Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

Reviewed by Jeanne

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths is the latest entry in the Ruth Galloway series.  Ruth is a forensic archaeologist who specializes in bones. She’s helped out with several police cases and has been slightly involved with DCI Harry Nelson—enough that they have a daughter together, though Harry is married and still much in love with his wife. Ruth isn’t sure she is ready for any sort of committed relationship, either.  She’s dating a fellow archaeologist but isn’t sure if they’ll end up together or not.  Ruth isn’t getting any younger, but she’s still not sure exactly where her life should be heading.  She adores her daughter, loves her work, and finds peace in living out near a salt marsh where most of the neighbors have feathers and fly.  The few human occupants are often away, but Ruth is used to the isolation.

That’s more or less her frame of mind when she learns the shocking news:  an old classmate has died in a house fire.  Dan was the handsome, charismatic one, surely destined for success.  It’s a bit of a surprise to find out that he was working at a distinctly non-prestigious university in Blackpool, but an even bigger surprise comes in the mail:  a letter from Dan, telling of some extraordinary find and asking Ruth to come take a look at it.  He adds, troublingly, that he’s afraid… but he doesn’t say why.

Ruth packs up daughter Kate, enlists the aid of Cathbad (her Druid friend and Katie’s godfather) and heads to Blackpool.  She soon learns that the police do not believe Dan’s death to be an accident, and his discovery could have significant historical repercussions—perhaps enough to kill for. To make matters even more interesting, Harry is vacationing in Blackpool along with his wife and mother and quickly becomes involved in the investigation as well.

This is the fifth in the Ruth Galloway series, and just as enjoyable as the others.  Ruth is an everywoman, who feels awkward in social situations because she’s not thin or glamorous or beautiful, nor is she at ease engaging in chitchat.  She’s very good at her job, and trying her best to be a good mother.  Her parents have taken a dim view of her choices, and her romantic relationships have never been quite satisfactory. There’s always a fascinating case to be solved through forensic archaeology and knowledge of history, ranging from Roman Britain to World War II.  Griffiths does an excellent job of making locations seem real.  I do have a quibble with this one, in that I had to suspend disbelief in a few places about the nature of the find, something I really hadn’t had to do with the others. I’m reluctant to go into detail, even though the jacket copy does a certain amount of spoilage I wish they hadn’t; I’m not going to add to it. Even so, this was a very good mystery, and I’ll be on the list for the next in the series.

You don’t have to read these in order, but I’d recommend it just for the way the characters and relationships change.  The series in order:
The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
A Dying Fall

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nevermore: 38 Nooses, Time of the Wolf, Book of Killowen & The Undertaking

Nevermore members have been reading a number of books lately about the relationships between Native Americans and settlers. This week a reader brought in 38 Nooses by Scott W. Berg about the Dakota War of 1862. The Dakota were tired of broken treaties, loss of their lands, and were finding it increasingly difficult to eke out a living.  A group of warriors began a series of raids against the whites in Minnesota, which led to the U.S. Army crushing the uprising. Nearly 300 Dakota were convicted of murder; President Lincoln, though preoccupied with the Civil War, commuted the sentences of all but 38 who were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.  Berg recounts the stories of several concerned individuals, including former Indian captive Sarah Wakefield, General John Wakefield, and Bishop Henry Whipple, to round out his account. Our reader was most struck by the incredible cultural divide between the Native Americans and the settlers.

One of England’s times of civil strife is the setting for the novel  Time of the Wolf by James Wilde.  Edward the Confessor is holding on the throne, but he is ill and the question of succession is up in the air. In Normandy, William is plotting to invade.  Enter Hereward, an exiled warrior and master tactician, who wants to defend his country against all invaders, from Vikings to Normans, and from those who would destroy it from within.  This is the first in a trilogy.
The Book of Killowen is the latest novel from Erin Hart, who is earning a number of fans with her  mysteries set in Ireland.  American forensic pathologist Nora Gavin and her lover, archaeologist Cormac Maguire, are called in when the body of a ninth century man is found in a bog—in the trunk of a car.  A missing philosopher of a much more recent vintage is found along side.  As usual, Hart has done an excellent job of blending a past mystery with a current mystery, and is winning rave reviews.

The Undertaking:  Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch is a bit of play on words, as one might expect from a poet.  Lynch, like his father and siblings, is a funeral director. This is a collection of essays about, as he puts it, “standing between the living and the living who have died.”  It’s been described as thought-provoking, meditative, and poetic.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Letters to Sherlock

Reviewed by Jeanne

When barrister Reggie Heath and his brother Nigel took offices at 221 Baker Street, they agreed to a somewhat unusual clause in the lease: to answer letters sent to Sherlock Holmes by admirers from around the world. They are to send out a standard form letter, and they are not to have contact with any of the senders.

This is the premise for Michael Robertson’s “Heath & Heath” series of mysteries featuring intricate plots, entertaining characters and sometimes implausible situations but all in good fun.  In the first book, The Baker Street Letters, Reggie returns to the office to find a dead clerk and his brother apparently headed for America in response to a letter for Sherlock. Not only does that make Nigel look very, very guilty, but he may lose his law license if he fails to appear in front of a review board so Reggie sets off in hot pursuit along with Laura, Reggie’s current girlfriend who used to be Nigel’s girl. It soon becomes apparent that someone else is taking that letter seriously—deadly seriously.

