Monday, December 29, 2008

Tying up the end of the year

Alice in Sunderland: An Entertainment, by Bryan Talbot. 2007, Dark Horse. 319 pp Graphic Novel
A theatrical presentation of the history of the North and East of England, centering in Sunderland and its Empire Theatre. Sounds simple. Ha! Faces, places, dates, stories, stories of stories, all are thrown at the reader out of sequence, out of place, out of breath. Yes, think Alice in Wonderland, which has a very prominent place in this book from beginning to end. Also includes Harry Potter, William Shakespeare, Dracula, George Formby, cholera epidemics, several nasty murderers, and the Lambton Wyrm. This is the kind of thing that graphic novels do so well.

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles. 2008, Houghton, Mifflin. 180 pp Fiction
Bennie Ford is travelling across country to his daughter's wedding, when his flight is cancelled. So he whips out his computer and starts a whiny message to American Airlines that gets out of hand. There has been a certain amount of hype about this little book, so I checked it out. I'm sorry! It is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. It's an okay read if there is absolutely nothing else in the house to read and you don't want to start on the cereal boxes, but I don't advise going out and buying multiple copies to give to all your friends.

The Heartsong of Charging Elk by James Welch. 2000, Doubleday. 440 pp Fiction
Inspired by the true story of the Oglala Sioux who travelled with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show when he became ill in France and was left behind. I will be frank here and tell you I didn't finish the book. The parts I read went on and on and on to the point I was forced to say "I can't take any more." The premise was great, the writing was boring.

Remarkable Reads, edited by J. Peder Zane. 2004, W, W. Norton 258 pp Nonfiction
Given the premise that they must each chose a book to write about--and pick one word to describe it, the thirty-four authors here have presented a remarkable variety of books. From Dr Seuss' Cat in the Hat to Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying by Wolfgang Langewiesche, there are thoughtful essays on reading, on writing, on life, and on death. I picked up some good ideas for my own reading here, although I'll give some of these a pass. This is a good book for dipping into and savoring a little at a time.
A Time for Treason by Anne Newton Walther. 2000, Tapestries. 451 pp Historical fiction
The American colonies are on the brink of revolution and Eugenie de Beaumont is acting as an agent for the French to see what those colonists are up to. Not only do we get a lot of history thrown at us, but there's a lot of horse and ship stuff, too. Oh, and a little romance and politics. This is a nice, old fashioned (in a good way) straight forward historical fiction. There may be a few places where the historical elements are over explained, but it's a good read.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's almost Christmas, so I need to get these out of my hair

Christmas is fast approaching and I need to return most of my library books so I have room for my company. Sunday I went down to my sister's house and returned with a bagful of paperbacks, most of them belonging to her, so between Christmas and New Year's I'm going to have to turn off the phone and do some serious reading (not reading serious books, by any means). In the meantime, this is what I've recently read. Sorry, no pictures of covers on this one.

Diamonds Are Trouble by Scott Corbett. 1967, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 96 pp Mystery

College student Jeff takes a last minute summer job at Ambrose Bunker's inn on Cape Cod, where he arrives late at night. He starts by tackling his new boss who is attempting to crawl into one of the windows of a guest cottage. The explanation leads to suspicion and distrust of guest Augustus V Wolfe who is possibly angling after the diamonds belonging to another guest, the wealthy Mrs. Walling. This is a short snappy mystery. I'm not sure exactly who the audience is here. Mr. Corbett is best known for his children's stories, but there's a lot of brandy floating around for that.

Family Linen by Lee Smith. 1985, G.P. Putnam's Sons. 272 pp. Fiction

I thought this looked like a Krantz book--with the glamour, sizzle, and sass. This particular copy has been rebound, so there was no blurb, but I took a chance after reading the first couple pages about Sybill and her trip to the hypnotist. Krantz it isn't, but it is a funny book about a family full of oddballs, pretentious idiots, and kooks. It reminded me in many ways of Lorna Ludvik's Patty Jane's House of Curl.

