An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn


Description

A princess is missing and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club–an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women–Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela’s chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves–and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica’s resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica’s own family–the royalty who has never claimed her.

The Veronica Speedwell series continues to entertain. In this new entry, we find a newly intimate Veronica and Stoker, still saucy and arrogant and still learning each other fully. The duo encounters another raft of colorful, larger-than-life characters who lead them on another hair-raising, mind-bending adventure involving alpinists, cut ropes, missing princesses, the growing threat of Germany, and those who wish to stem the tide of progress.

Raybourn’s writing is sharp, with the witty dialogue we’ve come to expect in the series coupled with a well-researched and fascinating plot. Why isn’t this a TV series????

Recommended.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy

Gesethmane Brown Series by Alexia Gordon


If you follow this blog, you know that I read mostly mystery and suspense novels. Events of the last year have prompted me to become more aware of who is not represented in the books I read, and I have noticed a lack of black and brown characters and authors in the mysteries I tend to read.

I was was happy to discover the Gesethmane Brown series by Alexia Gordon a few weeks ago, and have spent some quality time burning through the 5 books in the series.

The first in the series, Murder in G Major, introduces us to Gesethmane Brown. Gesethmane is an accomplished African-American violinist and conductor, a Maestra, who finds herself stranded in the small Irish village of Dunmullach where she accepts temporary lodging in a quaint cottage formerly owned by one of her musical heroes, Eamon McCarthy. Little does she know that she will soon become acquainted with McCarthy’s ghost, who convinces her that his death and that of his wife did not happen as reported.

Gesethmane also accepts a position as music teacher to a group of unruly boys who need a firm hand to get their orchestra in shape for an all-county competition. As she navigates the school, village, and her ghostly roommate, the series structure is slowly built. Gesethmane quickly becomes the (fond) thorn-in-the-side of local garda (police) Iollan O’Reilly, and makes friends with the local parish priest Fr. Tim and with fellow teacher Frankie Grennan. These three, along with Eamon, form the basis of Gesethmane’s support team in the series.

There are 5 books in the series with each titled using a musical term. Gesethmane’s work as a musician is acknowledged throughout the series as being world-class, and she is clearly the one in charge in each book. She is smart, funny, loyal, and determined.

Gordon builds upon Gesethmane’s relationships in each book, revealing more about her past life and that of the village. The addition of the ghost is a fun aspect to the series, which places this in good company with other paranormal mysteries. The writing is skillful and the plots interesting. These are fun, cozy mysteries that will provide a few hours of entertainment for the reader.

I listened to the audiobooks of all 5 and preferred the narrator of 2-4, although the “southern” accent attributed to Gesethmane seems contrived (she’s from Virginia) and was often jarring. City of Rochester readers, all 5 titles are available in audio form through Hoopla. All you need is your library card.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan


Description

From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes an unforgettable novel of a BBC-sponsored wartime cooking competition and the four women who enter for a chance to better their lives.

Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest—and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all—even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together only serve to break it apart?

Any book about cooking is one I’m probably going to pick up and in The Kitchen Front I found a delightful examination of the relationships of 4 women in a small English village during World War II. There are the usual colorful village characters but it’s the four women – sisters Audrey & Gwendoline, Nell, and Zelda – who are the beating heart of this story.

Ryan does an exceptional job of untangling and renewing the relationships between the women but also of dissecting the patriarchal culture of mid-century Britain where an accomplished female chef is given no respect, an ambitious woman is cast as a bitch because she has a logical mind, a woman who chose a chaotic family life is looked at with derision, and a woman having a child out of wedlock worries her entire life is ruined. Ryan explores the fear and frustration each woman experiences, but also dips into the joy and sisterhood they find through the Kitchen Front contest.

Fans of Ryan’s earlier work and of Tracy Chevalier and Mary Ann Shaffer will enjoy this.

Off the Wild Coast of Brittany by Juliet Blackwell


Description

An unforgettable story of resilience and resistance set during WWII and present-day France on a secluded island off the coast of Brittany

Natalie Morgen made a name for herself with a memoir about overcoming her harsh childhood after finding a new life in Paris. After falling in love with a classically trained chef, they moved together to his ancestral home, a tiny fishing village off the coast of Brittany.

But then Francois-Xavier breaks things off with her without warning, leaving her flat broke and in the middle of renovating the guesthouse they planned to open for business. Natalie’s already struggling when her sister, Alex, shows up unannounced. The sisters form an unlikely partnership to save the guesthouse, reluctantly admitting their secrets to each other as they begin to heal the scars of their shared past.

But the property harbors hidden stories of its own. During World War II, every man of fighting age on the island fled to England to join the Free French forces. The women and children were left on their own…until three hundred German troops took up residence, living side-by-side with the French women on the tiny island for the next several years.

When Natalie and Alex unearth an old cookbook in a hidden cupboard, they find handwritten recipes that reveal old secrets. With the help of locals, the Morgen sisters begin to unravel the relationship between Violette, a young islander whose family ran the guesthouse during WWII, and Rainier, a German military customs official with a devastating secret of his own.

