Five Stars for The Witch Doctor’s Wife

9-28 Witch doctors wifeWith The Witch Doctor’s Wife, Tamar Myers delves into her per­son­al his­to­ry as the daugh­ter of Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies in the Bel­gian Con­go. Rich and alive with the sights and sounds of the continent—as excit­ing, evoca­tive, charm­ing, and sus­pense­ful as Alexan­der McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detec­tive Agency novels—Myer’s unfor­get­table excur­sion to colo­nial Africa recalls Bar­bara Kingsolver’s The Poi­son­wood Bible, even the Acad­e­my Award-nom­i­nat­ed film Blood Dia­mond. Award-win­ning author Car­olyn Hart raves: “Mes­mer­iz­ing….The Witch Doctor’s Wife will long linger in the hearts and minds of read­ers. Authen­tic. Pow­er­ful. Tri­umphant.”

The above is part of the pub­lish­er’s blurb for the book that fol­lowed many of Tamar Myer’s two won­der­ful­ly fun­ny and clever cozy mys­ter­ies. I read The Witch Doc­tor’s Wife about five years ago, before I joined Goodreads, before I had a blog, and, mainly—before I began review­ing the books I read. How­ev­er, I remem­ber it fond­ly, so you know it has stay­ing pow­er.

I did inter­view Tamar for the Sis­ters in Crime blog. I remem­ber a cou­ple of answers from that inter­view. For one, she had a com­put­er ded­i­cat­ed to writ­ing, with no games or inter­net access. (That’s one I real­ly, real­ly should fol­low.) Also, she said she did­n’t write the story—it was already writ­ten. All she did was ask the Uni­verse to deliv­er her dai­ly por­tion of cre­ativ­i­ty and it did. She then sat down and wrote a thou­sand pol­ished words a day, five days a week.

And that is tal­ent!

Inci­den­tal­ly, she has writ­ten more books in that series, as well as con­tin­u­ing the cozy series. In fact, she has a four-page Ama­zon author page. For a taste of Tamar’s fun, I would sug­gest read­ing the acknowl­edg­ments in Death of Pie.

War of 1812-Recruitment, A Matter of Money

What was a young man to do when his coun­try went to war? Sol­dier, mariner (sailor), what? Go where the mon­ey was best, of course. At least, that’s what hap­pened.

Pos­si­bly some want­ed to be on the sea, sail­ing and fight­ing against the British ships. Since most of those ships win­tered in Bermu­da, a few months off prob­a­bly did­n’t hurt recruit­ment. How­ev­er, sev­er­al army units were enlist­ing men and giv­ing them boun­ties of $30 plus $8 month­ly with only one year enlist­ment. The marines (navy) gave them less. One could always sign onto a privateer—they paid bet­ter as well. There was anoth­er option. Hire on as a sea fen­ci­ble. That brought in $12 a month for one year. An advan­tage was that a man could not be called up in any oth­er ser­vice, he would be close to home, and in the win­ter unless some­thing else came up, he could take his food home to the fam­i­ly. Pos­si­bly as a result of the dif­fer­ent pay sched­ules, many blacks were marines. From the his­to­ry I’ve read, they were clothed and worked as equals.

This is anoth­er of my War of 1812 series. I am still dis­cov­er­ing his­to­ry I did­n’t know, still find­ing in quite inter­est­ing. My next mys­tery involves a reen­act­ment of that war, which is why I’ve been read­ing up.

It’s two hun­dred years since The War of 1812, for­got­ten by most of our his­to­ry books. It is, still, a part of our his­to­ry. Do you find it as inter­est­ing as I do?

 

