Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood
Although this is the 20th book in the Phryne Fisher series, this mystery could be a fine place to start. The books are set in late 1920s Melbourne, Australia, and the city is vividly described. Asked by Detective Jack Robinson to help investigate the murder of a choir director, Phryne joins the choir, which is preparing to perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah. During rehearsals, lunches, and parties thrown by the flamboyant soloist “Auntie” Mark, Phryne considers the possible suspects. In a parallel story, Rupert Sheffield, a mathematician in town to give lectures on the science of deduction has had some close calls. Phryne dislikes the very arrogant Sheffield, but his assistant, Dr. John Wilson, was a dear friend of hers in World War I, where she drove an ambulance and he was a medic. The reader learns that not only is Sheffield a former intelligence agent for MI6, but so is Phryne. Phryne’s assorted household, including the dog, helps with the two cases, and Phryne plays matchmaker for Dr. Wilson. Phryne and her friends are always good company, and so is the choir. I was even inspired to listen to a recording of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Stephanie Daniel. The print book will be coming out in May, several month after being published in Australia.
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
The summer of 1927 in America was a momentous one, wonderfully recounted by Bill Bryson. Readers will be amazed, informed, and entertained. The most exciting event was the successful flight of Charles Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris in May. Many others attempted to fly across the Atlantic; most failed. Lindbergh, 25, became an instant celebrity; the last thing he wanted. His visit to New York City of his return to receive a medal was broadcast on radio nationwide.
In the most catastrophic flooding of the Mississippi River in history, over 700,000 American were displaced, but no federal funds were provided. Herbert Hoover was sent to oversee relief efforts, helping him get elected President the next year. “Silent Cal” Coolidge spent three month in the Black Hills of South Dakota, fishing and wearing a cowboy outfit, and declined to run for re-election as President. The carving of Mt. Rushmore began.
Sports and theater captured America’s attention in 1927. Large and elaborate movie and Broadway theaters were built, hundreds of silent movies were filmed and Broadway shows with huge casts were popular. Al Jolson spoke on screen in the first “talkie”. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig led the New York Yankees in a record-breaking season. The Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney boxing match was a huge event.
In 1927, crime also fascinated America. Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were put on trial, Al Capone’s Chicago outfit brought in more than $100 million, and the Snyder-Gray murder trial got more publicity than the Mississippi River flood. All told, the summer of 1927 was quite memorable.
The audiobook is narrated by Bryson, an excellent narrator.
Never Go Back by Lee Child
Never Go Back is good advice for Jack Reacher, though he’s unlikely to take it. This is the fourth book connected to the events in 61 Hours, a great place to start reading the Jack Reacher thrillers. There are now eighteen books in the series, plus a couple of short stories. Reacher has finally made it from South Dakota to the Washington, D. C. area to meet Susan Turner, the voice on the other end of the phone in the previous books. Major Turner has Reacher’s old job as commanding officer of the 110th Military Police unit. Oddly, but not coincidentally, Turner has been arrested just before he arrives, and Reacher is recalled to military service and threatened with a very old crime and a paternity suit. He’s innocent of one and curious about the other, although I kept thinking the paternity suit could have been settled quite easily. I also wondered about the irregular recall to the army. The army brass thinks he’ll run, but Reacher is more interested in proving Turner’s innocence and concerned about the incompetence of her temporary replacement. He and Turner head to Los Angeles for answers, with soldiers in hot pursuit. For most of the book, it reads more like a mystery than a thriller, with little violence until action kicks into high gear, with Susan Turner along for Reacher’s quest for answers and justice. Dick Hill is the excellent narrator for the Reacher audiobooks.
Death of a Dyer by Eleanor Kuhns
Will Rees has returned to his farm near Dugard, Maine. A traveling weaver since his wife’s death years ago, he has learned that his farm and his son David were neglected by his sister and brother-in-law. Now teenage David is basically running the farm while Will prepares to set up his loom, and former Shaker Lydia Jane is the new housekeeper. Will has strong feelings for Lydia, but isn’t ready to commit to marriage yet, so she lives in a cottage on the farm, and they try to avoid company. While serving in the Continental Army, Will learned he had a talent for solving crimes, demonstrated in the first book in the series, A Simple Murder, set in a Shaker community. When his childhood friend Nate Bowditch is killed, lawyer George Potter tells Will that Nate’s wife Molly would like him to clear her son Richard of suspicion of murder. The investigation pays for help with the harvest and in the kitchen, so Will is free to travel by wagon and investigate. He learns that Nate was greatly changed from the last time Will saw him, and preferred to live in a weaving cottage on his farm, researching dyes yet neglecting his family, and he also gambled. Richard has disappeared, but his half-brother, son of a slave, is also a suspect, and Will protects him from slave catchers. Many secrets in the Maine community of Dugard are unearthed, and Will’s life is threatened more than once. Reluctantly, he accepts Lydia’s help in his investigation, and even David’s input as well. Will and David have a complicated relationship that feels authentic. The late 18th century small town Maine setting is refreshingly different, and appealing. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Richard Waterhouse, and didn’t want the story to end. Lydia and Will are excellent company, and I hope for many more mysteries for them to solve.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I was inspired to read Jim Butcher’s first book, entitled “Storm Front” in his Dresden Files Series, after a friend excitedly introduced me to the main character, Harry Dresden–wizard extraordinaire! I am now a fan and am sure to read more in this series. Thrillers with car chase scenes just don’t grab me the way a giant scorpion (“an orthopod version of Frankenstein’s monster”) chasing a wizard does. I read this book on audio and the narrator James Marsters sounds as smooth as Butcher’s portrayal of Dresden. While this book didn’t center too much on the Chicago landscape, the series overall does. I think I’ll enjoy that aspect of the other novels that I’ll eventually get to. Some of the most pivotal points in the story take place outside of the city at a lakefront home where Harry Dresden confronts dark magic in an effort to solve two converging mysteries. The first case is of a missing person and the second is of a baffling killing spree, in which the murderer left a distinct signature mark. Lieutenant Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit suspects that only Dresden, her trusted wizard friend and private investigative colleague, can offer insight to this grisly case.