This gentle exploration of the relationships between sisters and friends provided a lovely interlude on a gray, rainy Sunday for this reader. I’ve long been a fan of Blackwell’s Lily Ivory series which is hip and witchy, but have come to appreciate her novels set in France for their relatable characters and clever plots.

Here the story flips between the present day and World War II. Each era features a female protagonist who struggles with love, ambition, and curiosity about life outside the small worlds in which they grew up. Our present day heroine, Nat, is an influencer who has made a career out of traveling the world and asking “Porquois Pas?” However, she finds that the lifestyle that landed her on a remote island off the coast of France is no longer fulfilling. Having her sister show up unannounced leads her down a different path, one that ends in truth for both of them.

The World War II era story features a previous tenant of the guest house Nat runs in the present time. Violette longs for something more than the primitive and remote island life, but the influx of German soldiers flips her reality upside down. The story of how these island women channeled the magic of earlier inhabitants and used their own imaginations and determination to trick the Nazis is one of the most enjoyable tales I’ve read in a long time.

Blackwell does a nice job of knitting the past and present together, leaving me feeling sad the story ended. Fans of Blackwell’s previous work will not be disappointed; fans of Jenny Colgan will also find this an enjoyable read.

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Description

Adapted from the adult memoir by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Water Dancer and Between the World and Me, this father-son story explores how boys become men, and quite specifically, how Ta-Nehisi Coates became Ta-Nehisi Coates.

As a child, Ta-Nehisi Coates was seen by his father, Paul, as too sensitive and lacking focus. Paul Coates was a Vietnam vet who’d been part of the Black Panthers and was dedicated to reading and publishing the history of African civilization. When it came to his sons, he was committed to raising proud Black men equipped to deal with a racist society, during a turbulent period in the collapsing city of Baltimore where they lived. Coates details with candor the challenges of dealing with his tough-love father, the influence of his mother, and the dynamics of his extended family, including his brother “Big Bill,” who was on a very different path than Ta-Nehisi. Coates also tells of his family struggles at school and with girls, making this a timely story to which many readers will relate.

Coates’ work is quite possibly the most important out there right now. His prose lifts the soul but also lays bare the inequities and injustice experienced every day by people of color. I am so appreciative that Coates and others are releasing their uplifting, brutally honest words in multiple formats that are accessible to all sorts of readers.

This book should be read by every teen out there, and by every person working with, teaching, mentoring, and loving a teen or person of color.

Teen Librarians, BUY THIS BOOK!

Letters of Note: Mothers by Shaun Usher


Description

A fascinating new volume of messages about motherhood, from the author of the bestselling Letters of Note collections. In Letters of Note: Mothers, Shaun Usher gathers together exceptional missives by and about mothers, celebrating the joy and grief, humour and frustration, wisdom and sacrifice the role brings to both parent and child.

A young Egyptian girl mourns her mother’s death in the fourth century AD. Melissa Rivers lovingly chides her mother, Joan, for treating her house like a hotel and taking her thirteen-year-old son to see Last Tango in Paris. Anne Sexton gives her daughter the advice to live life to the hilt, and be your own woman. In a letter to her teenage daughter, Caitlin Moran explains that some boys are as evil as vampires, and you must drive stakes through their hearts. The film Ladybird inspires journalist Hannah Woodhead to write an emotional letter to her mother. While at seminary, Martin Luther King Jr. writes that he has “the best mother in the world.” These thirty letters capture the endless range of feelings that comes with being or having a mother. Includes letters from E.B. White, George Bernard Shaw, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, Laura Dern, Baya Hocine, Louisa May Alcott, Wallac Stegner, and more.

Mothers have been on my mind so I was attracted to this new entry in Usher’s “Letters of Note” series. In the middle of all the uprising and strife worldwide in the past year, there is one thing we all have in common – we all made someone a mother by our very existence.

Usher captures great joy, fear, anger, heartbreak, disappointment, love and hate in these letters, which include mothers and children from all over the globe. There is darkness here to be true, but there is even more light and hope.

Last year, my daughter gave me a subscription to Storyworth, a service that provides a weekly writing prompt which results in a book at the end of the year. The prompts include questions about important events, people, and experiences in your life. In reading over the prompts and my responses, I noted that I mention my mother or my grandmother in nearly every one. My children never had the chance to know either my mother or grandmother, so they only have my stories. These two women, Arline and Helen, shaped me and still whisper guidance in my ear. They taught me how to strive to be a good person and I know I have been blessed to have had them in my life.

My mother’s wake was held on Mother’s Day 1984, so the holiday has never been a favored one in my family. This year, I will remember these stories and tell them again to my children so they can know, in a small way, the wisdom and love I received from my mother and grandmother.

I was not familiar with this series by the author, but enjoyed this one so much I’m going to find the others. Recommended.

