Murder Past Due by Miranda James
I was happy to discover a cozy mystery featuring a cat and a librarian that I enjoyed. I do enjoy a couple of series featuring cats, including Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen series and Rita Mae Brown’s Sneaky Pie series, but many others just don’t appeal to me. Widower Charlie Ward has inherited his aunt’s large house in Athena, Mississippi, and lives there with his Maine Coon cat Diesel and a couple of college student boarders. Charlie works part-time at the college library, working as an archivist, and volunteers at the public library. Diesel, who walks on a lease, gets to come to work with him. Bestselling thriller writer Godfrey Priest is in town, and Charlie is surprised to get a visit from his former classmate. Godfrey wants to donate his notes and manuscripts to the college, and to get Charlie’s help in meeting his boarder Justin. Godfrey has just learned that he is Justin’s father. Justin’s mother Julia is not happy that Godfrey wants to take his son to California with him.
Later, a body is found in the local hotel. Charlie and his cat investigate, turning up secrets all over town. I found Charlie and Diesel to be good company, and plan to read the next book in the series, Classified as Murder. Miranda James is a pen name for librarian/writer Dean James.
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
After the volcano on Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted in 1815, the ash spread around the globe, blocking sunlight. England really didn’t have a summer in 1816, although the reason for the cold weather wasn’t widely known. During our pleasantly warm (and occasionally really hot) summer, I enjoy books set in cooler times and places. This is a fantasy novel, but may appeal to readers who are Anglophiles or enjoy witty Regency romances. Jane and her husband, Sir David Vincent, receive a commission to work their magic as glamourists in London, and create a glamural scene in Stratton House. They work with light and color, creating wondrous illusions that are all the rage in London. Jane’s younger sister, Melody, has also come to London, where Jane hopes she will find a suitable husband. There is considerable unrest in London; the prospect of crop failure due to the cold temperatures have caused increased unemployment and persecution of coldmongers, who magically help with refrigeration, but could not be responsible for the weather. The Vincents are surprised to encounter David’s estranged noble family, especially his powerful father. This is the third book about the Vincents, following the award-winning Shades of Milk and Honey and Glamour in Glass. The Chicago author also narrates audiobooks and is a professional puppeteer.
I look forward to her next book with keen interest. More about the volcanic explosion and its effect on the weather can be found in William Klingaman’s new book, The Year Without Summer : 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History.
The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby
A pleasing blend of history and true crime without violence, set in 1913 London. An amazing necklace of matched natural pearls is acquired by jeweler Max Mayer. More valuable than the Hope Diamond, and insured by Lloyds of London, the necklace is closely guarded. Word of the necklace reaches Joseph Grizzard, head of a gang of jewel thieves from London’s East End. With a network of jewelers, jewelry buyers, and informants, Grizzard discovers that the necklace might be shipped by mail from Paris for viewing by prospective buyers. When the necklace is stolen, possibly in France, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Alfred Ward has one main suspect: Joseph Grizzard. No one besides Grizzard could have planned the successful heist. But how could he catch the “uncatchable” Grizzard? And how could Grizzard fence the pearls, as they couldn’t be recut like diamonds? Meanwhile, an agent of Lloyds of London is trying to recover the pearls, and his informants are nervous and undependable. I won’t say more except that a reader might end up rooting for the very civilized and clever Grizzard gang. I would have preferred less background on the characters and more about pearl diving and the necklace itself, but overall this was a fascinating read.
Wool by Hugh Howey
Wool is a science fiction novel about a time in the earth’s future when the planet’s surface has been rendered uninhabitable. The soil is dead and the atmosphere is lethally toxic The remaining earth survivors live in a giant silo dug out of the earth by huge digging machines that were buried at the bottom of the silo when their mission was over. he silo has 150 levels and is a self-sustaining entity unto itself. There are hydroponic gardens for food, energy for electricity, oxygen for breathing, everything to sustain life, kind of like living in a giant submarine. However, in order to maintain the silo’s functioning and ensure its long time survival, the inhabitants live in a brutal regime of onerous rules and regulations. For each birth there must also be a death. Talking about the past, or thinking about changing their current situation is forbidden. Breaking the rules can mean being sent to the surface and perishing in a deadly environment.