Firestorm at Peshtigo by Denise Gess and William Lutz. 2002, Henry Holt. 267 pp Nonfiction

Many people know that on October 8, 1871 a good share of Chicago burned down killing 300 people. Unless they live in Wisconsin, most people are not aware that on that same day more than 2,400 square miles of forest burned and between 1,500 and 2,500 people died. This book tells about the Wisconsin fire and its aftermath. In 1871 Peshtigo was a booming timber town with 100 or more people a week arriving to log or farm on the cheap land available. In fact, nobody knows exactly how many people were in the area, so nobody knows exactly how many people died.

A Gladiator Dies Only Once by Steven Saylor. 2005, St. Martin's Minotaur. 269 pp Mystery

Gordianus the Finder has been around since 1991. I'm just now discovering him. (Don't you just love browsing up and down the shelves of the library and finding "new" authors to read.) Set just a little earlier than my favorite Roman mysteries, Gordianus pulls in historical figures like Cicero, Lucullus, and Cato and makes them come alive, some of them more than others. This is a collection of short stories that cover some of the early years of Gordianus' cases, 77-64 BC. I'll be looking for the full length mysteries now.

What They Didn't Teach You About the Wild West by Mike Wright. 2000, Presido. 370 pp Nonfiction

Part of a series, this book loosely organizes topics of western lore (Cowboy, cattle barons, Native Americans, railroads, etc.) and presents items to amaze--sort of "And now, the rest of the story..." Many of the facts are pretty well known to people with even a minimal interest in history, but there is sure to be at least a nugget or two that you probably never knew.

Yarnplay at Home: Handknits for Colorful Living by Lisa Shobhana Mason. 2008, North Light. 127 pp Crafts

These attractive knitting projects are arranged in three levels of difficulty, from the easiest to more difficult (which would be suitable for most reasonably competent knitters). There is a nice range of projects from the simple knitted cotton dishcloth to a lacy mohair curtain, with suggestions for decorating ideas, alternate adaptations, or gift ideas in many cases. The directions are clear and easy to follow. The Serpentine dishcloth pattern is just difficult enough to keep me interested.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Buckingham Palace Gardens by Anne Perry. 2008, Ballantine. 312 pp Mystery

The Prince of Wales was hosting a party at Buckingham Palace to set up funding for a transAfrican railroad, when the very bloody body of a prostitute was found in a palace linen closet. Thomas Pitt is called to quickly (before Queen Victoria comes home) and discretely (before the Queen comes home) solve the murder. Another of Perry's very competent mysteries.

History in Our Time by David Cannadin. 1998, Yale University. 308 pp Nonfiction

David Cannadin is an English historical essayist whose field of expertise is the 19th and 20th centuries. This book covers a wide range of subjects, but many of them have at least something to do with the 1980-1996 period, which means he covers the Margaret Thatcher years. A reader could easily get the impression that the author is not a fan of "The Iron Maiden. Each of the essays has some connection to at least one book as an authority on the subject, which Cannadin reviews and sometime reviles. This is a very interesting take on modern English history.
India In Word & Image, Photographs by Eric Meola. 2008, Welcome Books. 261 pp Nonfiction

I have never thought I'd want to visit India, not even after Buffy Maytag came to talk about her trip there and showed us how to wrap a sari. The gorgeous pictures in this book almost make me change my mind. Most of the writing is excerpts from authors who are either from India or who have spent a lot of time there. It's one of those coffee table sized books that beg to have people dip through it--just pick any page and you will be dazzled.

Just Jane by Nancy Moser. 2007, Bethany. 367 pp Historical Fiction

A fictionalized account of Jane Austen's life. Moser has taken the bare bones of her story and written an account that breathes a lot of life into Jane's world. I really enjoyed this one, as I did Moser's other historical fiction Mozart's Sister.

Killing Bridezilla by Laura Levine. 2008, Kensington. 247 pp Mystery

Freelance writer Jaine Austen gets a job writing wedding vows for former classmate Patti, whose husband to be is also a classmate. In fact, this whole book is littered with former classmates, in what seems to be a cross between Whose Wedding Is This and Revenge of the Nerds. When Patti plunges off her balcony to be impaled on a statuary Cupid's arrow, book characters and readers breathe a sigh of relief. One of the funnier scenes, at least to this librarian, is actually a side plot in which Jaine's father takes issue with a librarian over an $.18 fine. This is only for people who like very silly, improbably mysteries set in the world of snark.