Madam C.J. Walker by Erica L. Ball


Description

Madam C. J. Walker—reputed to be America’s first self-made woman millionaire—has long been celebrated for her rags-to-riches story. Born to former enslaved parents in the Louisiana Delta in the aftermath of the Civil War, married at fourteen, and widowed at twenty, Walker spent the first decades of her life as a laundress, laboring in conditions that paralleled the lives of countless poor and working-class African American women. By the time of her death in 1919, however, Walker had refashioned herself into one of the most famous African American figures in the nation: the owner and president of a hair-care empire and a philanthropist wealthy enough to own a country estate near the Rockefellers. In this biography, Erica Ball places this remarkable and largely forgotten life story in the context of Walker’s times.

I recently saw an episode of Antiques Roadshow where a Black stylist brought in a first edition of Madame CJ Walker’s Beauty Book published in 1920 and valued at $7500. The stylist commented that she still uses some of instructions found in the book. I thought that was interesting and reminded me that I have wanted to know more about Madame Walker. This book satisfied my curiosity.

Author Erica L. Ball is a professor of History and Black Studies at Occidental College and she has produced a scholarly and very readable biography of this multi-talented, complicated woman. Part of the Library of African-American Biography series, this offers a deep look into Walker’s life from her beginnings as Sarah Breedlove right through to her becoming the first Black millionaire in the United States.

Ball addresses the good and bad aspects of Walker’s life and ends up presenting a well-written, well-researched, fascinating look at an American icon. Recommended.

The Scorpion’s Tail by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Description

Following the acclaimed debut of Old Bones, this second “happily anticipated” new thriller in Preston & Child’s series features Nora Kelly, archaeologist at the Santa Fe Archeological Institute, and rookie FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, as they team up to solve a mystery that quickly escalates into nightmare (Booklist).

A mummified corpse, over half a century old, is found in the cellar of an abandoned building in a remote New Mexico ghost town. Corrie is assigned what seems to her a throwaway case: to ID the body and determine cause of death. She brings archaeologist Nora Kelly to excavate the body and lend her expertise to the investigation, and together they uncover something unexpected and shocking: the deceased apparently died in agony, in a fetal position, skin coming off in sheets, with a rictus of horror frozen on his face.

Hidden on the corpse lies a 16th century Spanish gold cross of immense value. When they at last identify the body — and the bizarre cause of death — Corrie and Nora open a door into a terrifying, secret world of ancient treasure and modern obsession: a world centered on arguably the most defining, frightening, and transformative moment in American history.

Preston and Child have done it again. Here’s another tautly plotted, adventuresome tale featuring super-cool characters, fascinating archaeological work, and the gorgeous scenery of the American Southwest. I really enjoy the friendship the authors are building between the archaeologist and the FBI agent. Two strong women surviving in fields dominated by men and successfully solving the crimes!

I really, really, really hope the next book finds Nora having left her post and taken a whole bunch of donors with her!

Mystical Stitches by Christi Johnson


Description

Hand embroidery can be a joyous respite from busy daily life. It is an exploration of material, an invitation to slow down, and it allows time for contemplation. Mystical Stitches combines this beloved and accessible craft with a spiritual element, introducing nearly 200 original designs for different symbols readers can use to create personal icons to wear or embellish items in the home. Christi Johnson offers patterns inspired by botanicals, animals, numbers, the cosmos, earth elements, and mythological icons for novice or well-practiced crafters to combine into talismans with personal meaning. Johnson’s folk art style is vibrant and unintimidating and provides a framework for bringing spiritual elements into physical form. In addition to basic techniques, an overview of material options, and an illustrated encyclopedia of stitches, the extensive treasury of symbols is lavishly photographed in hand-stitched, full-color spreads that will inspire readers to create personalized designs to stitch on clothes, hang on the wall, place on an altar, carry with them, or display in a place of prominence.

As a new, self-taught and still learning stitcher, I am interested in learning not just the stitches themselves, but the meaning behind them. Johnson delivers that and more in this fascinating look at shapes, colors, and stitches commonly used throughout history in needlework and art.

Johnson connects to the resurgence of the old crafts and provides historical as well as personal information about stitchery, connecting it to nature and the universe. Her writing style is chatty and colloquial, which appealed to me, and the depth of her knowledge is unmatched.

Reviewing books that rely heavily on illustrations is always tricky in a digital copy on a tablet because formatting is usually all messed up. However, the images come through crisp and clear, for both the stitches and full color photos of projects.

This is one I will definitely buy in print form. Recommended.

Publication Date: June 22, 2021
Published By: Storey Publishing LLC
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Marion Lane & the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg


Description

“This is the most fun I’ve had with a book this year. Every page is a delight and the mystery got its hooks into me from the first chapter.” – Stuart Turton, bestselling author of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant at Miss Brickett’s receives a letter of warning, detailing a name, a time, and a place. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.

Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and colleague is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie-style locked-room murder mystery, with an exciting new heroine detective.

What a treat! This first in what I hope will be a series of books about apprentice Inquirer Marion Lane is pure fun and packed with gadgetry, espionage, camaraderie, and just great storytelling. With nods to multiple genre types across formats, Willberg crafts a story that engages the reader from the first few pages and keeps you enthralled to the very last page. At the heart of this is one of the most interesting and admirable female protagonists I’ve come across in a long time. Marion Lane is a character for the ages and one who I hope is destined for many more adventures.

I’ll be recommending this one…a lot!