A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3)A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading or re-reading this series. I am listening to the audio versions so wonderfully narrated by Jayne Entwistle, but I have also purchased these for my e-reader to savor again later. We are beginning to see themes that hopefully will be resolved in the future, especially the mystery surrounding Flavia’s mother and how she died.

Description: When a Gypsy caravan is passing through town, Flavia has a soothsayer read her fortune. Later, the old fortune teller is found bludgeoned in her own caravan. Was this an act of retribution by those convinced that the soothsayer had abducted a local child years ago? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores; revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how could this crime be connected to the missing baby? Had it something to do with the weird sect who met at the river to practice their secret rites? While still pondering the possibilities, Flavia stumbles upon another corpse—that of a notorious layabout who had been caught prowling about the de Luce’s drawing room. Pedaling Gladys, her faithful bicycle, across the countryside in search of clues to both crimes, Flavia uncovers some odd new twists. As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets.

 

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The Forgotten Queen

The Forgotten QueenThe Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Setting: England, Scotland
Time: 1498-c1538

Main characters: Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII); James IV, King of Scotland; James V, King of Scotland; Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus; Henry Stewart, Lord Methven.

First paragraph, Chapter One: There was no one high enough to intervene on behalf of my immortal soul, my grandmother had cried. I was a shameful creature, she went on, a wilted petal on the Tudor rose. It was time I was made to examine my wicked ways and repent. Grandmother was through with humble chaplains and confessors. I was a Princess of the Blood; the fate of kingdoms may rest in my finding salvation. Thus I was removed to my godfather, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, where I must come up with an impressive confession. I was certain it wouldn’t take much; I had a wealth of sins to choose from.

Favorite line: Angus, his brother, and his cousin were little more than a glorified group of thugs to me, and I made sure to meet him in a beautiful dove gray velvet gown trimmed with ermine. Despite being married, I allowed my most stunning feature, my coppery hair, to flow free down my back, and it whipped about me in the wind. I was a Celtic goddess of old and I laughed at the comparison. Angus was nothing now. (p. 264)

The feisty, red-haired Margaret is sent away to Scotland at the age of 13 to marry the 30-year-old James IV of Scotland. This is a very readable and historically accurate account of Margaret Tudor’s life – her many pregnancies, the loss of most of her children, her need to be loved and protected and subsequent disastrous choices in men following the death of Jamie, her friendship with the exotic “black Ellen” – told against the background of the political machinations for control of Scotland’s young James V. Having been raised to be a Queen, Margaret expects to be always pampered and loved, and does not reconcile well with her circumstances. D.L. Bogdan has done a good job portraying a flawed, but still likeable woman. This book has a bit of the feel of Jean Plaidy in style, I thought. Although not a romance, it has an emotional style typical of romances, with language like “throbbing,” “cooing,” “sobbing,” etc. And the author has Margaret quickly adopting the Scots dialect, using “canna” and “dinna” in her speech. No explicit sex scenes, so this would be fine for young adults.

Description: From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland. Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…

About the author: D.L Bogdan is a history major, aiming for a master’s so that she might lecture one day. She is also a musician with classical voice training who has been playing keyboards and singing in bands since she was 18. She also enjoys reading, traveling, summer activities, spending time with family and friends, and researching her next novel! She makes her home in central Wisconsin.

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties

Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover's Romp Through Jane Austen's ClassicPride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic by Jane Austen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pride and Prejudice told from a cat’s point-of-view, interspersed with passages from the actual Pride and Prejudice. The retelling was clever – Kitty doesn’t just cough, she coughs up hairballs; the balls are the kind you bat around, maybe extra special with a bell inside; the estate has been end-tailed; etc. This is obviously a contemporary adaption – otherwise references to pill pockets and Fancy Feast would be anachronistic. If you like comparing the changes to the original, you will like the juxtaposition of the two texts. I thought it made the story a bit repetitious. The photos were obviously carefully staged with Jane Austen props. I loved the little inside jokes, and featuring other P&P related books like “Jane Austen for Dummies,” “The Jane Austen Cookbook,” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” I would have liked the “kitty” adaptation to have been illustrated using the same cats for Jane Austen’s characters and to have been separate from the other type of photos. All in all, I think it could have been less story, more photos.

From the inside flap:
“If I can but see one of my kittens happily purring at Netherfield,” remarked Mrs. Bennet to her husband, “and all the others equally well-mated, I shall have nothing to yowl about.” Pride and Prejudice and Kitties juxtaposes wacky photos of cats with the wicked humor of Jane Austen. Soulful Mr. Darcy gazes at Elizabeth Bennet in fascination; hysterical Mrs. Bennet yowls that no one understands her; somnolent Mr. Hurst passes out on the sofa after dinner; arrogant Lady Catherine hisses at Elizabeth. Each photo includes a hilarous caption that goes along with the text of Pride and Prejudice, told from a feline perspective.