My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates. 2008, HarperCollins. 562 pp Fiction

"Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto "Survivors". So says nineteen year old Skyler Rampart, who tells this story of his family. He considered himself a failure at age 9, his sister is a ice skating STAR at age 6. When Bliss is murdered and the killer never found, Skyler's shaky world really spins out of control. Readers of this book will certainly draw certain parallels with the Jon Benet Ramsey case, but this is a fantastic read, a more literary version of many of Jodi Picoult's popular books.

Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn. 1999, Ace. 324 pp Science Fiction

On a fairly minor planet in the far corners of the universe religion has been divided between the Triumphantes and the Fideles, who both worship the same goddess, but in different ways. A serial killer is stalking both sects, alternately killing a Triumphante and a Fidele sister. Interfed sends agent Cowan Drake to catch the killer. This is really more of a mystery set in an science fiction world. Or is it a romance set in a mystery set in a science fiction world. It moves a little slowly, but it is an entertaining book.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frankly My Dear, I'm Dead by Livia J. Washburn. 2008, Kensington. 217 pp. Mystery
Delilah has just opened a literary tour business in Atlanta, using family members as staff. Her very first "Gone With The Wind" tour just about blows away the business when murder occurs at Tara during their visit. So Delilah (who can't even remember to call to connect her phone for the first day of business) investigates the murder. I am willing to suspend a lot of belief while reading books, but this one defied that ability. To heck with the ideals of steel magnolias, let's just go with the silly... never mind, I should have known from the cover that it was not going to be one of the Southern Sisters mysteries by the late Anne George. Maybe tomorrow is another day.

A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich. Translated by Caroline Mustill. 2005, Yale University Press. 284 pp. Nonfiction
This book was written for children in 1935-36 by a young German art historian. It became very popular and was translated into a number of other languages, but not English until it was recently translated and updated. Unlike many books of its kind, A Little History of the World does cover more than just Europe and North America. Of necessity, there is a lot of detail left out, but it does cover much. That said, I found it rather patronizing in the "Dear little Reader" head-patting way. Maybe kids won't notice, or mind. I did.

The Night Bird by Catherine Asaro. 2008, Luna. 571 pp Fantasy
Allegro is one of the young women of Arondale who has a certain amount of magic, linked to music and geometric shape. While on her way to receive training, she is kidnapped and sold into slavery to the Jazid prince regent Markus, whose country will soon be at war with hers. From the first there is a cultural barrier between them that only sex, erm, love can conquer. Soon Allegro will do anything to avert both the war between their countries and their personal war. This is the second book in the Lost Continent Series. As with most of Asaro's books, she has a lot of characters with a lot of genealogy between them. I like her sexy fantasies with lots of action going on.

Secrets in Satin by Haywood Smith. 1997, St. Martin;s. 344 pp. Romance
Amidst the turmoil of the end of the reign of Charles I of England the Countess of Ravenwold and the Viscount Creighton meet and share a destiny. He thinks she's frigid, she thinks he is rogue, the King thinks they should wed. This is an okay read. The author at least seems to have the history down well and the characters are interesting, even if the plot is stale, stale, stale. For lovers of formula historical romance only.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Epilogue by Anne Roiphe. 2008,HarperCollins. 214pp Biography
It's not easy being a widow after forty years of marriage. Some time after her husband's death Roiphe's daughters take out an ad in a literary magazine to ease her back into the "dating" scene. In this book, she muses on families, loneliness, grief, and other topics familiar to widows. This is certainly not a "how to cope with grief" book, but many of the emotions will be familiar to widows.

Outside Passage:A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood by Julia Scully. 1998,Random. 219 pp. Biography
Julia's father committed suicide when she was seven. Her mother, a spunky immigrant from Poland, leaves Julia and her sister in an orphanage, and goes to Alaska to find work during the Great Depression. Four years later the family gets back together in Alaska. These are Julia's remembrances of growing up during the war years primarily in Alaska. The stories are a mixture of admiration and puzzlement for her mother's behavior. Most of the time they are told from the viewpoint of a young girl trying to make sense of the world.

