31 January 2022

Books Completed Since January 1

book icon  An Oxfordshire Christmas, compiled by David Green

book icon  Moravian Christmas in the South, Nancy Smith Thomas

book icon  Murder at the Mistletoe Ball, J.D. Griffo
This is the sixth in Griffo's Ferrara Family Mystery stories, wherein Alberta Ferrara Scaglione, her sister Helen (a former nun), her ex-sister-in-law Joyce (who's African-American and divorced from Berta's brother Rocco), and her granddaughter Gina, known to everyone as "Jinx," a journalist for the local New Jersey paper, have had their hands full solving mysteries around the little town of Tranquility, New Jersey, ever since Alberta inherited a lake house from her aunt. But now Alberta and Co. not only have a new mystery, but there's a chance that she might finally be reunited with her estranged daughter Lisa Marie. She and her daughter have always locked horns, especially when Lisa Marie decided to marry Tommy Maldonado instead of attending college. But now Jinx's rather wild brother Sergio has vanished after becoming enfatuated with a woman named Natalie, and Lisa Marie needs her mother's help.

And she needs it even more when Sergio is accused of Natalie's murder.

Christmas hijinks with the Ferraras along with Helen's old nemesis Father Sal, Alberta's new beau Sloan, and Jinx's boyfriend Freddy, plus the mystery of Natalie's death, and a little help from Tranquility's police chief Vinny D'Angelo, all wrapped up in the usual Italian sayings and descriptions of food, food, food (how do the Ferrara folks stay so skinny eating all this food?). We finally get to meet Lisa Marie (who's always sounded like a bit of a pill) and Tommy, and discover they're not so bad after all.

(My mystery after reading this: is Griffo a closet Law & Order: Criminal Intent fan? Because his description of Vinny sounds like a young Vincent D'Onofrio down to his being six foot four and having size thirteen shoes, and the character even has a sister Frances, which was the name of D'Onofrio's character's mothers name on CI. Awfully coincidental!)

book icon  Re-read: The Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling
As a child I had The Jungle Book in a Grosset & Dunlap edition, and then borrowed (alas, never returned) a book called All the Mowgli Stories from a friend and in this way learned there had been a second Jungle Book. Some time last year or the year before found a beautifully illustrated edition of both books—but it was missing one story. This Penguin Classics edition I picked up at, of all places, 5 Below, remedies that by including "In the Rukh," which was actually the first Mowgli story, about him as an adult.

It's also an annotated edition, and, if you know me, know I adore annotated books! In addition, it includes a general preface that is an overview of Kipling which includes the truths about his imperialism, and an introduction and a note on the texts used (British and American texts differed slightly) by postcolonial professor Kaori Nagai, who places the tales in perspective from both a British and an Indian point of view.

And then, of course, the tales of Mowgli as well as the other beloved stories like "Rikki Tikki Tavi" and "The White Seal," plus the few from The Second Jungle Book, which, in my opinion, are not as good except for "Quiquern," a tale of the Inuit. I couldn't resist starting to reread the moment I brought it home, and it's always a lovely journey going back to Mowgli's jungle. And all the nice references to "St. Nicholas" help, too!

book icon  Wintering, Katherine May
It was one of those years when everything went wrong. May's husband became seriously ill, then her son began having problems in school. Even worse, she began having severe stomach pains and was forced to leave her stressful job. This is the story of how she chose to "winter" after enduring these multiple crises, and how that choice put her life back into perspective.

