Humorous Mysteries

23014654If you like a little humor with your mysteries, Donna Andrews has got a series for you. Meg Langslow is a blacksmith whose family has a tendency to get involved in stuff that leads to murder. She has discovered a wide array of murder victims over the years, but she keeps her head and always manages to figure out who done it.

I love funny books, so I took a break from my Off the Shelf challenge this month and read two of Andrews’ latest books, Lord of the Wings and Die Like an Eagle. All of them have birds and bird-related puns in the title.

Lord of the Wings revolves around the mythical town of Caerphilly, Virginia where they’ve begun a new Halloween Festival. Things were going pretty smoothly until someone started a strange scavenger hunt. It started at the zoo and ended in a murder. The next book in the series, Die Like an Eagle, centers around Meg’s twins and their first baseball team. The books are #18 & 19 in the series, but you can start anywhere really and give it a go. My favorite is probably We’ll Always Have Parrots which involves a fan convention. It is just hilarious.  Great reads for curling up with a good book.

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Thumbs Up for This One

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, are my own.

Title: Forgotten Reflections

Author: Young-Im Lee

Setting: Korea 1950s

I must admit that I haven’t read much modern Asian fiction, and even less Asian historical fiction, so when I was offered this book, I was excited to read it. When I got a look at how long it was, I admit to second thoughts. I’m glad I stuck with it because it was a great read.

This is two stories in one, the story of Iseul as a girl, and the one of her as a grandmother now suffering from Alzheimer’s and living in assisted care. Her granddaughter starts digging into her grandma’s past when they move her into the care facility. Meanwhile, Iseul herself is remembering her past.

Iseul grew up in a small village in Korea. She barely remembers the Japanese soldiers who roared through her town, killing her mother and many of the villagers. Now Iseul is old enough to help her father with his paper-making business. She attracts the notice of Jung-Soo, son of the local bigwig, and that relationship will shape the rest of her life. She and Jung-Soo become aware that the village has a secret Communist cell and soon war breaks out.

I won’t spoil the rest of the book, but I can say that their paths part, but neither can forget the other one. When they are reunited, everything has changed. Several times with this book, I thought it was so long I was never going to finish, but I just couldn’t give up on it.

Like I said, I’m not familiar with Korean books, and the author says that she was only born in Korea and grew up in the Philippines. But the writing is very different from what I’m used to. Sometimes the narrator (the granddaughter) addresses the reader directly. The way Iseul talked made me laugh too. She’s not like any other MC I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.

I definitely recommend this one. If you’re in the mood for a good long book, this one should be on your list.

Unlocking the Past

Title: On Little Wings

Author: Regina Sirois

I’d whispered the entire thing. Every detail that fit into words. It sounded so much more civilized when I whispered it, when I turned down the volume of the fear and disgust. But horrible things whispered are still horrible.

Jennifer’s family is turned upside down when she discovers a photograph of a young girl – a girl who looks surprisingly like Jennifer. The trouble – the picture is 20 years old. Her mom has lied about her past. She’s not an only child. She has a sister. Jennifer wants to meet this aunt, get to know her, but her mother wants Jennifer to leave it alone. After some negotiations, Jennifer heads to Maine to discover her family’s past and along the way, discover herself.

I heard a little about this YA book, enough to add it to my list and then forget about it. But when I found it free on Kindle Unlimited, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA. Most of what I read is fantasy, so this was a change of pace for me, but it turned out to be a good one.

The story kind of struck home for me. My mom also had a sister she didn’t talk about. Her sister wasn’t a secret or anything, but it was still a big shock when this woman called from out of the blue saying, “Hi, I’m your aunt.” I already had an aunt, and I knew this woman was not her. I guess I experienced this story from the other side.

Our relationship was still distant and things didn’t turn out quite the way they did for Jennifer, but I still felt it was worth getting to know something about this stranger who was my relative. Now my mom and my aunt have both passed away and I can only guess at what their relationship used to be.

I recommend this one to anyone who likes contemporary YA. There is some romance, but that wasn’t what stuck with me about the book. What I liked was the main character herself and her journey to figure out who she was and where she belonged. 3.5 stars/5

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I’m running an encore review today as I have a family event all day today. I have several new reviews I want to post and a Mega Blitz post coming up for R & R Book Tours, but for today I hope you enjoy reading about this one.

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Author: Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.

But Calpurnia’s mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She’s forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn’t so bad, at least when it’s a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what’s the rush? She’s only 11!

This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone – and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and a new century!

When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma’s air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.

I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It’s a choice between her mother’s way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars

Review: A Lady in the Smoke

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.

 

Review: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point

Title: The Treasure at Poldarrow Point (Angela Marchmont, #3)

Author: Clara Benson

After solving two cases in close succession, Angela Marchmont is struck with a nasty case of pneumonia. Her doctor has ordered a rest cure at the sea side, so she’s headed to Cornwall. She’s barely unpacked when her impulsive goddaughter has shown up and discovered a local story of buried treasure.

