A lovely read: The Dandelion Years (James)

The Dandelion YearsAlthough I do not live in the UK and few of her books are published in the U.S., I am a big fan of Erica James and often order her books, happily paying for the shipping.  This one has been in my TBR pile for a while although I am not sure why.  I think that this is one of the best books that this author has written.

The novel has a dual story line; the one in the present is about Saskia and her family.  Saskia, a book restorer, lost several family members to an accident when she was younger.  A book restorer who is now in her thirties, Saskia lives with her two grandfathers and her father.  Saskia is content with her life but perhaps not willing to risk hurt in looking for more.

All of the characters in the present story line come to life in the novel.  Saskia’s father and grandfather’s personalities and love for Saskia are clear.  Into this world comes Matthew who has books to be evaluated by Saskia’s father.  Not surprisingly, Matthew and Saskia bsecome a focus of the story.

Matthew and his mother lived with Jacob, a professor.  Saskia discovers a  WWII diary that she and Matthew realize was written by him.  This backstory is the backbone of the novel.  The reader follows Jacob and Kitty’s moving love story through Jacob’s diary.

The Dandelion Years refers to how Kitty thinks “of the war and the effect it’s having on everybody.  The hopes and certainties we used to live by have been swept away.  We live in a time when all it might take is one little puff and everything could be gone…”  That sense of time and life as precious permeate the story in the past and give a lesson to those in the present.

I highly recommend this novel and hope that more readers will discover this author’s many titles.  Let me know if you know of Erica James.

Classic Mystery, Part 2: Have His Carcase (Sayers)

Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey)Students in my Women Who Sleuth class had differing opinions about Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  I am firmly in the camp that has delighted in reading about this duo.

Harriet makes her first appearance in Strong Poison, the novel in which she is accused of murdering her lover.  Have His Carcase is the first mystery in which Harriet, a writer of mysteries, is the detective rather than the suspect.  In this novel, Harriet discovers a dead man on the beach.  Who was he?  What happened to him?  Will the evidence disappear with the tide? You will need to read the book, of course, to find out.

The books in the series are long but, if you enjoy classic, intelligent, mysteries, put these on your list.  I look forward to rereading all of them with a shout out for Gaudy Night which takes place at Harriet’s college.  It is also fun to watch the relationship between Harriet and Peter evolve.

Gaudy NightBusman's Honeymoon (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 13) by [Sayers, Dorothy L.]Gaudy Night is a super e book bargain right now in the edition listed above.

Classic Mystery: The Murder at the Vicarage (Christie)

The Murder at the Vicarage: A Miss Marple Mystery (Miss Marple Mysteries Book 1)This week, my Women Who Sleuth class, went 1930’s classic. We read The Murder in the Vicarage, the first novel to feature one of the most beloved and well-known of sleuths, Jane Marple. Miss Marple is the quintessential small village, gossip who observes carefully and restores order as she reveals “whodunnit.”

This novel, about the murder of the despised Colonel Protheroe, has a plethora of suspects. Was the murderer the artist? The widow? The daughter? The curate? The vicar or his wife? You can pit your skills against Miss Marple’s and see if you can solve the case.

This is a classic village mystery in which the reader becomes immersed in daily life. The author even provides maps of key location for your reading pleasure.

Some mystery aficionados declare that Agatha Christie’s novels are dated. Personally, I enjoy visiting St. Mary Mead. I think you might enjoy a visit or re-visit there too. Let me know!

Now out and a book I loved: The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes (Hogan)

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes: A NovelThis is author Ruth Hogan’s second novel. I was quite moved by it and plan to read her debut, The Keeper of Lost Things. She has a talent for describing characters who are fully human, quirky and both struggling and trying their best.

The novel is about two women and those they know, love and/or have lost. Masha is a mother whose child disappeared a number of years ago and, although not found, was presumed to be dead. Masha has grieved for him and has struggled to progress in her life. The reader observes as she moves forward bit by bit, fortified by new and old relationships. Part of Masha’s story takes place at the lido, a favorite locale for me after reading Libby Page’s novel. As in that novel, swimming yields some peace.

Then there is Alice. She is a mother who is overprotective and very attached to her son. Her backstory is told with compassion and the reader comes to understand her struggles and decisions.

Sally, herself, is a elderly woman whose past history becomes known late in the novel. She is eccentric and a source of some of Masha’s healing. She reminds Masha of the importance of continuing to dance, both literally and metaphorically. Other characters include Kitty who has overcome her own tragedy.

While characters in this book have experienced loss, the story is not depressing. Ruth Hogan writes empathically and I was sorry when the novel ended. There is a twist that you might see coming but, even if you know, you can enjoy reading about it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this e-galley. Ruth Hogan is an author to watch!

Mayhem in New Zealand: Molten Mud Murder (Johnson)

Molten Mud Murder is published by the excellent Poisoned Pen Press, a small press that is dedicated to mystery fiction. This is author Johnson’s first novel and the first in a projected series.

American protagonist, Alexa, is a forensics examiner whose specialty is teeth. She has come to New Zealand on a fellowship, falls in love with the country and wants to stay longer. She manages to insert herself into the murder case involving a city counselor.

What I struggled with a little: Alexa took many risks that felt plot driven. Some mysteries, such as what happened to her friend, Mary, were not fully solved. Perhaps that is for another book.

What I liked: The setting on the North Island of New Zealand and the ways in which the landscape is brought vividly to life. The information about tribal Maori customs and rituals. That there was a back story for Alexa. The hint of romance between her and Bruce, the Senior, a term for the chief detective. The details on forensic examination.

This mystery should appeal to armchair travelers, lovers of New Zealand and those who enjoy action packed mysteries. Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for this proof in return for an honest review. I look forward to the author’s next book.