Five Stars for Murder on Lexington Avenue

8-31 Victoria Thompson coverMur­der on Lex­ing­ton Avenue is the 12th in Vic­to­ria Thomp­son’s Gaslight Mys­tery series. I’ve read sev­er­al, but this one is a favorite of mine. My review: Sarah Brandt, New York mid­wife in the ear­ly 1900s, keeps get­ting involved in mur­der while deliv­er­ing babies. It isn’t any­thing about souls pass­ing in and out, it’s just that the same peo­ple are involved. While one woman is hav­ing a baby, some­one she knows, be it her fam­i­ly or her neigh­bors, is mixed up in mur­der, often as the vic­tim. Sarah is handy and will­ing to help out an Irish cop, Detec­tive Sergeant Frank Mal­loy. In this case, the teenage daugh­ter of the vic­tim is involved with con­flict­ing schools of train­ing the deaf. Her father is a gen­er­al­ly dis­liked busi­ness own­er. But, who killed him? Seem­ing­ly he was alone at his place of busi­ness. His busi­ness part­ner, and sev­er­al oth­ers may have vis­it­ed. Or, none of them saw him, if one is to believe the tes­ti­mo­ny. And, even if Frank Mal­loy finds the killer, 1903 in New York often meant Frank, although he was the police, would find it dif­fi­cult to accuse any­one who had the mon­ey to make sure he did­n’t keep his job. Then anoth­er mur­der com­pli­cates the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The ambiance is authen­tic, the plot is devi­ous, the char­ac­ters are a mix from delight­ful to dev­il­ish. Best of all, the out­come is com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed, but, oh so absolute­ly right! High­ly rec­om­mend­ed to mys­tery and his­to­ry read­ers.

Vic­to­ria Thomp­son has been nom­i­nat­ed for an Agatha for his­toric mys­tery. There are now 17 books in the series. Her Ama­zon author page is here. (I believe the mid­wife and the police detec­tive sergeant are plan­ning to wed in the lat­est. Must read that too!)

Art In The Attic

A son visits his father.

A son vis­its his father.

The draw­ings on the wall of a third floor stor­age room have been there for over one hun­dred years. As the house passed through dif­fer­ent own­ers, one promise was made—leave the pic­tures alone. They are pen­cil draw­ings, made by two boys who lived with their moth­er in the rent­ed house. Some of them depict their old­er broth­er, Leo Hauck, who was a cham­pi­on box­er.

How did this all get on the front page of my local news­pa­per? The cur­rent home­own­er was curi­ous. She asked ques­tions and dis­cov­ered a few amaz­ing con­nec­tions. Three of Leo’s chil­dren sur­vive and live local­ly. Peg­gy, age 100, and Eddie, age 94, did­n’t walk up the stairs to see their father as a young box­er. Joe, age 80, lives less than a mile away. He and his daugh­ter vis­it­ed the third-floor draw­ings and were amazed.

As a writer, I always think, what if? What if any one of the own­ers of the house had paint­ed over those pic­tures? What if, the house was remod­eled and win­dows replaced a wall? What if the area had been zoned for renew­al and the place torn down and became a park­ing lot? What if none of those hap­pened, but the con­nec­tion was nev­er made?

Joe Hauck was thir­teen when his father died. He knew he’d been a fight­er. He’d known those uncles who drew the pic­tures as chil­dren. He knew his father start­ed box­ing as a fly­weight at age four­teen. He knew he was known as the “Lan­cast­er Thun­der­bolt,” and often as Leo Houck due to a mis­spelled pro­mo­tion­al piece. Joe’s father, who suc­cess­ful­ly boxed in every weight up to heavy­weight (as he grew) is named in the Inter­na­tion­al Box­ing Hall of Fame. Now Joe knows a bit more.

To see more pic­tures and the com­plete arti­cle, check out this link in LNP News­pa­pers.

The Burning of Washington, D.C. 1814

Rear Admiral Cockburn had his portrait painted in front of burning Washington

Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn had his por­trait paint­ed in front of burn­ing Wash­ing­ton

After Britain defeat­ed and impris­oned Napoleon Bona­parte in April 1814, they had the men and ships to renew attacks on the Unit­ed States. Eng­land want­ed to retal­i­ate for  the “wan­ton destruc­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty along the north shores of Lake Erie” by Amer­i­can forces. Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn was giv­en orders to,  “deter the ene­my from a rep­e­ti­tion of sim­i­lar out­rages.…” You are here­by required and direct­ed to “destroy and lay waste such towns and dis­tricts as you may find assail­able”.

On August 24, 1814, he found Wash­ing­ton, D.C. assail­able. Most pub­lic build­ings were destroyed. Actu­al­ly, the Amer­i­can’s burned the fort before the British arrived to keep them from get­ting their pow­der. The British burned what was left of it in their sweep. The Library of Con­gress and all the books were burned. Cock­burn was so upset with the with the Nation­al  Intel­li­gencer news­pa­per for call­ing him a Ruf­fi­an, he intend­ed to burn their build­ing too. How­ev­er, a group of women con­vinced him a fire would burn their homes, so he had his men tear the build­ing apart, brick by brick. He also had them destroy every C in the type fonts, so they could no longer abuse his name.

