Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 6-11 // by Charles Todd

6. An Unwilling Accomplice (2014)
7. A Pattern of Lies (2015)
8. The Shattered Tree (2016)
9. A Casualty of War (2017)
10. A Forgotten Place (2018)
11.  A Cruel Deception (2019)

Wow, first off I just have to say that I am SO excited that this series is apparently still being written, because every book I read was better than the one before it.  This series was absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed every page.  While I had a few 3.5* reads in the first half of the series, these were all 4* and 4.5* reads.

In case you missed it, here is my review of the first five books in this series, which gives the background of the main character in this series, Bess Crawford, who works as a nurse during World War I.

I honestly don’t know exactly how to review these books other than to say that if you enjoy historical mysteries at all, you should definitely read them.  I also wasn’t sure how the series was going to work once the war was over, but book 9-11 are all post-war books, and they were my favorites.  The authors do such an amazing job capturing how the end of this war wasn’t exactly a joyous victory, but rather the slow, grinding halt of a tragedy that left a generation of men dead and maimed.  The absolute heartbreak of soldiers suffering from shell shock (so misunderstood at the time as well) and who would rather kill themselves than return home to a place where they no longer felt that they could be useful, due to the loss of a limb, was handled so, so well.

Yet these books aren’t all doom and gloom.  There is still a lot of hope there as well, the cautious optimism that maybe the world has learned something from this brutal, useless war.  The slow picking up of the pieces and trying to find a way forward.  Bess herself has, to this point, continued to work as a nurse for men recovering from the war, but she isn’t completely sure if that is what she wants to do forever.  It really feels like the door has been left open for Bess to explore a variety of places and adventures in future books.

There is a love interest (ish), but that has also been handled well.  Bess hasn’t felt like the war was the time or place to be worried about emotional entanglements, but now that it is over, there are a few glimmers of potential.

All in all, this series is moving from strength to strength.  I’ll be on the lookout for a twelfth book, and in the meantime may have to check out the other World War I series by this same mother/son writing duo.  As for the Bess Crawford books – highly recommended!

Bess Crawford Mysteries // Books 1-5 // by Charles Todd

  1. A Duty to the Dead (2009)
  2. An Impartial Witness (2010)
  3. A Bitter Truth (2011)
  4. An Unmarked Grave (2012)

4.5.  The Walnut Tree (2012)
5.  A Question of Honor (2013)

WordPress doesn’t like the idea of a “4.5” in my numerical listing, so you’ll have to forgive the wonky formatting!

Charles Todd is actually a mother/son writing team best known for their Ian Rutledge series, which I have never gotten around to reading.  Bess Crawford is their newer series, which centers around a World War I nurse (Bess Crawford) and various mysteries in which she finds herself entangled.  While the mystery aspect is done well in each book, the real charm of the series is in the excellent sense of setting and place.  World War I often gets rather overlooked, so reading a series with it as a backdrop has been quite intriguing.

Bess grew up (an only child) in India, with her military father (whom she and her mother fondly refer to as the Colonel Sahib) and her mother.  I love the fact that Bess has both of her parents, they are both kind, hardworking, loving people, and that her parents love Bess and love each other.  They’re supportive without being pushy, worried without being controlling.  Being a nurse is still a slightly questionable occupation for a well-brought-up young woman, but instead of following the well-worn, boring trail of having the main character rebel against her upbringing blah blah blah, here we have a refreshing scenario where Bess’s parents are thrilled – mainly because they know it’s dangerous – but recognize the need for nurses and Bess’s skill in that area, and thus support her decision.

Bess herself is a very likable character.  She’s intelligent and independent without being obnoxious.  She works hard and loves being a nurse, but isn’t constantly raging about the restrictions society places on females.  She’s determined and can be a bit bull-headed, but isn’t constantly dashing into danger and then getting annoyed when people don’t trust her.  In short, she felt realistic to me, and it was genuinely delightful to read a series where I wasn’t constantly being preached at about the patriarchy and how hard life was as a woman in the early 1900’s.

