Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old genius with a flair for chemistry, lives a lonely but intriguing life in the crumbling family mansion. Her lovely older sisters delight in tormenting her, and she returns the favor with diabolical brattiness. What one can do with certain itchy plant extracts and a tube of one’s sister’s favorite lipstick! The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by C. Alan Bradley, is set in post-World War II England. It’s a simpler time in many respects though things get rather more complicated when Father’s annoying visitor turns up dead in the garden by moonlight.
Twenty years before Jamestown was founded, over 100 women, men, and children came to Virginia to try their luck at starting a colony. They arrived on the stormy shores of what we know now as North Carolina. They were not the first to land there. Two years before, another group of colonists, all men, gave up trying to settle Roanoke Island and sailed back to England. The supply ships arrived too late to save the abandoned first colony, but they left behind fifteen soldiers to mind the fort who soon vanished into the wilds, driven off by an Indian attack.
Widower William Rees drove his wagon into town like a man possessed. Normally an easy-going, itinerant weaver, Rees has just discovered that his kinfolk have cheated him, and his son has run away to be with the Shaker religious community. In 18th-century, rural Maine, it is not so easy to retrieve a teenager who hates you, get your land back, or solve A Simple Murder.
In Steven Saylor’s debut hard-boiled historical mystery, Roman Blood, Gordianus the Finder is an intrepid soul, living in a seedy section of long-ago Rome. All roads lead here and all the up-and-coming politicians--along with displaced, often enslaved people from war-torn lands--make for a sea of trouble in an atmosphere that is by turns torrid, glittering, and dangerous.
For those who have followed Charlotte and Thomas Pitt from their awkward yet charming days of courtship in The Cater Street Hangman, Anne Perry’s recent Dorchester Terrace is a very enjoyable continuation of the series. Thomas has risen far since his days as a regular London policeman. He’s now head of Special Branch, a reward for his brilliant detective work and, probably not incidentally, saving Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot.
But, in class-conscious, 19th-century Britain, family background matters a lot to some people. Thomas, a gamekeeper’s son, often encounters people who question his ability to do his job when they find out who he isn’t. One of those is his immediate predecessor as head of Special Branch, Victor Narraway. In the preceding novel, Victor lost his job to Thomas almost but not quite disgracefully and rather lost his heart to Thomas’ clever and kind wife, Charlotte. Charlotte, born to live in Narraway’s world of privilege, has assisted her husband’s investigations through the years, but now that he is privy to so many state secrets, that will surely change—won’t it?
Carlos Ruiz Zafón completely understands what it means to be seduced by a book--to get lost in a plot and feel overwhelmed by perfectly-formed words and phrases. Perhaps that is what allows him to describe--and replicate--that experience in his own novel, The Shadow of the Wind.
The Shadow of the Wind opens in Barcelona in 1945. Daniel Sempere’s father is about to introduce him to a mysterious and labyrinthine place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. In the Cemetery, the young boy is taught some very important things about the lives of books: “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
Harley Day was a mean, shiftless, good-for-nothing drunk. He regularly beat up on his wife and kids. So when he was found frozen to death in a snowbank outside his house, no one seemed to mourn. After all, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming--which is the title of the first Alafair Tucker mystery by Donis Casey.
Set in 1912, this book introduces Alafair Tucker, who lives with her husband and nine children on the Oklahoma frontier. It's an interesting look at frontier life at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the details seem so modern, but much of the day-to-day life for a frontier ranching family seems like unbelievable deprivation and hardship 100 years on.
You have to love living in Fredericksburg! I enjoy walking my dogs through the forest paths of the Fredericksburg Battlefields, but you have to be out of the park by sundown because the park police lock the gate. One evening I was hurrying down the darkening path before sunset when I heard footsteps behind me. When I turned around to see who was walking behind me, I saw a Confederate soldier coming out of the shadows of the path. I was being followed by a ghost and I don’t even believe in ghosts! I made a mental note to talk to my Supervisor at the library about getting some time off for my mental health. As I came to the edge of the woods and climbed up the hill into the clearing with a little extra daylight I could see that there were Confederate soldiers milling around everywhere. I had to be smack dab in the middle of a re-enactment. Whew! That was relief - scratch the request for a mental health day!
If you love mysteries and the Civil War, then you might enjoy Owen Parry books. The main character is Major Abel Jones, who is an unassuming tiny man who walks with a limp and uses a cane. He is a Welsh immigrant to America who serves in the United States army, but previously served in the British army in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Now he is a secret investigator for President Lincoln. In Bold Sons of Erin, Major Abel is sent by Lincoln to investigate the sudden death of General Stone. The book begins with Abel arranging to dig up the grave of General Stone. When it is opened, he finds the body of a young girl who has been stabbed to death buried in the grave of the General.
Gaius Petrius Ruso has just arrived for duty in the Britain, a far backwater of the Roman Empire. He’s been assigned to the Valeria Victrix Legion as Medicus, serving the legion and the natives living in the town surrounding the barracks. When the only other doctor on staff is poisoned by a plate of oysters at the local bar/bordello, Ruso works on alone. Tramping the town in an exhausted stupor, he encounters an odious merchant beating an unconscious slave girl—who clearly has a badly broken arm.
Wracked with sickness on a frozen day in 1473, Roger the Chapman collapses on the road in the city of Bristol. Strong as he usually was, he had overestimated his ability to lug his pack of goods the many miles in such gruesome weather. Most of the townspeople want to leave him to die—just such a one might be a plague-bearer—but a weaver’s widow and her young daughter decide to shelter him anyway in Kate Sedley’s The Weaver’s Tale.