Naturally, young Barbara has decided that would be the perfect project for their summer holiday. Angela is reluctant at first, but she gets caught up in the lives of the local residents. There’s a sweet old lady and her nephew, a quarrelsome married couple, an odd scientist, and an attractive Scotland Yard detective all involved in the events nearby.

The lighthearted treasure hunt takes a deadly turn when someone takes a shot at Angela and Barbara goes missing.

This one was my favorite in the series so far. The others were rather predictable, but not in a terrible way. This one I was actually caught off guard more than once. I thought I had it figured it out, but there were several surprises in there. I have already downloaded the next one in this series. If you like the British mysteries, this series is so much fun.

Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

16058610Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Author: Susan Crandall

Setting: Mississippi & Tennessee 1963

Themes: family, race, justice, religion, secrets

Starla Claudelle is not looking forward to a summer spend with her strict grandmother, but with her mother up in Nashville trying to be star and her dad working on an oil rig, she’s got no choice. Starla can’t take it anymore and decides to run away and she meets Eula and everything changes.

We read this for book club, and once again, I was the only person who didn’t love the book. Starla is 9 years old, but the author makes her sound like she’s at least 14 years old. Only occasionally does she sound like the child she is. She’s too independent and too smart for her age, but at the same time, she gets into situations that could just be so dangerous – and then they are dangerous!

Then there’s Eula, who takes risks that I just can’t believe a woman in her position would take. I can’t say more without giving away everything in the book, but I just didn’t find it believable. I liked Eula and I liked Starla, but it wasn’t enough for me to really accept the events in the book and that they would happen this way.

The book is really interesting in contrast to Revolution by Deborah Wiles, which I reviewed here. The Wiles book was so much better, maybe because it was told from more than one POV and because the characters were older. This one just touched the surface of the civil rights issues and only seemed less plausible because of it. 3/5 stars, but I will admit that for younger kids I’d rate it higher.

Review: The Tuesday Club Murders

Title: The Tuesday Club Murders or The 13 Problems (Miss Marple #2)

Author: Agatha Christie

Setting: England 1930s or so

Format: physical book

Plot: Author Raymond West is staying with his aunt in the country. One evening at a dinner with friends, he proposes that they each relate a mystery, then see who can come up with the best solution to the story. To his surprise, sweet little Aunt Jane wins every time.

Reaction: I love Miss Marple. I always pictured her as a sweet, white-haired lady with “a mind like a steel trap,” as a police acquaintance says. Now that I’ve seen the mysteries with Joan Hickson in the role, I can’t imagine anyone else. She’s deceptively mild, but oh, what a wicked tongue she has when she wants to. Miss Marple was always very much a gentlewoman, but not always a gentle woman.

While I prefer the longer books like The Body in the Library, the nice thing about the short stories is that you can pick them up when you just have a few minutes to read and then put it down again without worrying about remembering where you were in the story next time. I’ve been working on rereading this one for a couple of months, and I never felt any rush to finish, just a bit of happiness every time I picked it up.

My favorite story is the one told by glamorous actress Jane Hillyer of a burglary. If you haven’t read Miss Marple before, I think I’d recommend starting with the first one, Murder at the Vicarage.

Book blurb

This is going to be shorter than a regular review, but I wanted to mention a book I read recently by Adre Norton called Wraiths of Time. Written in the 1970s it features a Black female archeologist as the main character. She is an expert on ancient Africa who gets sucked back in time. I love seeing a POC as a protagonist, and a female at that. Plus it was written by a woman.

Unfortunately, the story is a mess. Aliens are involved, there’s no exposition, and the other characters are flat. But if you want to read it as proof that women can and should to sci fi, go for it.

Book Review: Ashes

Title: Ashes (Book 3, Seeds of America) 

Author: Laurie Halse Andersen

Setting: Virginia 1780-1781, including the Battle of Yorktown

Escaped slaves Isabel and Curzon have been looking for Isabel’s sister for years, and they finally have an idea where she is. Unfortunately, Ruth isn’t as excited to see them, and they’re stuck in the path of a battle. They could ask the Americans for help, but Isabel is still bitter about the way the so-called Patriots have been treating escaped slaves. Curzon doesn’t like it either, but he doesn’t trust the English even less than the Americans.

And that is the central point of this book – for a war of independence, people of color were never treated with equality or fairness. Huge numbers of Blacks fought in the war, and many of them were former and current slaves. But you never hear the story of these soldiers.

Washington, Jefferson, and other American heroes were all slave owners. Both chased down slaves who had escaped during the war and brought them back. At least Washington freed his slaves in his will and has never been accused of fathering any children with them, so I’d say he sort of tried to the right thing. But Jefferson is different story.

Back to the story – Isabel has no interest in getting involved in the war, so she is trying to find a safe place to wait it out. She hopes to go back to Rhode Island and buy her own farm there, one where she can live with her sister in peace. But her sister won’t even speak to her and the only way to get to Rhode Island is to survive the fighting right now. Curzon’s loyalty to the American cause drives a wedge between the friends and Isabel has no one to rely on but herself.

This is a great series. With the popularity of Hamilton, books set in the 18th century are really hot right now. I won’t say that I liked it as well as Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, but it is really good. Recommended for any teen.