Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
This is an outstanding mystery debut, set in southwest China in 1708. Exiled imperial librarian Li Du visits Dayan, near the Tibetan border, and reports to the local magistrate, his cousin Tulishen. Li Du learns that the emperor is coming to Dayan for a festival to celebrate a solar eclipse, and the preparations are considerable, including building a new pagoda. A few foreign visitors are in Dayan, including two Jesuits and a representative of the East India Company. When an astronomer dies suddenly, Li Du is useful as a translator and wants to investigate the death, although the magistrate would rather cover it up. The mystery is clever, but I especially enjoyed the variety of well-drawn characters, and the richly detailed setting. I hope Li Du will have many more adventures, and I think readers of mysteries or historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy reading this book.
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
The latest Mitford book is sweet and charming, with a little humor. Fans of the Father Tim books will enjoy reading that his adopted son Dooley is getting married! Dooley and his fiancée are planning a simple country wedding at Meadowgate Farm. To make it simpler, they plan a potluck dinner. Family is ready to help in any way, from planting grass seed to making sure that the chickens and cows are kept away from the wedding location to planting flowers and welcoming the meanest bull in the county, Choo-choo. Of course, complications abound, from threatening weather to lost luggage. But the wedding preparation is simply the frame for another brief visit with Cynthia, Father Tim, Dooley, and the rest of their friends and family. This is sure to be a hit with Jan Karon’s many fans. Enjoy!
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.