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Review: Miss Seeton Quilts the Village: A Miss Seeton Mystery, by Hamilton Crane, Heron Carvic. Farrago.

Well! Lady Colveden says it for all us fans of Miss Seeton in the opening lines of this book: “Welcome back, Miss Seeton!” After a 20-year gap, we now have a NEW Miss Seeton story to read: Book 22 in the series, I believe.

 

I don’t know who is actually “Hamilton Crane” these days, but this author has created a seamless flow from the last book to this one. In Book 21, “Bon Jour, Miss Seeton” Lady Colveden’s son Nigel meets the lovely Louise, daughter of a French comte. At last, after encountering a grand offering of sweet young things, Nigel has met and wed Miss Right (Louise).

 

So now Miss Seeton and Plummergen can get on with business. The village, inspired by Louise’s stories of the French Bayeux Tapestry, decides to put together its own needlework version of Plummergen history, with all inhabitants invited to contribute a piece. Miss Seeton’s role is to create an overall design incorporating all the individual offerings.

 

Seems a pleasant activity, but we know our Miss Seeton. It’s not long before she is creating her mysterious drawings and encountering hidden artwork and other artifacts of an earlier time. Soon we are looking at a Satanic Henry VIII, Nazi radio paraphernalia, priest’s holes, mysterious foreigners, and Scotland Yard put to work on what proves to be a task with a hidden agenda. Superintendent Delphick and his stalwart Scotland Yard forces, once again, find answers in Miss Seeton’s cryptic drawings.

 

This is a most entertaining story, and our Miss Seeton comes through again, the bad guys are routed, and the village presents its completed quilt for all to admire. But at the end, there’s one stray thread left dangling . . .

 

Oh well, we will just have to wait for the next book.

 

My heartfelt thanks to NetGalley and Farrago for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: Hunting Hour: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery by Margaret Mizushima. Crooked Lane Books

Book Description (from NetGalley)

Deputy Mattie Cobb is in a dark place and has withdrawn from Cole Walker and his family to work on issues from her past. When she and her K-9 partner Robo get called to track a missing junior high student, they find the girl dead on Smoker’s Hill behind the high school, and Mattie must head to the Walker home to break the bad news. But that’s only the start of trouble in Timber Creek, because soon another girl goes missing—and this time it’s one of Cole’s daughters.

Knowing that each hour a child remains missing lessens the probability of finding her alive, Mattie and Robo lead the hunt while Cole and community volunteers join in to search everywhere. To no avail. It seems that someone has snatched all trace of the Walker girl from their midst, including her scent. Grasping at straws, Mattie and Robo follow a phoned-in tip into the dense forest, where they hope to find a trace of the girl’s scent and to rescue her alive. But when Robo does catch her scent, it leads them to information that challenges everything they thought they knew about the case.

My Review:

This book is the third in a series featuring deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo. It is not a happy story, involving the death of one teenage girl, while another is missing. Mattie herself is troubled by past issues, causing her to isolate herself from Cole Walker and their developing relationship.

 

The story is edgy, presented in a present-time scenario that leaves us as troubled as Mattie herself. But the shining hero of the story is the intrepid Robo and the other splendid canines enlisted in the hunt for the missing girl.

 

The author shows us a lot about how trained dogs go about their important tasks, and how their officer partners learn to work with them. The book held my attention from beginning to end.

Review: The Blue Cat of Castle Town, by Catherine Cate Coblentz; illustrated by Janice Holland. Dover Books.

About the book: from the Dover back cover:

 

My review:

This is an utterly charming book, front to back. It is ostensibly a children’s book, but where is it written that only children get to have fun or enjoy beautiful offerings?

The Blue Cat of Castle Town is a fable about a beautiful blue kitten growing to cathood, based on 19th-century Vermont history and artifacts. First published in 1950 and a Newbery Honor book, Dover is offering this as a labor of love and a celebration of a time when beauty, peace, and contentment were valued qualities. I found this book just enchanting. I got the eBook version from NetGalley (thank you!) but the Kindle version they offered did not work on my device, so I purchased one from Amazon. I plan to obtain the Dover paperback version (multiples, to use as gifts) as soon as it is available. I give this book five stars. I would award more if they were available. I LOVE this book! It is a gem to cherish.

Review: Perish from the Earth: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery, by Jonathan F. Putnam. Crooked Lane Books.

Description (quoted from NetGalley):

 

Newly minted trial lawyer Abraham Lincoln is riding the circuit, traveling by carriage with other lawyers and a judge to bring justice to the remote parts of Illinois. Meanwhile, Lincoln’s close friend Joshua Speed steams up the Mississippi River aboard a steamboat owned by Speed’s father when suddenly, his journey is interrupted when a rigged card game aboard the ship turns to violence–and then murder.

