, with unexpected consequences. The pacing is fast and the tension level is high, but there are plenty of lighter moments. The real highlight of this novel is the spotlight on daily life on the home front in Great Britain during World War II. Long, but definitely worthwhile, with characters I really cared about.
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
Billie Breslin leaves college early to move to New York City for work. She lands a job as assistant to the editor of a food magazine called Delicious!, housed in an old mansion. Gradually the reader learns that Billie doesn’t like to cook, even though used to have a cake-baking business with her older sister, Genie. Billie is befriended by a cook, an older travel writer, and the owner of a cheese shop. Later, she finds a secret room behind the magazine’s long-closed library, full of letters from the magazine’s readers, including several written during World War II by a young girl, Lulu, to famous chef James Beard. Through Lulu’s letters Billie learns about life in Akron, Ohio during World War II and wonders how her life turned out, while reluctant to go home and face her own family. This was a fast read for me, as I kept turning the pages to find out what would happen to Billie and Lulu. I can almost smell Billie’s famous gingerbread cake, which is one of several recipes included in this book.
Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger
This debut mystery is set in northern Minnesota, in the winter. The tone is fittingly very dark. Former sheriff Cork O’Connor, one quarter Ashinaabe, is separated from his wife Jo, a lawyer, and worries about his three children. When the local judge dies suddenly, Cork starts investigating, as the new sheriff is inexperienced and the coroner is incompetent. More deaths occur, possibly accidental. With rumors of the mythic beast Windigo, Cork uncovers corruption, embezzlement, and blackmail, possibly involving his wife’s lover and the local Ojibwe casino. The pace and tension intensify as the book progresses, making it hard to put down, even though a happy ending is increasingly unlikely. This first book in an ongoing series won multiple awards, and reminds me of the mysteries of Dana Stabenow and Nevada Barr.
The End of All Things by John Scalzi
If the enemy of an enemy is a friend, then two space empires, one human and one alien, should work together despite their differences to prevent a war and save Earth. Readers of Scalzi’s science fiction space operas may be familiar with the alien Conclave and the human Colonial Union. Familiar characters are joined by pilot Rafe Daquin, who has to think his way out of a terrible situation, and Lieutenant Heather Lee, whose paratrooper forces are tired of visiting planet after planet to keep the peace. Exciting and thought-provoking, this book is darker in tone although less violent than other books in the Old Man’s War series; a satisfying read. Old Man’s War is the first book in the series, one more book is planned.