At the White House, it was not Dol­ley Madi­son who saved George Wash­ing­ton’s por­trait. She did orga­nize the slaves and staff to car­ry valu­ables, car­ry­ing some of the sil­ver in her retic­ule, The French door­man and the pres­i­den­t’s gar­den­er saved the por­trait. After Mrs. Madi­son and the staff left, the British came in, ate the meal and drank the wine pre­pared for the res­i­dents, then went about burn­ing the build­ing. It was dif­fi­cult. They end­ed up pil­ing fur­ni­ture and light­ing it which final­ly start­ed the build­ing burn­ing. They added fuel dur­ing the night. The only gov­ern­ment build­ing left stand­ing was U.S. Patent Office.

Less than a day after the attack start­ed, a ter­rif­ic storm hit the area from the south­east. It spawned a tor­na­do and put out the fires. Accord­ing to reports Admi­ral Cock­burn asked a woman, “Dear God! Is this the weath­er to which you are accus­tomed to in this infer­nal coun­try?” She replied, “This is a spe­cial inter­po­si­tion of Prov­i­dence to dri­ve our ene­mies from our city.” But Cock­burn insist­ed the storm helped them destroy the build­ings. Actu­al­ly, he was cor­rect. How­ev­er, the storm also dam­aged the British ships in the har­bor.

Sounds to me like they had a hur­ri­cane.

Five Stars for Red Notice

8-10 Red Notice CoverA non-fic­tion that reads like a thriller? Yep, that’s Red Notice. Before the book begins, the term is explained: “An Inter­pol Red Notice is the clos­est instru­ment to an inter­na­tion­al arrest war­rant in use today.” Any coun­try can issue a red notice, which then goes into the elec­tron­ic sys­tem that is used to ver­i­fy trav­el­ers as they go from one coun­try to anoth­er. Almost always, unless the per­son check­ing pass­ports is not fol­low­ing pro­ce­dure, that per­son is shipped straight to the coun­try they prob­a­bly want to escape. It’s rare that Inter­pol fails to comply—which was why some Jews try­ing to escape Hitler’s Ger­many were returned. There are oth­er such instances as well.

Bill Brow­der, the author of Red Notice was speak­ing in Nor­way when Rus­sia issued the first one on him. Born in the Unit­ed States, he lived in Lon­don with his Russ­ian wife and his chil­dren. But, by then he was no longer run­ning Her­mitage Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, the largest for­eign investor in Rus­sia. By then, some crooked cops and oth­ers had stolen his Russ­ian busi­ness he’d down­sized in favor of diver­si­fi­ca­tion. He sur­vived many legal busi­ness deals that were unpop­u­lar with Putin. He thought, since he was not Russ­ian, that he was safe. How­ev­er, he was only safe while his activ­i­ties were in Putin’s best inter­est.

I could go on, tell you more of this engross­ing, true sto­ry, but I don’t want to ruin it for any read­er. It’s great as a sto­ry. It’s even bet­ter as a warn­ing. One of the author’s Russ­ian lawyers was tor­tured to death because he refused to lie and accuse Brow­der of trumped up charges. Two of Brow­der’s lawyers were old­er. They remem­bered the Russ­ian mind­set and bare­ly man­aged to escape. The younger lawyer knew he’d done noth­ing wrong. He knew Rus­sia had no legal rea­son to arrest him. But, of course, to Putin, legal had absolute­ly noth­ing to do with it.

Do read this chill­ing tale. Then watch the news. You won’t get most of it—the media is too involved in var­i­ous flashy sto­ries. How­ev­er, recent­ly I read in The Week Mag­a­zine some­thing I saw nowhere else. One night a month or so ago, Rus­sia moved all the bound­ary signs a mile into Geor­gia ter­ri­to­ry. The home­own­ers now in Rus­sia were upset. A pipeline was now in Rus­sia. Noth­ing was, or could be done.