The plot revolves around one character, Juliette, a worker in the mechanical section, who is seen by the current mayor, a woman named Jahns, as a good candidate to succeed her, someone who will let nothing stand in the way on knowing the truth, even if it means destroying their current way of life. Bernard is the head of IT, and the chief keeper of the secrets. The characters are fully developed and the surprises keep coming. Everything is not as it seems.
Juliette reminds me a lot of Ripley from the Alien series, which may be why the film rights have been acquired by Ridley Scott.
Wool started as a self-published serial work in five parts. I read the Omnibus, which was all five parts in one book.
The Tao of Martha, by Jen Lancaster
Jen, a Chicago area writer, closes out a very bad year by deciding to tackle her house, garden, and life with tips from Martha Stewart. She figures that if Martha can bounce back from adversity, the practical advice in her books and magazines should help Jen. For his New Year’s resolution, her laid-back husband Fletch resolves to grow a beard. Jen is funny, tends to take on more than she can handle, swears a lot, and is devoted to her dogs, especially Maisy, who has major health issues. Guests arriving for a party are likely to be handed a recipe card and directed to the kitchen. Thinking like Martha helps Jen clear out her kitchen’s “Drawer of Shame”, organize and decorate her house, learn about gardening, throw some great parties, become an obsessive disaster prepper, and get her priorities straight when life throws her a curve, such as forgetting that Thanksgiving was just around the corner. Jen finds that while learning new crafts can be rewarding, if you’re not having fun, it’s not for you. For example, pumpkin carving is tough and messy, but decorating pumpkins and gourds with glitter is a breeze. And if you’re going to stop wasting food and cook more, you might as well learn to make comfort foods that are expensive to buy, such as cheesecake. I enjoyed this entertaining and insightful memoir of the year Jen chose organization and happiness.
To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild
Here is my interpretation of how World War I got started. Think of it as an allegory:
A British Lord, a German/Austro-Hungarian Baron, a Russian peasant, a French Count and a Serbian all go into a bar. All of them are spoiling for a fight. After a few rounds of drinks, The German speaks first. “You British think you are so high and mighty with your empire and all, but soon it will be we, the Germans who will be running things.” “Now see here Fritz, that’s not very sporting, our navy is the envy of the world” replies the Englishman. Just at that moment the Serbian hauls off and punches the German in the nose. All swords are drawn, but the German cuts off the Serbian’s head before anyone else can act. “Sacre Bleu” cries the Frenchman, “It is war!” “I’ll second that” replies the Englishman, “as will I” says the Russian peasant. All sides eye each other warily. “To arms to arms” they all scream exiting the Bar.
Next year, 2014, will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Catastrophe that was “The War to end all Wars. Adam Hochschild’s book “To End all Wars” is one on the best written historical accounts of that war that I have ever read. As to what started it, there was hubris and delusional thinking all around. Each side thought that the other could be defeated in a matter of weeks. Each side was still fighting the previous war, which included Cavalry charges and hand to hand combat. This war would be the first Industrial war where machine guns and barbed wire upended an entire way of war for the European continent. Gallant soldiers marched into battle only to be butchered where they stood. The war turned static with troops bogged down in trenches each side trying to grind down the other side and turn the tide. After four years of mayhem and bloody massacres of men and animals the war was still a stalemate. But the countries behind the war were slowly dissolving into chaotic messes.
Unfortunately, the end of the war, facilitated by the entry of the United States, was as chaotic as its tenure, thus guaranteeing a renewal of hostilities further down the road.
If you are at all interested the World War I then by all means read this book. It will keep you enthralled.
Eighty Days, by Matthew Goodman
On November 14,1889, Nellie Bly, an investigative reporter for the New York World, left New York City on a steamship headed east. Her goal: to travel around the world in 75 days, outdoing Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg. Traveling by steamship and train, she briefly visited several points in Europe, even meeting Jules Verne in France, then headed through the Suez Canal for points east, observing and commenting on the British Empire in the Victorian era. Traveling with only one small bag, she took the world by storm, visiting Ceylon, Hong Kong, and Japan. Half-way around the world, she was informed that journalist Elizabeth Bisland was traveling in the other direction, in a last-minute attempt by her publisher to beat Nellie Bly. Elizabeth sets out for the American west, on the new transatlantic railroad, a Southern literary critic surprised to be blazing a trail for American women. The story of their eventful journeys and the aftermath make for a great armchair travel experience for the reader.