The Sixth Wife

The Sixth Wife (Tudor Saga, #7)The Sixth Wife by Jean Plaidy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I have read Jean Plaidy for several decades. I devoured her books in my teens and had forgotten how good she is. Her historical research was top-notch, and she worked all those facts seamlessly into her narrative. While it may lack somewhat in psychological depth, for sheer emotional drama she conveys all the horror of being the wife of a psychopathic tyrant.

Book Description: Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, was both foolish and unfaithful, and she paid for it with her life. Henry vowed that his sixth wife would be different, and she was. Katherine Parr was twice widowed and thirty-one years old. A thoughtful, well-read lady, she was known at court for her unblemished reputation and her kind heart. She had hoped to marry for love and had set her heart on Thomas Seymour, the dashing brother of Henry’s third queen. But the aging king—more in need of a nurse than a wife—was drawn to her, and Katherine could not refuse his proposal of marriage.

Queen Katherine was able to soothe the King’s notorious temper, and his three children grew fond of her, the only mother they had ever really known. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a volatile tyrant, books were Katherine’s consolation. But among her intellectual pursuits was an interest in Lutheranism—a religion that the king saw as a threat to his supremacy as head of the new Church of England. Courtiers envious of the Queen’s influence over Henry sought to destroy her by linking her with the “radical” religious reformers. Henry raged that Katherine had betrayed him, and had a warrant drawn up for her arrest and imprisonment. At court it was whispered that the king would soon execute yet another wife. Henry’s sixth wife would have to rely on her wits to survive where two other women had perished. . . .

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I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia De Luce, #4)I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This installment in the Flavia de Luce series felt more like a Christmas special than a full-length feature. We get cameo appearances of previous characters (charming but serving no purpose) all thrown together at Buckshaw during a winter storm. The plot is pretty thin, and the mystery seems very contrived. The characters involved are never really brought to life, so the murder and its resolution are relatively lackluster. Oh well. There is still plenty of charm with Flavia and her relationships with her sisters, her father, Dogger, and the Inspector.

Book Description: It’s Christmastime, and Flavia de Luce—an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry—is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern. Amid a raging blizzard, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey gathers at Buckshaw to watch Wyvern perform, yet nobody is prepared for the evening’s shocking conclusion: a body found strangled to death with a length of film. But who among the assembled guests would stage such a chilling scene? As the storm worsens and the list of suspects grows, Flavia must ferret out a killer hidden in plain sight.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Twelve Drummers Drumming (Father Christmas Mystery #1)Twelve Drummers Drumming by C.C. Benison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am usually very conservative with my ebook purchasing, contenting myself with freebies and watching for books under $2, but I actually paid full price for this one. What can I say? It was Christmas, I was away from home, the title and reviews intrigued me, and I didn’t want to wait until I could get it from the library. You could spend more on a movie and popcorn!

It did not disappoint! I love British cozies. And I love stories involving clergy and their families, since I’m a PK myself. While the story itself is not holiday-themed, we have a vicar called “Father” Christmas serving the parish church of St. Nicholas, and series titles all taken from the 12 Days of Christmas song. I will say that it took some effort on my part to keep track of all the characters – an investment that I hope will pay off as I read more of the series. There is a list of characters in the front, but after getting half-way through the book I started over and took notes as I went along. The major characters are fairly well developed, but others are mentioned once without really adding anything to the story. There are several mysteries going on throughout the book, and not all are resolved at the end. It remains to be seen if those threads will be picked up down the line. Hopefully, there will be eleven more books to come! The plot developments are somewhat predictable – it’s the characters and the backstories that made this interesting for me. Tom Christmas is most definitely not your run-of-the-mill vicar.

Setting: The village of Thornford Regis (made up) in Devonshire.

Main characters:
Tom Christmas is the new vicar of St. Nicholas church in Thornford Regis. He is lately come from Bristol where he was an inner-city team minister. His wife (Jewish and a doctor) was murdered in a violent crime there. The speculation is that it was somebody after money for drugs, but the killer has never been found. As his back-story unfolds, we learn that he was previously a professional magician (The Great Krimboni). His birth parents gave him up for adoption, and his adoptive parents died in a plane crash when he was still a baby. He was raised by his adoptive father’s sister, a veterinarian, and her partner, Kate, an American flight attendant.