 

Five Stars for The Glassblower’s Wife

8-3 Glassblower coverI love an his­tor­i­cal mys­tery. I espe­cial­ly love one that intro­duces me to his­to­ry I don’t know in such a thor­ough­ly engross­ing way. The Glass­blow­er’s Wife, by Joan­na Camp­bell Slan, is a long short sto­ry rather than a full-length nov­el. But, it packs a wal­lop! It is an his­toric tale involv­ing Jew­ish glass blow­ers from Italy who took their excep­tion­al craft to France to make the mir­rors for the Hall of Mir­rors in Ver­sailles. There’s mur­der, devo­tion, an excel­lent plot, and superb writ­ing.

The offi­cial blurb states: “When Jew­ish glass­mak­ers and their fam­i­lies flee the pow­er­ful Doge of Venice, the cost of their free­dom is three hun­dred and fifty-sev­en mirrors–the cre­ation of the mag­nif­i­cent Hall of Mir­rors in Ver­sailles. But the Doge sends assas­sins to pick off the artists, one by one. Can Ruth Telfin, the mute wife of the head glass­mak­er, save her peo­ple?”

I’m not the only read­er who com­ment­ed favor­ably. One says, “Since this is a short sto­ry, I fig­ured it would be a good chance to get a taste of this author’s writ­ing style. I nev­er expect­ed such a pow­er­ful sto­ry.”

Anoth­er said: “I must admit that this type of book isn’t real­ly what I usu­al­ly pick to read. Hav­ing read all of Camp­bell Slan’s oth­er books, I decid­ed to give it a try. This is a long short sto­ry based on his­tor­i­cal facts back in the late 1600’s. I real­ly learned a lot from it. She throws in a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter that real­ly saves the day at the end. Kudos to Slan for her research and dri­ve to write this book.”

And that’s my focus today—fiction that gives the read­er his­to­ry with a sto­ry that not only inter­ests the read­er, but opens her eyes to some­thing that real­ly hap­pened, per­haps years, per­haps cen­turies ago. All too often his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed as bor­ing, irrel­e­vant, unim­por­tant, or, even as per­pet­u­at­ed untrue myth. One of the web­sites I researched to fol­low this sto­ry said: “His­to­ri­ans have long repeat­ed that the for­mu­la for lead-glass was invent­ed in 1674 by an Eng­lish­man, George Raven­scroft. His­to­ri­ans often make a habit of being in error. In this case the error could not be more gross. Raven­scroft was nei­ther an arti­san nor an inven­tor. It is true that Raven­scroft patent­ed the process; it is false that he invent­ed it.”

And, occa­sion­al­ly, text­books per­pet­u­ate myth as well. I remem­ber one such from my own high school years. I cer­tain­ly know that fic­tion often plays fast and loose with his­toric past. No prob­lem, as long as it is under­stood. Some of my favorite reads are steam­punk nov­els, the ulti­mate reworked his­to­ry. But I love the true mean­ing that often comes through in his­tor­i­cal fic­tion.

Dressed for Summer Fun

7-23 PicnicThere’s noth­ing bet­ter than a sum­mer pic­nic, along with a few sum­mer games. It’s time to look in my “many years ago” file. I found a pic­ture from a Sun­day School pic­nic with chil­dren dressed to enjoy a lot of fun.

Umm, real­ly? The year was 1908. The chil­dren gath­ered at the church, then marched to the pic­nic grounds, accom­pa­nied by a band. A dec­o­rat­ed wag­on car­ried those too young to walk. The activ­i­ties includ­ed a pro­gram with drills, music, and address­es by promi­nent speak­ers. Final­ly, a free sup­per wrapped up the event. But not before the accom­pa­ny­ing pho­to was tak­en.

Where were the chil­dren’s games, the splash­ing in water, Where7-23 sack race
were the races? I remem­ber those— three-legged race, wheel­bar­row race, all num­ber of ways to give the lit­tle ones a fun time. And, don’t for­get the gun­ny sack race. (Got­ta be dressed just right for that one.)

7-23-Goat race 2Speak­ing of being dressed just right, and races as well—how about a goat race? Twen­ty-five years ago, that was on the sum­mer pic­nic agen­da. And of course, the goat had to be dressed for the occa­sion. (Don’t know if this was the win­ner, the los­er, or just the most pho­to­genic.)

Do you remem­ber school pic­nics in your past? Maybe there are some in your present and future. (Or, do they still have them?)