This is a beautifully-written volume about living a low-key life, immersing your life in nature and in homely (as the British say) activities that restored her, and her family to equilibrium. She does this by celebrating the seasons rather than dreading them, learning the lore of the "wintering" preparations people once followed in simpler times. She indulged in cold water bathing, visited the Arctic, went to Stonehenge for the winter solstice, celebrates Christmas and Hallowe'en. I was mesmerized by her "rest" that encompassed new experiences. A perfect bedtime book.

book icon  Re-read: An Irish Hostage, Charles Todd
In 1916, nurse Bess Crawford saved fellow nurse Eileen Flynn's life when the ship they were on, transporting injured soldiers from the front lines of the Great War, was torpedoed. Now it's 1919, the war is over, and Eileen has asked Bess to be her maid of honor in her wedding to Michael Sullivan. But there are still terrible frictions between England and Ireland, and Bess' parents and her father's assistant Simon Brandon, are fearful of her traveling across Ireland by train. Instead, to assuage them all, Bess arranges to be flown to Eileen's home by Captain Arthur Jackson, an American still stationed in England. When Bess arrives at Eileen's house, she discovers Michael is missing, most probably kidnapped by Irish nationalists, possibly because, like Eileen, he "took the king's shilling" and worked on the side of the enemy. Are Bess and Michael's best man, another Englishman, Major Ellis Dawson, also in danger?

Historically it's easy to forget that 100 years ago the Irish were nearly rooting for the Germans, so terrible had been the English stewardship of Ireland, with its domineering landlords who sent thousands of starving Irish fleeing to the United States during the potato famine of 1849, the remaining population treated not much better than slaves. Three years after the bloody Easter Rising, the Irish nationalists still want revenge for the murder of the men who stood their ground at the Dublin post office, and you can understand their passions.

On the other hand, this really wasn't what I wanted in another Bess Crawford book. I know the war is over, and I know Bess will have a great lifestyle change now that her nursing duties appear to be complete. But I think I'd rather have her solving mysteries related to the Great War than making a detour into Irish politics. The ending of the story seems to come out of another book completely, like an espionage thriller. So—enjoyed and kept my interest, but like the WWI-set plots better.

And for those who keep asking: yes, there's the tiniest bit of progress with the Bess/Simon UST.

book icon  Wild Irish Rose, Rhys Bowen and Clare Broyles
It's been awhile since I've seen a Molly Murphy mystery, so I was delighted when this showed up on NetGalley. It's winter in New York and Molly is busy tending to her lively two-year-old son Liam, her adopted daughter Bridie, and her husband Daniel Sullivan, a police captain, while enjoying her relationship with her unconventional neighbors "Sid" and "Gus." Since winter began, however, Molly's grumpy mother-in-law has been staying with them, which has tempered Molly's happiness somewhat.

One winter's day Molly and Bridie accompany Sid and Gus in taking warm clothing to Ellis Island to give out to new immigrants along with other society ladies, including Cordelia Ransome, a snooty girl who's just become engaged to a viscount. When Molly and Bridie arrive home, they discover there was a murder on the island while they were there, an English detective, and an immigrant Irish girl just like Molly had been not many years earlier is accused of the crime. Molly tracks down the girl and after meeting her, is convinced of her innocence and is determined to clear her.

While this is a rather complex mystery with twists and turns I did get it into my head who the murderer was about halfway through and turned out to be correct. It did, however, mix the mystery well with Molly coping with her mother-in-law, with Bridie who's going through "growing pains" and (while being schooled by Sid and Gus) being spoiled by her best friends, and even dealing with her memories of Ireland. While the action gets a bit melodramatic during the conclusion, it's great to see Molly, Daniel, and all the "old gang" (including Ryan O'Hare and Mrs. van Woekem) once again.

book icon  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Double Dealer, Max Allan Collins
First in a series of original novels based on the television series.

The Las Vegas criminalists are investigating two crimes: a murder that occurred fifteen years earlier that has just been discovered on a construction site; the mummified body had been buried under a trailer. The second case is a lawyer who was murdered in a casino; his death looking very much like a mob hit by an assassin who has a very distinctive "signature" to his jobs. But once back in the labs, it's discovered that both the old murder and the new one bear the same "signature."

Collins does a great job of making his novel sound like a movie-length version of a CSI episode. He has the characters, from enigmatic Gil Grissom and seasoned investigator Catherine Willows down to flaky tech Greg Sanders, down well and has the format of the series down pat. If you could never get enough of the television series, the books are a good addition to your collection.