When a young traveling artist is accused of the crime, Speed enlists Lincoln to defend him. Together, Lincoln and Speed work to find evidence of the artist’s innocence. But soon they come to discover that more than just the card games are crooked aboard the Speed family’s ship. As the day of judgment hurtles towards them, Lincoln and Speed must fight to save not only the life of Lincoln’s client but also the merit of Speed’s good name.

Meticulously research and deftly plotted, Jonathan F. Putnam’s second Lincoln and Speed mystery, Perish from the Earth is the superlative follow-up to These Honored Dead, praised by Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin as “Splendid…one of the most enjoyable works of fiction I have read in a long time.”

 

My review:

 

Apparently, this is the second Lincoln and Speed Mystery that Mr. Putnam has given us. This is a splendid book, an engaging and thought-provoking tale masterfully told. A skillful mixture of fact and fiction, it held my interest as much for the vividness of the historical setting and the excellence of the characters as for its intriguing plot, imbued with the issues and events of its time.

 

I was especially taken with the description of the complexity and challenge of the river traffic. I had really no idea how much arduous effort it took to power a steamboat. Imagine strong men carrying huge logs and loading them to be used as fuel to power the boat, and the craft and knowledge it required to captain and navigate such a vessel.

 

Mr. Putnam has given us much historical information, considerable food for thought and contemplation, and a finely-plotted story to savor.

 

My thanks to author, publisher, and NetGalley for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Blog Tour and Review: Court of Lions by Jane Johnson. Head of Zeus. Publication Date 6 July 2017

I am pleased to participate in this blog tour for COURT OF LIONS.

THE STORY
Kate Fordham, escaping terrible trauma, has fled to the beautiful sunlit city of Granada, the ancient capital of the Moors in Spain, where she is scraping by with an unfulfilling job in a busy bar. One day in the glorious gardens of the Alhambra, once home to Sultan Abu Abdullah Mohammed, also known as Boabdil, Kate finds a scrap of paper hidden in one of the ancient walls. Upon it, in strange symbols, has been inscribed a message from another age. It has lain undiscovered since before the Fall of Granada in 1492, when the city was surrendered to Queen Isabella and King
Ferdinand. Born of love, in a time of danger and desperation, the fragment will be the catalyst that changes Kate’s life forever.

COURT OF LIONS brings one of the great turning-points in history to life, telling the stories of a modern woman and the last Moorish sultan of Granada, as they both move towards their cataclysmic destinies.

THE AUTHOR
JANE JOHNSON is a British novelist and publisher. She is the UK editor for George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb and Dean Koontz and was for many years publisher of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Married to a Berber chef she met while researching The Tenth Gift, she lives in Cornwall and Morocco.

MY REVIEW:
COURT OF LIONS is a mesmerizing book, skillfully weaving together two stories seven centuries apart. The tale unfolds in tantalizing fashion, with present-day events alternating with flashbacks of the current-day story even as we encounter episodes from a totally different story of Moorish Spain, seven centuries earlier.

This work is a tour de force of writing skill, with the two disparate stories intertwining in a complex tapestry. At first the connection between the two threads is not clear. But soon we experience small ahas! of recognition as we perceive links in the saga when passing items and events start to mesh together and gain meaning.

My knowledge of the storied past of Spain is not as good as it should be. I found myself having to revise my historical perspective. In grade school we learned about Christopher Columbus, and I can recall positive views for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand for their support of Columbus’ epic journey of discovery.

What I did not put together with that schooldays view of Columbus’ achievement is its proximity to the dreadful events of the Spanish Inquisition. So, we get here a story that is by turn breathtakingly beautiful and shockingly savage. Some of this is really hard to read. Religious persecution is not pretty. And it seems we have learned little from these lessons of the past. We have so much to be grateful for, take so much for granted, and too often forget the price that has been paid for our progress.

Jane Johnson has provided a beautiful and terrible tale, exquisitely told.

My thanks to Suzanne Sangster of Head of Zeus Books for providing an advance copy to read and review.

Review: The State Counsellor: A Fandorin Mystery, by Boris Akunin. Grove Atlantic.

I came new to this character of Erast Fandorin; apparently this is the sixth in the series and has garnered quite a crowd of admiring readers.

 

Set in 1891 Moscow, this is a densely written story with a number of absolutely fascinating characters with multisyllabic Russian names. The sense of the ponderousness of the social structure and the blinding formality of the system surrounded me early on.

 

This is a most admirable book, and Boris Akunin is a gifted writer. His presentation of the characters we meet are so rich in detail that I was in awe of his ability to use language to further his tale. The story is suspenseful and masterfully told; it is difficult to follow the thread at times, and even more challenging to know just who we are rooting for. Ultimately, the only one we are sure of is the splendid Fandorin.

