Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
This book has two mysteries. One is narrated by book editor Susan Ryeland, who is searching for the final chapters of the last Atticus Pund mystery after the author’s sudden death. The other puzzle is the manuscript Susan is reading, a traditional British mystery set in 1955 England that’s a tribute to Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot books. Very clever writing with plenty of twists and turns in the plot make for an intensifying pace, but Susan is the only really likeable character in either mystery. I don’t want to reveal much of the plot as there are so many clever puzzles for the reader to uncover. Don’t confuse this inventive book with another fine mystery also featuring a book editor, A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders.
by Peter Wohlleben
An absorbing, leisurely read, about how trees grow and communicate. If you enjoy a walk in the woods of area forest preserves or the Morton Arboretum, you may enjoy spending time with German forester Peter Wohlleben. I was interested to learn that trees, even of different species, can communicate with each other through scent and chemical signals sent through the fungal network around their roots. They can send signals of attacks by insect pests or herbivores, and even share sugar when another tree is stressed or injured. They also compete for sunlight and space, migrate (very slowly) when the climate changes, react to storms, drought, and injuries, and take risks deciding when it’s best to grow taller or shed their leaves. The likelihood of a single seedling growing up to be a mature tree is very small, but it can be supported by its parent tree as it grows. Urban trees have more challenges, but still manage to communicate, though they aren’t likely to live hundreds of years like a beech or oak tree in a forest. Wohlleben even has a 500-year plan to create thriving forests, which may be aided by getting his many readers to think about and see trees differently.
Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
Adventure and discovery await Yale student William Johnson when he accepts a dare to join Professor Othniel Marsh’s expedition to dig for dinosaur fossils in 1876. A crash course in photography later, Johnson is on a train headed west, until the paranoid Marsh leaves him behind in Cheyenne. Marsh’s rival, Edward Cope, is in town, and Johnson heads west with his group, to the Montana badlands. Their timing is bad, as Custer is just making his last stand at Little Bighorn. A wonderful find of huge dinosaur teeth highlights the summer fossil dig, but they have to get the fossils safely back East. As the rest of the group wait for a riverboat, Johnson and two others are ambushed with a wagon and half the fossils. Now the adventure really begins, as Johnson makes it to Deadwood with an arrow wound, ten crates of bones, and two dead bodies. Deadwood, a mining town, is both dangerous and expensive. He sets up a photography studio to earn enough money to travel south, and accidentally photographs a murder. No one believes his crates only contain bones, and he hires Wyatt Earp and his brother for protection. This entertaining historical adventure was discovered in the late author’s files, and was written before Jurassic Park. Enjoy!
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
Loosely based on a true story, this is a compelling first novel set in South Carolina during and after the Civil War. Teen Placidia Fincher marries Major Gryffith Hockaday shortly after they meet, and almost immediately Gryffith is called back to war. Placidia, 17, finds herself managing the isolated farm and raising toddler Charlie. Scavengers visit, claiming to need supplies for the soldiers. Slaves come and go, and it’s a struggle to get enough help to plant and harvest crops. Some of her relatives, half and step siblings, are surprisingly spiteful, but one neighbor is very helpful. Two years later her husband comes home, to scandal. Neighbors tell him that Placidia had a baby, and soon after buried the child. He files a law suit, and she stays with a nearby doctor’s family, writing letters to her cousin that describe her life during the war while stubbornly refusing to reveal how she got pregnant. The pace continually intensifies, with plenty of drama and some violence, as the reader, and the younger generation who discover Placidia’s diary, are compelled to find out the facts, especially what happens to Placidia and Gryffith when he discovers the truth.
Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick
This is the second charming novel by Phaedra Patrick. The Tuesday Evening Book Group is discussing her first book, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, on June 27 at 7 pm. Set in the small Yorkshire village of Noon Sun, Benedict Stone is miserable and eating too many sweets. His wife Estelle has moved out of their house after years of struggling with infertility, and is preparing for a show of her colorful paintings. Benedict is a jeweler who doesn’t use gemstones, at least until his niece Gemma comes to visit and they find a family journal about gemstones in the attic. Gemma, 16, has some secrets, but she shakes up her uncle’s life, helps him remodel the jewelry store, and comes up with ideas for winning Estelle back. Heartwarming, clever, and quirky; a good vacation read.
The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
Christy Mansel is shopping in Damascus when she sees her cousin Charles for the first time in years. Visiting the area with a tour group, Christy agrees to meet up with Charles in Beirut, Lebanon. Charles wants to visit their reclusive Great-Aunt Harriet in her remote palace, Dar Ibrahim. Christy hires a driver to go sightseeing, and gets a chance to meet Aunt Harriet, but only late at night. Harriet has little contact with her family in England or America, and is living in the crumbling palace with a staff of only three, and handsome John Lethman as companion. Something is clearly not right at Dar Ibrahim, and it isn’t the notorious gabriel hounds that guard the compound at night. Christy smuggles Charles in, and later gets kidnapped herself. An enjoyable gothic romantic suspense novel, with unexpected plot twists, and while somewhat dated, still a good read fifty years after it was published.
Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb
Yitzhak Goldah arrives in Savannah in 1947 to stay with his cousins Abe and Pearl Jesler. They are very welcoming, nickname him Ike, and introduce him to their friends at the Conservative synagogue. Goldah, 31, worked as a journalist in Prague, and is a Holocaust survivor. He starts working at Abe’s shoe store, where he meets widowed Eve, daughter of the local newspaper owner, who attends the Reform temple. African Americans are second class citizens in post war Savannah, and Goldah identifies more with Calvin and Raymond from the shoe store than the prosperous Jews, who first settled Savannah in 1733. The clash between the Conservative and Reform Jews is especially hard for Goldah to understand. Everything seems so normal and prosperous, as if the war never happened, although there’s a subplot about Abe Jesler getting shipments of Italian shoes through shady connections. A woman from Goldah’s past arrives, and they talk briefly about life during the war. The horror of their experience is not minimized, but isn’t the focus of this powerful, moving story about new beginnings. Savannah is vividly drawn, the story is well-crafted, and the characters seem real.