Other suggested audio reads of dark fantasy that has lighthearted, witty humor mixed in are Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys,” read by Lenny Henry who is superb at speaking with multiple dialects. Jim Dale’s reading of the J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” audiobook series is also intense and versatile.
The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie
Juggling a blended household and their jobs at Scotland Yard is challenging for Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid. It’s Duncan’s turn to go on leave and take care of Charlotte, their young foster daughter. Weekend plans are put on hold when Gemma is called to a hotel in South London where a lawyer has been killed, along with Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot. When their colleague Doug Cullen falls off a ladder, Melody and Duncan both pitch in, but when Melody falls for Andy, a young musician with a troubled past, it complicates the case, especially when another lawyer is killed. The mix of police work and juggling responsibilities at home make for an appealing mystery. As we learn about Andy’s background, the connections between the killings starts to become clear. The first book in the series is A Share in Death, but I find that this series has gotten even more interesting, as the characters develop and change from book to book. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook, narrated by Gerard Doyle.
A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford
Does the title have you picturing Julie Andrews, the singing nanny in The Sound of Music? Try listening to the audiobook; the narrator sounds like her. Brenda Ashford, age 92, looks back at her happy childhood, her very long career as a British nanny, and her training at the famed Norland Institute, whose motto is “love never faileth” and which banned spanking. Brenda learned to love babies when her little brother David was born. Not as quick at book learning as her sister Kathleen, who became a midwife, Brenda was thrilled to be admitted to the Norland Institute in 1939. From learning nursery management, cooking, laundry, storytelling, sewing, and working in a hospital’s children’s ward, the teen received a thorough education. Then war disrupted life, with the students taking care of children evacuated from London’s East End and living on a country estate. All of her evaluations are included, along with tidbits of nanny’s wisdom, a daily schedule at each job, and several recipes for “puddings”. Her first several families are described, with the focus on the day and night nurseries and the children. Her heart is broken along the way, she learns to manage an early daycare, called a war nursery, and to care for and cuddle many, many babies. Her work schedule sounds exhausting, with very little time off. Her relief when electric irons become available is evident. Eventually she finds a family to belong to, and later even cares for their grandbabies when she’s 80! A charming read for Anglophiles.
Red Velvet Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
This is the latest book in the Hannah Swensen cozy mystery series, which begins with Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. They are set in fictional Lake Eden, Minnesota, where Hannah owns The Cookie Jar, a cookie bakery and coffee shop, frequently finds bodies, and tries to decide which boyfriend she likes best: Mike the detective or Norman the dentist. Her mother and two sisters along with her friend and baking partner Lisa help her solve cases, in between baking and enjoying cookies and other desserts. Recipes are included, but I like to listen to Joanne Fluke’s books on compact disc, so I haven’t tried the recipes yet. There is a cookbook available, Joanne Fluke’s Lake Eden Cookbook. Unlike most mystery series, you can start with any book, as Hannah shows no signs of settling down with either boyfriend, and the main characters continue from book to book. If you’re looking for a light, cozy mystery, Hannah Swensen mysteries are perfect. Appealing characters, small town setting, and a suspenseful scene or two make for enjoyable reading.
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
I enjoyed listening to Hattie Ever After, although I’m not sure if I read Kirby Larson’s first book, Hattie Big Sky. Hattie is now 17, an orphan, and working at a boarding house in Great Falls, Montana. Her friend Perrilee wants her to move to Seattle, and her boyfriend Charlie, just back from World War I, wants to get married. But Hattie has a dream, and impulsively takes a job as seamstress to a vaudeville troupe that is heading to San Francisco. Hattie’s big dream is to be a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. She gets a job at the paper, but no writing is involved. Her entry-level job seems to pay pretty well, and she’s saving money to visit Perrilee. But then her new friend Ruby Danvers, who knew Hattie’s Uncle Chester, needs the money to visit her daughter. Ruby is quite friendly, but is not what she seems.
Hattie eventually gets some chances to write for the paper, beginning with a bet to get an assignment to cover a baseball game. A minor earthquake, an opera star who want to go flying and a visit from President Wilson provide some more opportunities. But Hattie has to decide just how important her dream is. San Francisco in 1919 comes to life, and Hattie is great company and often funny. I thought the narrator, Kirsten Potter, had a more mature voice than expected for a teenager, but was otherwise excellent. The author spent a lot of time with maps, online newspaper archives, and an old city directory to make San Francisco seem authentic. Now I need to listen to Hattie Big Sky, about her earlier adventures on a homestead in Montana.
The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd
When World War I breaks out, Lady Elspeth Douglas is visiting her pregnant friend Madeleine in Paris. Agreeing to stay until the baby is born, Elspeth also accepts a promise ring from Madeleine’s brother Alain. Later, trying to return to England, Elspeth helps wounded soldiers and encounters family friend Captain Peter Gilchrist. In London, Elspeth trains to be a nurse, without requesting permission from her uncle, then works with the wounded in England and France. She struggles with her feelings for Peter and Alain, and waits impatiently for news of both men. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Fiona Hardingham, and found the vivid descriptions of wartime nursing, travel, and life in London absorbing. The mystery is a minor part of the book, which is a stand-alone novella connected to Todd’s Bess Crawford series. The Walnut Tree was also interesting because of the restrictions young women faced, especially the daughter of a Scottish laird.