The Summer of Ordinary Ways by Nicole Lea Helget. 2005, Borealis. 182 pp. Biography
Helget chronicles her life growing up the oldest in a family of six girls in rural Minnesota in the 1980s. Her father had played a couple seasons of major league baseball, before washing out and coming home to farm. The book bounces back and forth in time, but she clearly labels the time periods. For the people who like books of dysfunctional families. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle or A Child Called It, you will probably enjoy this one.
After reading these three books, I can see that it will be pointless for me to write the story of my childhood. My family, by these accounts, was entirely too happy and normal. We may not have had a lot materially, but we did have family (sometimes, even when we didn't particularly want or think we needed it). Guess I'll just have to write something else.

Friday, December 12, 2008

And winter is here, with the first cold of the season

I've been home with a cold all week. Luckily, I'd been to the library just before I started this whole mess, so I've had plenty to read. And it's all been fun reads. I could only find little quibbles; I didn't have any reason to feel like heaving a book across the room.
Let the books begin:

The Bell at Sealey Head
by Patricia A. McKillip. 2008, Ace. 277 pp. Fantasy
Sealey Head sits on the ocean, a small village in "once upon a time". Judd Cauley runs his father’s failing inn and fancies Gwyenth Blair. Then there is his rival for Gwyenth’s attentions, Raven Sproule; the mysterious visitor Ridley Dow; and the aged owner of the great house, Lady Eglantyne. And we mustn’t forget the unseen bell that rings every night at sundown. I love McKillip’s books. In this one the words delicately pick their way through the action in worlds both mundane and faerie to create a story to enchant us all.

The Body in the Gallery by Katherine Hall Page. 2008, William Morrow. 262 pp. Mystery
Faith Fairchild is a caterer in Aleford, MA who dabbles in solving mysteries on the side. Unlike many other such caterers, who have husbands involved in law enforcement, her husband is a minister. In this, the 17rh Faith Fairchild mystery, she takes on art fraud while dealing with such domestic issues as cyberbullying and a husband who suddenly seems to need a stay at home wife. As is common with culinary mysteries, there are a few recipes at the end. This is the first book I’ve read in this award winning series. While the husband is a minister and Faith is also a Preacher’s Kid, this is not what I would consider a Christian Fiction.

The French Admiral by Dewey Lambdin. 1990, Donald I. Fine. 414 pp. Fiction
For people who enjoy their 18th and 19th century naval fiction (Can you say Patrick O’Brien?), this book takes place during the final years of the American Revolution. It is told from the British naval viewpoint which gives a slightly different tang to the story. In the first book of the series, The King’s Coat (which I haven’t read), our hero Alan Lewrie is pressed into His Majesty’s Royal Navy at the behest of his father, where he acquitted himself well enough to win a second book. In this one he continues his winning ways, finding willing wenches, plenty of liquid refreshment, and lots of adventure. His participation in some of the action is certainly involuntary, but he manages.

The Frontiersman: The Real Life and The Many Legends of Davy Crockett by Mark Derr. 1993, William Morrow. 304 pp. Biography
If you grew up in the 1950s you probably could sing all twenty verses of Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier. But Walt Disney didn’t get it quite right (Surprise, surprise!).
Derr has attempted a biography of a man who a) lived in a time period when record keeping was a little looser, b) in a part of the country where record keeping was a little looser, and c) was a lot less likely to let his personal thoughts and feelings hang out. This means that Derr has to make some assumptions, which he is quick to point out and defend. This was an interesting and wide-ranging read, with stories of the politicians (Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren), Texans (Sam Houston, Stephen Austin), and others (Daniel Boone, Edgar Allan Poe) whose names we may or may not remember.

Save Weeping for the Night by Loula Grace Erdman. 1975, Dodd, Mead. 205 pp. Fiction
A fictionalize account of Bettie Shelby, wife of Confederate General Jo Shelby. This is a love story of a woman who "stands by her man". Bettie and her two children spent at least part of the war following the Confederate army with her husband. At the end of the war Shelby refused to surrender and took his like-minded men to Mexico. Bettie and children followed. Eventually, Shelby felt he could return with honor to the US and sent his wife and family too. This is a gentle read, a good historical fiction for people who want Civil War period books without the blood and grit.