For the most part, the mysteries fit into the context of the war, and so it doesn’t feel unnatural for someone wholly unrelated to law enforcement to be stumbling across murders and suspicious circumstances.  With the exception of  An Unmarked Grave, which depended far too much on coincidence, the mysteries were well-plotted and engaging.

One thing I also enjoyed is how free of profanity and sex the stories are.  The authors don’t pretend like these things didn’t exist at the time, but the truth is that this was an era when swearing around women was still rather taboo.  And Bess is too well-brought-up, too busy, and too practical to think about sleeping around.  It is such a relief to enjoy some mysteries without constantly being hammered with f-bombs and gratuitous sex.

The Walnut Tree  isn’t about Bess Crawford, but instead is a side story that focuses on another nurse Bess knows, and about this girl’s journey to becoming a nurse.  It was definitely the weakest of all the stories.  It isn’t a mystery, but instead more of a “romance” with an incredibly boring love triangle.  There was this strange side plot about smugglers that I thought was going to be somewhat central, but instead felt tacked on, as though the authors felt that even a side book in a mystery series ought to have some mystery.  Also, while all the other characters became known by just their first names, every time Bess appeared it was as “Bess Crawford,” as though to emphasize the reminder that this book is connected to the Bess Crawford series.  So it would be something like, “I was so happy to see Bess Crawford and Diane sit down at the table with me.  Diane said she had been busy catching up on correspondence that afternoon, while Bess Crawford had gone out to do some shopping.”  I was so tired of seeing BESS CRAWFORD!

Anyway, while I’ve spent some time grumbling here, the truth of the matter is that these have been thoroughly enjoyable books, with the series getting 4* so far.  I have the second half of the series checked out of the library and ready to read, and I’m quite looking forward to picking up Bess’s journey.

August Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – 4.5*

//published 2003//

I first read this book when it was published, and it’s one of those rare nonfiction books that I find myself returning to every few years.  Truss is just  so funny.  She tells you in the beginning how to tell if you’ll enjoy her book (have  you ever felt an overwhelming compulsion to add a missing apostrophe to a sign??) and goes on from there.  This isn’t an in-depth study of punctuation, but it is a delightful scamper through the high points of punctuation history and usage.  I always especially love the way she compares commas to border collies (gently herding phrases and words where they need to go), and her passion for apostrophes (so simple to use, yet so frequently maligned).

If you are even a bit of a punctuation freak, this is definitely worth a read.

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – 4*

//published 1949//

I’m still slowly working my way through all of Goudge’s books. While Gentian Hill is probably my least favorite of her books that I’ve read so far, it was still beautifully written.  It’s historical fiction, so it’s a bit different from her other books, and it was rather fun to read a book set during the Napoleonic Wars that focused more on “regular” folk instead of the aristocracy.  The language throughout was beautiful as always, and there were many wonderful themes.  The main reason I wrestled with this book is because of how young Stella is when Zachary meets her and knows that she is going to be his wife someday.  I’ll grant that Zachary is also young(ish), but it still felt weird, even though it wasn’t completely unusual for women to get married in their mid-teens at the time.  Still, Goudge handles that all deftly – it never felt like Zachary was a creeper in any way, and I honestly did want them to end up together.  I just felt like the whole story would have read better if Stella had been a couple of years older when they met.

Overall, I still did enjoy this book a great deal, even though I didn’t find it to be an instant classic as I have with many of Goudge’s other books.

Gentian Hill was read #10 for #20BooksofSummer.

You Don’t Own Me by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – 4*

//published 2018//

This is the latest installment of the Under Suspicion series, which I read last year.  The series centers on Laurie, who is the producer for a television show called Under Suspicion.  Each episode of the show looks at a cold case, inviting the people involved to tell their part of the story.  The concept is that the unsolved aspect of the story means that people close to the victim are still shadowed by the possibility that they could be the murderer.  I really enjoyed this series when I read it last year, mainly because Laurie is a great main character, and the authors have done an excellent job with the secondary characters as well.  In this book, I was glad to see Laurie’s romantic relationship progress happily.  The mystery was solid, although there was a weird secondary thing going on where Laurie was being stalked that felt superfluous to the main thrust of the story.