Five Stars for A Hostage To Heritage

7-20 Adair coverI can’t believe I haven’t already pro­filed this book on my Mon­day book blog. It’s one of my very favorites—not only mys­tery, but his­to­ry as well! My com­ments from Ama­zon and Goodreads fol­low.

Suzanne Adair has pre­sent­ed the read­ing pub­lic with anoth­er excel­lent his­toric mys­tery adven­ture. This book is Michael Stod­dard­’s sto­ry. He’s a British offi­cer in Amer­i­ca at the time of our Rev­o­lu­tion. The ear­li­er books in this series tell the sto­ries of Amer­i­cans dur­ing that time, and a few of the char­ac­ters appear in all of the books. They, and this one as well, show the con­flict­ing loy­al­ties of peo­ple in our past, includ­ing the Eng­lish Michael. Besides that, there’s the main sto­ry of a miss­ing young boy and how Michael and his sec­ond in com­mand worked toward find­ing the boy while also fol­low­ing their com­mand­ing offi­cer’s orders. I won’t say more, don’t want to ruin the sto­ry for any­one.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed to lovers of his­to­ry, and mys­tery. This book sat­is­fies on every lev­el! It’s a mys­tery with great char­ac­ters, sol­id his­to­ry, sus­pense, and emo­tion. It’s his­tor­i­cal fic­tion with reveal­ing atti­tudes and war-time dan­ger. It’s a char­ac­ter study with “real” fic­tion­al peo­ple who had a past and will have a future. It’s roman­tic sus­pense with antic­i­pa­tion. And final­ly, it’s emo­tion trans­ferred from words on paper (or, in my case, on Kin­dle) to the read­er.

I’ll send you to Suzan­ne’s Ama­zon page where all her books are list­ed (mys­ter­ies of our Rev­o­lu­tion in the South­ern states) and Suzan­ne’s web­site and blog. Her blog hosts guest authors with a wide vari­ety of books, often includ­ing give­aways. (Always inter­est­ing.) 

A Scottish Connection

US Womens Golf Leaders

US Wom­ens Golf Lead­ers

Our local news is all about the US Wom­en’s Open golf tour­na­ment at the Lan­cast­er Coun­try Club—just a hop, skip, and jump away from my home. I real­ly should hon­or that by pro­fil­ing a golf­ing mys­tery that I’ve read. Except—I haven’t read any golf­ing mys­ter­ies. So, what’s my next best idea? Hmmm.

Golf, an ancient game, orig­i­nat­ed in Scot­land, right? And—I do have a book in my favorites file called, ta, da…What Hap­pens In Scot­land. No golf any­where. Not even a mys­tery. An his­toric romance, almost a bodice rip­per. So not what I usu­al­ly like. But, I read this book with great plea­sure.

7-13 What Happens coverHere is my five star review of What Hap­pens In Scot­land: “I absolute­ly had to get this book after I read a page or two. What’s not to pull a read­er in? Lady Geor­gette find­ing her­self, a respectable young wid­ow, in bed with a stranger. Although this is his­toric romance, there is def­i­nite­ly an air of mys­tery. Who is the bound­er? How did the lady find her­self in the sit­u­a­tion, where were her clothes, and why was there bro­ken glass all over the floor?

You’ve got to admit, with a begin­ning like that, where can the sto­ry go? I tell you, it improves! Not only is the action rol­lick­ing and filled with per­il, the unex­pect­ed twists and turns keeps a read­er up until the wee hours. I fin­ished this in record time, and wished it had been longer.

Okay, my review does­n’t tell you much. I’ll include the offi­cial blurb.

Jen­nifer McQuiston’s debut his­tor­i­cal romance, What Hap­pens in Scot­land, is a live­ly, roman­tic adven­ture about a wed­ding that nei­ther the bride or the groom remem­bers.

Lady Geor­gette Thorold has always been wary of mar­riage, so when she wakes up next to an attrac­tive Scots­man with a wed­ding ring on her fin­ger, it’s easy to under­stand why she pan­ics and flees. Con­vinced that Geor­gette is a thief, her maybe hus­band, James McKen­zie, search­es for her. As both try to recall what hap­pened that fate­ful night, they begin to real­ize that their attrac­tion and desire for each oth­er is unde­ni­able. But is it enough?
There are hid­den caves and mid­night horse rides, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, but nary a golf club in sight.