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer. 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 195 pp. Fiction
The early 1950s are often looked at with nostalgia as a kind of Golden Age of domestic relations in the US. Somehow the reality doesn’t always jibe. Story of a Marriage takes place in California after the close of World War II and shows us more of what life really held for many. Holland, Pearlie, and their boy Sonny, and Holland’s twin aunts live in San Francisco. Their world changes when the stranger enters with his offer of $10,000. This is an old fashioned novel, in the best meaning of those words, telling a story in a straightforward manner with honesty and dignity.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling. 2008, Scholastic. 111 pp Children's Fantasy
Five slight tales with commentary by the eminent Albus Dumbledore; translated from the ancient runes by Hermione Granger. The tales are common mundane fairy tale types, but with a magical twist, not the magic is the main focus of them. Dumbledore’s notes are rather puzzling; at times the remarks seems very cynical while in others they lean toward more helpful criticism. The profits from this book go toward Rowling’s charitiable foundation to aid children

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. 2008, Free Press. 229 pp. Nonfiction
Okay, I was skeptical on this one, but I was willing to try it. After all, just two month ago I’d had an Australian barn owl sit on my knee for a few minutes at a raptor show on Kangaroo Island and he was adorable. But… most of the people who do these books tend to go way overboard. I’m glad to say I really enjoyed this book. Parts of it are not for the squeamish (oooh, owl spit, owl pellets, owl shit), parts of it are a little preachy (although not as much as I feared it might be), but other parts are downright hilarious and/or heartwarming. O’Brien does a nice job of showing why people should NOT try this at home; she’s a biologist specializing in animal behavior, and initially took Wesley as part of her job.


I admit I cried at the end when Wesley died. Actually, I don’t know why it’s a spoiler; all good animal books end with the animal dying and at least this was of old age.***

Monday, December 8, 2008

Not too many books this time around.

I;m sorry the photos of the book jackets went away. The technology curse has struck again and I'm just struggling today to get the typing in. I'll work on the picture angle for the next installment. But let's go on to the books...

A Book of Books, photographs by Abelardo Morell, preface by Nicholson Baker. 2002, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown. 106 pp. Non-fiction

This is a nice coffeetable-sized book filled with black and white pictures of books. The only commentaries, other than the preface, are quotes about books and writing by variou
s authors. It is too large and hefty to be a good bathroom book, but it is the kind of book to sip and savor your way through. No need to hurry or even "read" in any particular order. Most of the pictures are ones you can look at several times and see something new each time.

The Dressmaker by Elizabeth Birklund Oberbeck. 2006, Henry Holt. 306 pp.

Claude is a French dressmaker like his father and grandfather before him. He crafts the most exquisite wedding dresses which leads him to a new client, Valentine, who gives him free rein with her gown. He falls in love with his ideal woman and his life changes forever. The endless descriptions of Valentine remind me of Audrey Hepburn, but she comes across as a curiously shadowy character. Claude’s wife is very one dimensional (can you say "social climber"?), but then, so are most of the other characters. This was a first novel. I’d say Oberbeck should write some more—her writing is interesting, even if the characters are a little uneven.

The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin. 1958/1987, Academy Chicago Publishers. 190 pp.
Louise Henderson has a baby that cries ALL the time and it is driving her crazy. She can’t sleep, her husband can’t sleep, the doctor is surprisingly unsympathetic, and Louise can’t take it. Miss Brandon comes to stay and everything starts skidding out of control. (Cue the ominous music.) This is a really good suspense novel. It’s been around for awhile but is well worth reading.

Mistress of the Sun
by Sandra Gulland. 2008, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster. 382 pp. Historical Fiction

Louise de la Valli√®re became the mistress of the Sun King, Louis XIV, whose life outshone so many in seventeenth century France. She was born into a poor family, too poor for her to even join the convent as she wished to. She was horse crazy, slightly lame, and religious, unlikely royal mistress material. Then her widowed mother married a marquise and thus began Louise’s introduction to court and her rise to fame and love. This is the ideal historical fiction…the pace moves on a slower scale, much like the times. Gulland attempted to recreate the sights, sounds, and smells of the time period. For people who are somewhat historically challenged there is a good genealogy chart at the beginning and a nice glossary at the end. This is well worth reading if you like historical fiction. Gulland is the author of the trilogy Josephine B.