One of my biggest complaints about this story last year was how the host for Laurie’s show, Ryan, was the only stagnant character in the series.  The authors just made him into one giant stereotype and seemed to think that was good enough.  Consequently, I was delighted to see actual character growth in Ryan in this installment!  Brilliant!

Overall, these are great mysteries, and I’m hopeful that they will continue coming.

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1903//

Like most of Hill’s stories, this one was pretty predictable, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I will say that I found it funny that I had just recently read Strawberry Girlset in early 1900’s Florida, and then it turns out that that was the same setting for this book as well!

This was my #11 read for #20BooksofSummer.

Shamed by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2019//

Earlier this year I devoured the entire Kate Burkholder series.  Set in Ohio’s Amish country, this is a great mystery series.  Kate grew up Amish and then left the community and eventually entered law enforcement.  When the series starts, Kate is the sheriff of the small town where she grew up, and also a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (“English”) communities.  I really, really like Kate a lot, which is a large part of why this series works for me.  Castillo also does a really excellent job in her portrayal of the Amish community, and I love the way that Kate is working through her heritage as well.

This particular installment was solid.  A woman is murdered and her granddaughter kidnapped – I loved the way that each chapter started with how many hours the girl had been missing; it really intensified the urgency of a missing child case.  Overall, the pacing was solid, although it felt like this book didn’t have as much of Kate’s personal life as some of the others have had, and I rather missed it.  All in all, I hope Castillo continues to write these books forever, as I really like them.

July Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Clicking of Cuthbert by P.G. Wodehouse – 4*

//published 1922//

This is a collection of short stories, all of which are about golf.  In my question to read all of Wodehouse’s books in published order, this one was next, and I’ve kind of procrastinated on it a bit since I don’t really know much (anything) about golf, but I shouldn’t have doubted – although I certainly missed plenty of golfing references, the ability of Wodehouse to tell a hilarious story still shines through.  Most of the short stories are told by an old man whom we know only as the Oldest Member of the golf club.  He has many a tale to while a way an evening.  As with all story collections, they had their ups and downs, but overall the quality was excellent, and the stories were quite funny.

Winner Takes All by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 1984, 1988//

This was actually two stories in one book, and they were originally published separately, about four years apart.  I think they would have read better if they hadn’t been together, because they were actually rather similar stories – both female leads were television producers, both had relationship issues, both meet a really similar dude through work.  Overall they were perfectly nice stories (although a bit too sexy), but also pretty forgettable.

The Haunted Fountain by Margaret Sutton – 3.5*

//published 1957//

Now that I’ve gotten into the Judy Bolton books that I don’t own, I’m reading them at a much slower pace as I have to purchase them as I go.  This one was a decent story, but it had almost no Peter in it, and Peter is my favorite character!  Still, Judy is always a great lead, and it was fun to catch up with a few other characters as well.

The Mysterious Heir by Edith Layton – 3.5*

//published 1983//

Some of you may remember that I purchased a book of random Regency romances on eBay a while back because it had some Georgette Heyer titles that I wanted.  I’m still reading the other books in the box, and The Mysterious Heir is my most recent one.  I really enjoyed this one a lot because Elizabeth and Morgan were super likable, and they actually communicated with each other, which is almost miraculous in Regency romances.  Morgan of course has a deep dark past, where his wife (now dead) betrayed him, and this is where the story went off the rails a bit, because instead of just having Morgan’s wife like have an affair or something, the author literally made her this nymphomaniac (although she didn’t use that term) who was always having sex with literally anyone who would (although none of this was graphic at all) and it just came through as weird.  I think the same impact on Morgan’s life/trust issues could have occurred with a slightly more believable situation with his now-dead wife.  However, other than the chapter of Morgan’s back story, the book was overall a fun romp that I enjoyed.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski – 4*