 

For those who like thrillers, this book is a riveting read. It is a savage and brutal story of intrigue, loyalty, and betrayal, masterfully written.

Review: The Rhino Who Swallowed A Storm, by LeVar Burton & Susan Schaefer Bernardo. Illustrations by Courtenay Fletcher. Reading Rainbow.

This is a wonderful book! Having previously reviewed Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs and The Big Adventures of Tiny House, I am an unabashed admirer of the work of Susan Schaefer Bernardo and Courtenay Fletcher. Now, in this book, they have joined forces with the insightful and talented LeVar Burton.

 

In this story we encounter young Mica Mouse, so scared by a storm that she feels she has swallowed it and it is playing havoc with her feelings. Fortunately for Mica, she has a loving and caring Papa and a flock of understanding and helpful friends who help her find a way to quiet the storm and be at peace.

 

I am a licensed psychotherapist, and have worked with troubled children for many years now. Clinical literature tells us that, even in our 21st century, anxiety in children is not well understood. It is frequently under diagnosed or misdiagnosed. It is often mistaken for being oppositional, disobedient or defiant. In fact, these behaviors may represent the child’s desperate attempts to avoid or cope with disturbing feelings that they may not know how to identify and/or communicate. What is important for adults to understand is that the child, lacking the maturity and judgment to determine what dangers are real or imagined, is developmentally entitled to experience fears, and to feel anxious when he is afraid.

 

A child who is anxious or fearful may indeed feel he/she has swallowed a storm, as the central character in this story, and be very troubled and yet lack the means to identify the source of the fear, or to know what to do about it to quiet the turbulence.

 

So, this book is an outstanding resource for children, parents, teachers, and therapists. It presents a story that children can resonate to, and provides answers that they can feel comforted and soothed by. The story is beautifully and poetically told, and brilliantly illustrated. The time-honored approach of storytelling is used to fine effect here, and there is also a useful page of questions at the end of the story to help the reader/child to apply Mica’s story to his/her own experiences.

 

My thanks to Susan Bernardo for providing a copy of this book to read and review.

Review: The Beckoning Lady (A Campion Mystery) by Margery Allingham. Kindle Edition. Ipso Books.

Albert Campion is spending the summer in Pontisbright with his family, visiting the charming, eccentric Minnie and Tonker Cassand for their renowned summertime festivities.

 

Amanda and Albert are saddened by the recent death of the beloved but aged man they called “Uncle William”. Nonetheless, Mr. Campion is looking forward to a pleasant summer vacation with friends.

 

But from the first chapter, going into the story, we know that all is not well, since we have already been apprised of the presence of as-yet-undiscovered body hidden in the lovely countryside village grounds.

 

As always, Margery Allingham treats us to vivid personalities and lively surroundings, brilliantly conveyed in masterful words.

 

Of particular interest in this book is the presence of the Scotland Yard man Charles Luke, a long-time Campion partner in a number of cases. But this time, the strong competent detective is in a new circumstance: he is in love, and he hasn’t a clue how to deal with that. His friends, observing this unfamiliar scenario, are at a loss to support him.

 

This is of course a corking good mystery, but it is the stories of the people involved that make this particular Allingham book so compelling and ultimately satisfying.

 

My sincerest thanks to Camilla of the Margery Allingham Estate for providing a copy of this book for me to read and review.

Review: The Miss Seeton Series: Books 1-3 (A Miss Seeton Mystery). Kindle Edition. Ferrago, an imprint of Prelude Books.

This Box Set includes three Miss Seeton stories, previously received through NetGAlley and reviewed singly in May and July, 2016. Reviews are collected together below:

 

  1. PICTURE MISS SEETON

 

The first, and possibly the funniest, of the Miss Seeton stories. A laugh-out-loud murder mystery? You bet! Picture this: Miss Marple with the Keystone Kops as staged by Mel Brooks with a hint of Beatrix Potter.

 

That would be this story, featuring Miss Seeton, respectable spinster art teacher. She is having a lovely evening. After hearing “Carmen” at Covent Garden. Bizet’s beguiling tunes are running through Miss Seeton’s head even as she bewails Don José’s unseemly and “unnecessary” stabbing of Carmen. Miss Seeton is looking forward to a nice stay in the country at her newly inherited cottage, “Sweetbriars.”

 

Walking down an alley on her way home, she is displeased to encounter a young couple, the girl exclaiming in French, and the boy striking the girl. This is too much for Miss Seeton, who prods the ungentlemanly boy in the back. From there, the story is a lively dash for Miss Seeton, her “battling brolly” and her ever-useful sketchpad.