Miranda – Tom’s 9-year-old daughter, who misses the French au pair she had in Bristol, and is fascinated with the French equivalent of Nancy Drew.

Julia Hennis – Tom’s sister-in-law, a local music teacher who fills in as organist from time to time at St. Nicholas. She is married to Dr. Alastair Hennis, but their marriage has been very strained. She takes Miranda to synagogue every Sabbath.

Madrun Prowse – She comes with the vicarage and is cook and housekeeper. She writes to her mother in Cornwall daily, and these letters give us her point of view on all the goings on.

Peter Kinsey – the former incumbent vicar who disappeared after serving 18 months. His parents were wealthy farmers in Zimbabwe, killed by rebels.

Fred Pike – local handyman and a kleptomaniac.

Colm Parry – organist and choirmaster. Former pop-singer in the 80s. Reformed alcoholic. Father of Sybella Parry, who is found murdered.

Liam Drewe – ex-con with a very short temper. Owner of the Waterside Cafe where Sybella was a waitress.

Mitsuko Drewe – his wife, an artist. She was born in Wales where her Japanese parents had emigrated to after World War II. Her father, retired manager of the Sony plant in Brigend, is taking Welsh lessons and involved in Welsh folk-dancing (!)

Colonel Phillip Northmore – ancient church treasurer. World War II vet – prisoner of war at Omori.

Sebastian John – the enigmatic verger with a secretive past. He is also Colonel Northmore’s gardener.

Book Description: Father Tom Christmas moves to the picturesque English hamlet of Thornford Regis to become its new vicar and to seek a peaceful haven. But inside the empty village hall, the huge Japanese o-daiko drum that’s featured in the May Fayre festivities has been viciously sliced open—and curled up inside is the bludgeoned body of Sybella Parry, the daughter of the choir director. Realizing this village is not the refuge he’d hoped for, Father Tom comes to a disturbing conclusion: Sybella’s killer must be one of his parishioners. No one is above suspicion—not Sebastian John, the deeply reserved verger, nor Mitsuko Drewe, a local artist, nor Colonel Northmore, survivor of a World War II prison camp. And over all hangs the long-unsolved mystery of a sudden disappearance, one that brought Father Tom to this picture-perfect place to live—or die.

About the author: C.C. Benison is the nom de plume of Doug Whiteway, who was born and still lives in Winnipeg, Canada. He was awarded a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Manitoba, and a degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa. He has worked as a writer and editor for newspapers and magazines, as a book editor, and as a contributor to non-fiction books. He started writing mystery fiction in the 1990s with Death At Buckingham Palace, and followed this with other novels.

The Importance of Being Seven

The Importance of Being Seven (44 Scotland Street, #6)The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a joyful start to a new year! I love the 44 Scotland Street series, and this installment brings some sweet rewards to some of my favorite long-suffering characters. To say any more would probably introduce spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that!

Book Description:
The great city of Edinburgh is renowned for its impeccable restraint, so how, then, did the extended family of 44 Scotland Street come to be trembling on the brink of reckless self-indulgence? After seven years and five books, Bertie is—finally!—about to turn seven. But one afternoon he mislays his meddling mother Irene, and learns a valuable lesson: wish-fulfillment can be a dangerous business. Angus and Domenica contemplate whether to give in to romance on holiday in Italy, and even usually down-to-earth Big Lou is overheard discussing cosmetic surgery. Funny, warm, and heartfelt as ever, The Importance of Being Seven offers fresh and wise insights into philosophy and fraternity among Edinburgh’s most lovable residents.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hefty book, but easily read in a few hours at most. Text alternates with exquisitely detailed drawings (which earned this book the 2007 Caldecott Award) to tell the story. This is the kind of book I would have loved as a child (and still do) because it is about a real person and I learned something about the very earliest film making industry. Georges Melies really did end up selling toys at the Montparnasse station in Paris, and he really did donate his automata collection to a museum.

The movie, Hugo, based on this book, used actual film clips of Georges Melies which really brought it alive. It expanded on several of the lesser characters, which I enjoyed, but downplayed Hugo’s thievery. It also glossed over some of the reasons G.M. ended up trying to bury all memory of his film-making days.

For me, the major themes seemed to be about following one’s passion, and when that is not tended people become broken just like the clocks and the automaton that Hugo repairs. It is also about curiosity and having the courage to follow adventure in our lives.

Book Description:
Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.