//published 1945//

Lenski wrote several children’s historical fiction books back in the day.  Each one focuses on a child in a different region of the country, and they are all illustrated with Lenski’s absolutely delightful drawings.  Strawberry Girl is set in Florida around the year 1900, and it honestly blew my mind how frontier-like Florida was at that time – this is barely over a hundred years ago (and was less than fifty years earlier than when Lenski wrote the story – she says in her foreword that many of the adventures are based on first-person accounts from people she interviewed), yet the people are living a very rough and ready life without indoor plumbing, at a time when things like a cookstove were still considered rather fancy.

This was a really enjoyable story, and I highly recommend Lenski’s books if you are studying a certain region or time period.  It’s a children’s book, so things wrapped a little too conveniently at the end, but I let it go since the intended age range is around 10 years old.  All in all, this was a very fun slice of life story.

This one is also my #8 book for #20BooksofSummer!

Lincoln & Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Kelly (Landmark book) – 4*

//published 1954//

I’ve mentioned before that I have a big soft spot for Landmark history books.  Aimed at middle school readers, they’re perfect for an overview or review of a topic.  This one looks at the run-up to the America Civil War, focusing on Douglas and Lincoln and their debates at the time.  The author did a really excellent job of explaining the various points of view on slavery at the time.  She never excuses or justifies slavery, but she does explain that the culture of the time meant that many people didn’t question slavery’s existence, and that didn’t automatically make them evil people.  Douglas is presented as a counterview rather than a villain – someone who was trying to find some middle ground to make everyone happy – and who ended up as most people who take the road do: with everyone mad at him.  Kelly points out how Lincoln’s views on slavery also changed through time, and that there were degrees of being “for” slavery – many people felt that it should basically fade out naturally by not allowing new slaves or slave states; other believed slaves should be educated and allowed more opportunity to purchase their freedom; some believed the government should purchase slaves and then free them, thus compensating owners, etc.  Kelly manages to get a lot of complicated thoughts across in a manner that was easy to read and understand.  I’m basically always a fan of Landmark books, and this one is no exception.

March Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver – 3*

//published 2016/

I picked this Kindle book up for free somewhere along the line because I’ll pretty much always pick up marriage of convenience tropes.  This one was pretty average.  I actually liked the story and the characters a great deal, but there was a lot of pretty explicit sex in this one, which always brings down my overall enjoyment of a story.  It also meant that even though this was the first in a series of four, I didn’t really feel like paying to read the rest.

Virtually Sleeping Beauty by K.M. Robinson – 2.5*

//published 2018//

Another Kindle freebie, and another book that I really wanted to like.  The premise is fun with a very Ready Player One vibe, with one character stuck inside a popular virtual reality game.  The narrator and his best friend go into the game to try and rescue her.  However, the execution of the story was incredibly flat.  It honestly felt more like an outline or rough draft than it did an actual book.  The plotting was choppy and cliché.  The characters were one-dimensional and rather insipid.  The ending was incredibly abrupt.  I didn’t remotely believe that the characters had become even basic friends, much less that they had fallen in love, especially considering the whole story takes place over a few hours.  It turns out that this was more of a short story than an actual book, so that’s why I ended up finishing it.  If the writing had been this poor for the full length of a novel, I wouldn’t have continued.  I do have a few other of Robinson’s books as free Kindle books, but reading this one hasn’t made me exactly eager to try the rest.

The Fox Busters by Dick King-Smith – 4*

//published 1978//

Although I’ve only reviewed a couple of King-Smith’s books here, his books were an absolute delight to me growing up, and The Fox Busters was the story that introduced me to the magical absurdity of his writing.  This isn’t really a book I would recommend to very small children, as there is, frankly, a decent amount of death, but I remember loving the military-like execution of events.  Basically, the chickens of Foxearth Farm have, through generations of natural selection (due to generations of farmers not really being bothered to take much care of said chickens), become almost like wild birds.  This means that generations of foxes around the farm have very rarely ever been able to experience the delights of a chicken dinner.  The events in The Fox Busters occur when a trio of especially intelligent pullets are hatched right around the time that a quartet of particularly clever foxes are growing up nearby.  This is the story of their battle.