Oneskein: 30 Quick Projects to Knit and Crochet by Leigh Radford. 2006, Interweave Press. 128 pp. Non-fiction
I’m always looking for projects to knit and preferrably ones that don’t take forever to do. There are several in here that I really want to try—after I finish knitting the second sock I just started. (Or maybe I should just find a one-legged friend to give the first sock to.)
Anyway, I like the looks of these projects. And no, the title is not a typo on my part, it’s all one word.

My friend RT reads a lot of political and current events nonfiction. He has offered this comment on a book he has been reading:

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston. 2007, Penguin. 323 pp. Non-fiction.

In exhaustively researched chapter after chapter, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Johnston explains how many of America’s wealthiest citizens have used tax laws and legislation to enlarge their bank accounts. Should taxpayers subsidize health care companies, golf courses, ballparks and sporting goods stores? This title offers a timely look at how we could reduce the federal budget and ensure that our taxes help every American live a better life, not just the wealthy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Getting back in the Swim as A Reader

After several months of not keeping track of what I've been reading, I'm back. I'll probably post just once or twice a week, depending on what else is going on in my life.

Life Skills by Katie Fforde. 1999, Random. 343 pp. Fiction

Julia quits her job, dumps her fianc√© Oscar, and takes a job as a crewman on a canal boat. Just your average chick lit, but Fforde has a way with words that makes you want to know more about Julia, her new boss Suzy, Fergus, and even Julia’s bossy mother. The characters may be stereotypes--Suzy is the classic ditzy society girl, Oscar the dumb as a post fiance who refuses to stay dumped, but it all works. I don’t know how I managed to miss this one when it came out. Send me more Katie Fforde for when I just can't face another earnest book with a heavy handed message.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. 2008, Random. 270 pp. Fiction

Olive Kitteridge is the school teacher, wife, and mother who figures in these thirteen stories. Some of them she is one of the main figures; in others she has just a cameo role. We see her life from middle age onward as it moves through disappointments, small satisfactions, and grief. It is hard to be very sympathetic toward her most of the time, but the interest is in how she moves through her world. I found this a very satisfying read.

On Kingdom Mountain by Howard Frank Mosher. 2007, Houghton, Mifflin. 274 pp. Fiction

Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson, lives on Kingdom Mountain in northern Vermont in the 1930s. She is a feisty fifty-year old who relies on her razor-sharp tongue, over-under shotgun, and a few drams of Who Shot Sam to aid her fight against the proposed highway across "her" mountain. Then she befriends stunt pilot weathermaker Henry Satterfield who is looking for a long lost stash of Confederate gold. I enjoyed this book a lot, although the story moves slowly. I think it could even be a fun movie if they could find someone like Katherine Hepburn to play the part of Miss Jane.

The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. 2002, Harcourt. 307 pp. Fiction

Candida confides her story of rejection, divorce, and alienation to her computer. Her struggles with her health club, her problems with people nearly defeat her, but she keeps bobbing back. She reminds me in a way of A. A. Milne’s Eeyore. But this book is not depressing. Margaret Drabble’s books are not for the faint hearted. Not that they are filled with violence, smut, or foul language. Quite the opposite. Her books are very literate, often wry, and thought provoking. They are not quick reads with interchangeable plots and characters. Don’t let it put you off, though, because she is worth reading.

The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines. 2007, HarperCollins 317 pp. Mystery

This "soft-boiled" mystery is set in 1940’s New York City. Miss Winter is an aspiring actress who lives in the George Bernard Shaw House "for wayward actresses", but her day job is filing at Jim McCain’s detective agency. Things get dicey when McCain is murdered and she becomes involved with police, society dames, mobsters, and fellow thespians. A good choice for people who don’t like their hard boiled mysteries too gory or gritty. A sequel, The Winter of Her Discontent, follows, but I haven’t read it yet.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. 2006, Harcourt. 345 pp. Fiction

"Can’t cook, but doesn’t bite." What a great start to a position wanted ad and an adventure in living in 1909 Montana. Rose is an unexpected housekeeper for the three motherless Milliron boys and their father Oliver. She and her brother Morrie bring sunshine, life, and learning to the rural community. A paean to an earlier way of life, The Whistling Season reads fast and lively.