 

Our story is set in English country settlement of Plummergan, and stocked with a cast of memorable characters. Of course there is the vicar, Arthur Treeves who Does His Best, and his sister Molly who runs him; Sir George, Lady Colvedon, and their son Nigel; Miss Nuttel and Mrs. Blaine, dedicated to providing the latest, though perhaps not the most accurate, news to the village; Mrs. Venning, successful author of children’s stories featuring Jack the Rabbit, and her daughter Angela; Mrs. Bloomer, who “does” for Miss Seeton; and of course the Scotland yard men: Superintendent Delphick (The Oracle), whose admiration of Miss Seeton’s abilities grows throughout the book, and of course his stalwart sergeant, Bob Ranger.

 

In other words, a fairly typical English village murder mystery–but with an important difference. The author is a gifted storyteller. I started reading, and soon found myself chuckling at the literate, spot-on descriptions of these characters and their foibles. Miss Seeton sails serenely on, encountering numerous events that would unsettle most people, meeting each obstacle with her unique but effective resources. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and enthusiastically recommend it.

 

  1. MISS SEETON DRAWS THE LINE

 

Once again, Miss Seeton is requested to lend her unique sketching talents to Scotland Yard. This time, there is a series of child stranglings without any leads. Also in Miss Seeton’s little village there has been a series of burglaries leaving residents missing some of their most prized possessions.

 

Miss Seeton is asked to sketch the children of the village. All goes well, if unremarkably, until Miss S. tries to sketch little Effie Goffer. Indeed, she feels quite embarrassed that her picture goes seriously awry, with wavy lines across it. Of course, being as how this is Miss S. the odd drawing turns out to be significant, although not quite in the way Scotland Yard had hoped.

 

As usual, the village gossip line is working overtime and the stories surrounding Miss Seeton are becoming downright ludicrous. Leave it to Mel, an enterprising young journalist, to put the false and misleading stories in their place.

 

Miss Seeton soldiers on, finding difficulties with her bank and also encountering yet another young person whose picture she cannot complete. In the course of events, Miss Seeton comes into harm’s way but ultimately succeeds with the help of a few stalwart friends and, of course, her trusty brolly.

 

Author Carvic leads us on a merry chase with an outcome that Miss Seeton’s fans will relish.

 

  1. WITCH MISS SEETON

 

I am an enthusiastic fan of the Miss Seeton books–especially the early ones by Heron Carvic. This book finds our Miss Seeton being made an official part of the police force, still in her role as occasional sketch artist to help the authorities with particular problems.

 

This time, there is a double plot at work–one involving black magic, witchery and the occult, and the other centered on a new religious sect called Nuscience whose principal goal seems to be to separate affluent members from their money and valuables. Of course, Miss Seeton find herself involved with both the witches and Nuscience and her duties become quite hazardous.

 

In truth, I didn’t find this book as laugh-out-loud funny as some other Miss Seeton books I have read recently. The plot is rather intricate and the author becomes enmeshed in a detailed description of both sinister plots and their inner workings. I found this section a bit tedious. Also, a central character is named Merilee (similar to my first name). Perhaps I am oversensitive, but in my experience this name is rarely found in literature, and when it is the character is often a bit off. This book follows that pattern–although this Merilee does redeem herself–at a cost–in the end.

 

But back to the central character: in the course of her work Miss Seeton serves as a substitute teacher for a short time, and the story of how she interacts with the youngsters, turning their boredom into enthusiasm, is engaging. Since I spent several years as a teacher myself, I particularly enjoyed that aspect of the book.

 

Once again, Miss Seeton’s helpers–human and angelic–find themselves highly challenged keeping the determined little lady safe. Events are also particularly hard on the brollys–several are destroyed or severely damaged in the course of the story. And once again, Miss Seeton foils the evildoers and emerges from her labors relatively unscathed by her daredevil feats.

Review: The Big Adventures of Tiny House by Susan Schaefer Bernardo (author); Courtenay Fletcher (illustrator). Inner Flower Child Books

This is a wonderful book. I reviewed with great appreciation an earlier book by this same author and illustrator, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs. It is so heartening to see another small masterpiece created by this pair.

 

The story of Tiny, an old farmhouse reborn as a wonderfully snug little home with wheels, discovering the big world mirrors the world of the child embarking on his own life journey of discovery.

 

The pictures are marvelous; the message is timely. In our world, home is becoming a central issue for our society. For children, home and security are essential to their sense of self and growth. As a licensed psychotherapist working with children and families for over twenty years, I would recommend this book wholeheartedly for parents and children to experience together.

My thanks to authors, publisher, and NetGalley for sharing an advance copy to read and review.