So yes, it’s honestly a rather violent book.  A lot of chickens – and several foxes – die during the course of it.  But the sheer creativity is fantastically engaging.  King-Smith’s writing is brisk and to the point – he doesn’t tend to linger over descriptions or unneeded details.  Yet somehow that suits the overall military feel of the book.  There is a sly tongue-in-cheek humor throughout that I think I rather missed as a child, but found quite amusing as an adult.

While this isn’t a perfect book, it’s well worth a read if you’ve ever raised chickens, or if you’re just looking for a quick bit of British humor.

Show Lamb by Hildreth Wriston – 4*

//published 1953//

This is another book from my personal collection, one that I picked up at a book sale eons ago but never got around to reading.  It’s a shame, because this is a book I would have quite enjoyed as a child – a bit of historical fiction set in 1850 Vermont, focusing on 10-year-old Chad.  Chad, along with his parents, sister, and aunt, live together on a sheep farm, and Chad wants nothing more than to also be a sheep farmer like his father.  He feels that the best way to start on that path is to get to choose his own lamb to take to the fair that fall, but Chad’s father doesn’t think he’s old enough yet.  This story follows Chad from lambing season through the fair (he of course does choose his own lamb, secretly, which is part of the story) and is a delight the entire way.  One of the things I liked best about this book was that there were multiple times that Chad was strongly tempted to do the wrong thing, but for the most part he choose not to – and even if that behavior wasn’t rewarded immediately, it always paid off in the end.  This is a lesson sadly lacking in virtually all children’s literature these days, as modern authors seem to think it’s much better to tell children that their parents are the enemy and also rather stupid and inept.  In Show Lamb, Chad’s father is not at all perfect, but he is good and genuinely loves Chad, and this really comes through in the story.  We’re also shown a contrast in the lazy, no-good neighbor, which was also done well.

All in all, it seems a shame that literally no one else on Goodreads has ever come across this one (I added it myself), as I found it a delightful little piece of historical fiction with a lot to offer.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer – 3.5*

//published 1959//

I’m not sure if it’s because I had the large print version or what, but this was one of the few times where a Heyer book felt like it went on forever.  While the last third of the book picked up the pace and become much more engaging and humorous, the beginning and middle really dragged.  Without any insight into what Hugo was thinking, it was hard to recognize that he was pulling the collective leg of his relatives, because it’s hard to recognize, in writing, that he’s speaking in “broad Yorkshire,” beyond his saying “happen” instead of “perhaps.”  There were also moments where supposedly he accidentally forgot to use his Yorkshire accent, but again this was hard to pick up in writing, so a lot of the subtlety of humor was lost on me. It was a fun story with some likable characters and a lot of potential, but this one felt too directionless for too long, as though Heyer couldn’t quite decide where she was headed with this story.  It was (sadly) still better than a very large chunk of modern romances, but it wasn’t a Heyer I particularly felt I needed to add to my permanent collection.

Eagle & Crane // by Suzanne Rindell

//published 2018//

It’s been several days since I finished this superb novel, but the characters and writing are still circulating through my mind.  Rindell creates such an incredible sense of time and place that I was completely drawn into the story in a way that I rarely am with historical novels.

The story begins with a federal agent in California in 1943.  An elderly Japanese man and his adult son have escaped from the prison camp, and Agent Bonner is visiting their old home to see if he can find any trace of them.  Within that first chapter, while Bonner is talking with the current owner of the Yamada’s home, a plane falls from the sky and erupts into flames.  From the wreckage two bodies are pulled out – presumably both of the Yamada men.  Yet Bonner feels that there is more to the story, and he decides to stick around town and see what he can find…

Meanwhile, Rindell begins to take us back in time, through the 1930’s, giving us background on the Yamadas, on the young man who currently owns their farm (Louis Thorn), and on their complicated relationship involving a family feud, cultural and financial differences, a love for airplanes, partnership in an aerial stunt show, and a young woman whom they both loved.