Opening chapter:
“Netherfield Park is marked at last.”
The news caused much romping at the Bennet household for, as every cat knows, a handsome young tom in possession of his own territory must be in want of a mate.

Loving Frank

Loving FrankLoving Frank by Nancy Horan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possible spoiler alert! I knew the basic outline of the story of Frank and Mamah going into it, so I dreaded getting to the end of it. Nancy Horan created a very sympathetic portrayal of Mamah – and I really wanted them to have more time together. Probably Frank’s ego and narcissism would have meant that he eventually would have cheated on her. And if Mamah had grown enough to leave him, perhaps she would have gone on to an illustrious career. As it was, these two kindred spirits had a kind of co-dependent relationship that both helped and hindered their individual lives. I think Nancy Horan did a marvelous job with the historical information available to her of staying true to the characters and the time period, and yet getting inside their heads in a very believable way. There were a few gaps in the story where the narrative either glossed over large chunks of time or could have been fleshed out with more details, but I think Ms. Horan wanted to avoid making up anything that wasn’t supported by her research. As it was, she worked an enormous amount of detail into the story, surrounding it with a very elegant style of prose that beautifully evoked the time period, and flowed in a very readable manner. I could have wished for a list of her sources or suggestions for further reading at the end of the book.

Having also listened to T.C. Boyle’s “The Women”, it probably enhanced my understanding of how strongly Frank and Mamah were bound to each other, and how her death affected the rest of his life. Whatever good qualities had drawn her to him died with her and left a hole that he could never fill.

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
“I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.” So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives. In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.

I listened to the audio version narrated by Joyce Bean.

Her Highness’ First Murder

Her Highness' First MurderHer Highness’ First Murder by Peg Herring

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery : Book One.
Setting: Hampstead Castle, London
Time: 1546

Main characters: Elizabeth Tudor (daughter of Henry VIII, future Elizabeth I, Queen of England) – age 13; Simon Malden, son of the court physician at Hampstead Castle, age 14; Hugh Bellows, captain of the Welsh Guard.

First paragraph, Chapter One: Simon heard the cries as they climbed the steep hill to the castle. Screams vibrated with pain and panic, fluctuating between wordless shrieks and “No, don’t!” repeated several times. His father, striding ahead with his soft bag over one shoulder, seemed unaware, but Simon cringed. Despite daily encounters with people in pain, the physician’s son could not become inured to it.

Favorite line: On the way home Elizabeth ignored Bess’ comments on women who waved goodbye by use of a dog’s paw. (p. 115)

This isn’t marketed as young adult, but with two teen-aged protagonists it certainly could be. The language is simple and direct, somewhat like a cozy mystery. Although the murders are gruesome and a couple of the victims are prostitutes, there is no gratuitous violence or sex. The author has clearly done a lot of historical research and I like the way she works details into the plot about clothing, food, descriptions of places, etc. in such a way that it is easy to visualize being there. She has a subtle sense of humor that I enjoyed very much (see favorite line above). Elizabeth is mature beyond her 13 years, and the author lets us know of the queen she will become through her introspection. As a mystery, I was kept guessing. We follow the clues along with Elizabeth and Simon, and we know what they know when they know it. No sudden twist of plot or resolution that comes out of nowhere. I really look forward to reading more of this series.

Description: When headless corpses begin appearing on the streets of London, Elizabeth Tudor is as shocked as everyone else. When one of her own ladies is murdered, Elizabeth joins with new friend Simon Maldon to find the killer. Henry VIII, also shocked by the murders assigns one of his Welsh guardsmen, Hugh, to investigate, since the women are dressed as nuns and might signal new religious troubles. Suspects include a madman, a courtier, a reformer, a well-known criminal, and others, even Elizabeth’s castellan. Simon, discovering that he is good at the art of disguise, plays various parts as he works at narrowing the list. Elizabeth’s part in the investigation is kept secret from the king, who would certainly not approve. But it cannot be kept secret from the killer, and in the end, he turns his attention to them. Simon, Elizabeth, and Hugh face a murderer who is beyond caring how many die, as long as he gets what he wants.

About the author: Peg Herring is a writer of plays, mysteries, and romance who once taught high school language arts and history. In her spare time she travels with her husband of many decades, gardens, directs choral groups, and works to keep her hundred-year-old home from crumbling away.