The majority of the chapters are the backstory, because the backstory is the main story, but Rindell jumps forward to Agent Bonner’s activities just frequently enough to keep us abreast of his investigation.  She also does an excellent job of giving us enough information so that every time we joined Agent Bonner, I had a different theory for what really happened in the horrific airplane accident.

Quite a while back I was doing a lot of reading about World War II and was on the lookout for stories set in and around the American Japanese community/Japanese concentration camps in America.  It’s a truly horrific time in our country’s history, and consequently one that is frequently glossed over during WWII studies.  One book that I read at that time was China Dolls, which is set in California in the 1930’s.  One of the characters is actually Japanese, and I was hoping that the book would give me some insight into the setting.  Unfortunately, while an alright story, China Dolls lacked any true sense of culture or place.  It felt like a story that could have been set in any time period, about girls from any culture.

Thankfully, Rindell’s book was everything I had hoped China Dolls would be, and more.  It’s an incredibly engaging story written about characters who feel like real people.  I was completely caught up in the story of Louis Thorn, Harry Yamada, and Ava Brooks.  I was afraid that the story was going to devolve into a desperate love triangle, but Rindell balances that part of the story incredibly well, making the relationships between the three believable, giving weight and motive to different actions by the three characters.  I personally fell in love with all of them.  Quiet, thoughtful, poor, hardworking Louis, who struggles between his loyalty to his family and what he personally is beginning to believe is right.  Intelligent, dashing, adventurous Harry, who is keen enough to see the writing on the wall and recognize how often he is going to be judged harshly because of his race, but doesn’t let the bitterness control him. Independent, clever, crafty Ava, who decides what she wants and isn’t afraid to pursue it.

The secondary characters are also drawn well.  For me, one of the ways to determine that is whether I’m surprised or confused by a secondary character’s actions or not – that is, is this character consistent, or does the author just manipulate them into doing whatever needs to happen in any given scene?  In this story, I felt that all those characters were drawn well – the pilots, Ava’s stepfather and her mother, Harry’s family, Louis’s family, Agent Bonner, his landlady, even the sheriff and his deputy – if a person in this book had a name, that person also had enough individualism to be their own character that I could describe.

Pacing in this story is spot-on.  While I wouldn’t really call it a mystery or a thriller, there is just enough fog around what really happened in the plane wreck to keep me wondering, even as I watched the complicated ties between the characters develop. Rindell does a truly excellent job at looking at the racism surrounding the American Japanese community, and studying that incredibly strong urge that we all have to find a scapegoat to blame for all our troubles – and it’s especially convenient if that scapegoat looks and acts nothing like ourselves.  Parts of this book were consequently genuinely tragic, but I never felt like Rindell was pulling emotional punches just for the sake of making a scene.  The tragedies that occurred felt (sadly) inevitable, even while I kept desperately hoping they would turn out differently.

All in all, 4.5* for Eagle & Crane, and I highly recommend it if you enjoy historical novels, or if you are just looking for a truly fantastic story with realistic characters.  I haven’t read any of Rindell’s other books yet, but if they are anywhere close to being as strong as this one, I am definitely looking forward to it.  This particular book was brought to by attention by FictionFan’s excellent review – as usual, she is far more coherent than I am! – so be sure to check it out.

December Minireviews

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham – 4*

//published 2018//

I really enjoyed reading the Joseph O’Laughlin series last year.  Joe is a middle-aged psychologist who, at the beginning of the series, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  While the books can be read in any order or as stand-alones, they really work best if they are read in order, as you watch Joe and his life grow and change.  When I read the then-last-book in the series last July, I was excited to see that Robotham had another book in the series scheduled for late 2018.  Close Your Eyes had a rather weird ending, and I really wanted more for Joe, whom I actually really love.

The Other Wife was an addictive read that I was glad I picked up on a lazy Sunday, as I pretty much wanted to do nothing but read it.  Robotham easily reestablished me into Joe’s life and, per usual, jumped right into the action.  As always, Joe’s good friend Vincent Ruiz is one of my favorite characters, so I was glad to see him back.  It has also been fun to see Joe’s daughters grow older throughout the series, and in this book his oldest is at university and starting to make her own way in the world.

Reflecting later after I finished the book, I realized that Robotham honestly got a bit sloppy at the end.  One of the main characters (the “other wife”)  wasn’t really given any closure, which seemed quite important given the circumstances.  But I just couldn’t really justify knocking off a half star for that as the book had been so thoroughly engrossing while I was reading it.  I definitely need at least ten more books in this series, so hopefully Robotham is on it!

Early Candlelight by Maud Hart Lovelace – 3.5*

//published 1929//

Several years ago I read the Betsy-Tacy books by this author.  Despite being exactly the kind of books I would have loved growing up, I somehow didn’t get around to reading them until adulthood – and they were a complete delight!  Early Candlelight, however, is Lovelace’s historical fiction, a tale of love and survival set on the 1830’s Minnesota frontier.  While this book was an enjoyable read, and had an excellent sense of time and place, it was also a rather sad book on the whole (frontier life wasn’t super easy).  I also spent most of the book being a little confused because I couldn’t really get my head around the “class difference” between the main character, Dee, and her love interest, Jasper.  Jasper spends a lot of time dwelling on Dee’s unsuitability (and actually so does Dee), but I couldn’t understand why in the world an intelligent, educated, hardworking woman wouldn’t make him a good wife, especially considering that everyone in the area knew and respected Dee and thought she was a wonderful person??  Apparently the people in the fort were trying to cling to their class distinctions from back east, but I just didn’t get it, so it made parts of the story seem contrived to me, even though I’m sure that Lovelace was being historically accurate.

All in all, while this was a nice one-time read, it didn’t speak to me on the same level as the sweet and inspiring Betsy-Tacy books.

The Coming of Bill by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1919//

This book is often mentioned as Wodehouse’s attempt at a “serious” novel, and it certainly lacks the lighthearted frivolity of most of Wodehouse’s works.  The main characters of this book are not, in fact, named Bill, but instead are Ruth and Kirk.  Ruth is a society girl with plenty of money.  Her mother passed away years ago, and she lives with her grumpy, busy father and her self-important brother, Bailey.  Ruth and Bailey have an aunt who is “famous” for writing books and articles about how people should really live.  The aunt is obsessed with self-improvement, with exercise, and with eugenics – she believes that it is the responsibility of every human to make themselves as fit as they can be, and to find the spouse who will be the ideal breeding partner so that the human race can be bettered through the generations.  When the aunt meets Kirk, a “fine specimen” who is also an artist living off a legacy, she decides he will be the perfect match for Ruth.  Luckily, Ruth and Kirk feel the same way.

If you’re looking for Wodehouse humor and froth, this book is a bit of a fail.  But if you’re just looking for a decent novel with interesting characters, it’s not a bad story.  Wodehouse is gently poking fun at several different things throughout, but at the heart of it all the story is about Kirk and Ruth growing up enough to take responsibility for their own lives, choices, and their child (the Bill of the title).  While this isn’t a book I would return to again and again, as a Wodehouse connoisseur it was interesting read just to see this stage of his writing.

Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien – 4*

//published 1949//

My local library always has a few shelves of discard books for a quarter, and if I’m feeling dangerous I take a moment to browse them when I go in.  A while back I found a very nice hardcover copy of this book and picked it up.  While this wasn’t a mind-blowing book or anything, it definitely was a fun and entertaining little children’s story about a rather pompous farmer and, more importantly, a dragon.  I can definitely see this being a fun read-aloud book – I think that kids would get a kick out of the drama.  Tolkien’s dry humor is in full force throughout and I found myself snickering on more than one occasion.  There isn’t a lot of depth to this one, but it was a fun little read nonetheless.