I thought The Baker Street Letters had a very good premise and some good characters but for me it had a bit of a disorganized feel. Nice, but not especially memorable, so I wasn’t chomping at the bit to read the second book in the series.  In fact, I almost didn’t, but the third book was getting very good reviews indeed and a quick check showed that reviewers had thought the second book very good as well.

Now, reviewers and I don’t always agree, but I decided I’d pick up The Brothers of Baker Street so that I could either be impressed or make a note to myself to ignore certain reviewers in the future because they didn’t know what they were talking about.

Good news for all concerned, they did know.  The second book is much better than the first and I quite enjoyed it.  The book picks up not long after the end of Baker Street Letters.  Nigel is still in America, but Reggie is definitely feeling the aftermath of his impulsive actions in the U.S. His law practice is in shambles, he has no clients to speak of, he’s run through most of his money, and his girlfriend is seeing another man.  Things are so desperate that he agrees to take on a criminal case, though he had sworn off those years ago—a little matter of not wanting to defend guilty people.  Besides, there are some extenuating circumstances: the defendant’s solicitor swears he’s innocent, a hard-working bloke who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to make something of himself, much like Reggie’s father had done. The cabbie, one of England’s fabled Black Cab drivers, is accused of preying on his fares and even murdering two of them.  Meanwhile, someone is taking an interest in the tabloid reports of the “Balmy Barrister” who thinks he’s Sherlock, which may explain the letter sent to Reggie’s office welcoming Mr. Holmes’ return and bearing the signature “Moriarity.”

This second book is still fun and features entertaining characters, but the author has really sharpened his focus. The plot is very well constructed and even seemingly throwaway lines can lead to important clues.  I was hooked within fifty pages and now am looking forward to reading the third book in the series, The Baker Street Translation, which has also gotten very good reviews. I have high hopes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nevermore: Procrastination, Religious Intolerance, Southern Unionists, and The Searchers

Library director Jud Barry brought in a slim volume he recommended, The Art of Procrastination by John Perry.  Perry believes that one of the most effective ways to avoid doing Project A is to work on other things.  As a result, the veteran procrastinator can get a good deal done.  He refers to Robert Benchley’s essay “How to Get Things Done,” which provides the astute observation that “anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” Jud described it as a fun book even if the author is a professor of philosophy, which brought up the question, “Does philosophy equal fun?”

Next up was the definitely more serious The New Religious Intolerance:  Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age by Martha Nussbaum, a professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago.  She believes that there is a rise in intolerance for Islam worldwide as evidenced by new legislation banning headscarves in France and the immediate belief that a Norwegian massacre was the work of an Islamic extremist before it was discovered that the perpetrator was in fact a right-wing Norwegian. Nussbaum believes that the United States may be better equipped to handle these questions because we don’t have one single ethnic or linguistic identity but are a blend of many different influences.  We already have the ideals in place, even though the performance is sometimes lacking such as with the early Mormon Church. Our reviewer thought it was a thought-provoking book and especially liked the international approach.

 The popular image of the Civil War has all the people in a state firmly on one side or another, Rebel or Yankee.  The truth is more complex, as Lewis F. Fisher demonstrates in No Cause of Offence, the true story of a family of slave-owning Unionists in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  Samuel Lewis, the patriarch, made no secret of his conviction that the United States should remain as one nation, putting him at odds with his neighbors.  At one point, the family had to abandon their home as a battle swirled over their land, leaving dead and wounded behind; Stonewall Jackson used their home as his headquarters.  The family story continues after the war, when the family is involved in Reconstruction.  Fisher, a Lewis descendant, drew on family records as well as newspaper and official accounts to produce this slim but most interesting book.

Last but certainly not least, The Searchers by Glenn Frankel drew rave reviews from two club members. The book’s title comes from the movie of the same name, an extremely influential Western starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford. Frankel doesn’t limit himself to the movie, and therein lies the strong appeal of this book.  He examines the true story on which the movie is based, the kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker by the Comanche, looking not only at the facts as we know them but at the changing interpretations of those facts and mythologizing of the West.  Finally, he looks at the effect the movie had on the American psyche.  This multifaceted approach has made this a very popular book, and it continues to make the rounds of Nevermore readers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black

Reviewed by Kristin

Set in Paris in 1998, Murder Below Montparnasse is the thirteenth installment in the Aimee Leduc series.  Private investigator Aimee Leduc carries on the detecting family tradition, as did her father and grandfather before her.  The series is sprinkled with French phrases and flavors of particular Parisian neighborhoods.  Loyal readers can always count on Aimee to throw on a little black dress, a Hermes scarf, or disguising sunglasses, hop on her Vespa, and zip down the cobblestones of centuries-old Paris streets.

Russian Yuri Volodya calls Aimee to ask for protection for what may be a priceless Modigliani painting.  Before she can see him, Yuri is dead and the painting is missing.  Aimee embarks on an investigation to see if the painting actually exists, and what its significance may be.  Just a little hint: the Modigliani represents a bit of Soviet history that some Russians might prefer forgotten.

Aimee’s business partner and best friend, Rene Friant, has jetted off to Silicon Valley riding on the excitement of the dot com explosion.  Rene quickly finds out that America is a strange and different country, from their eating habits to the long distances that Americans are accustomed to navigating.  Rene has a little excitement himself, departing America in an unexpected manner and returning to Paris to set right what he had unknowingly set amiss.

As always, Aimee is tracking down hints of her long-gone mother, who left when Aimee was only eight years old.  Aimee is continually drawn into investigations throughout the series where she hopes to find her American-born mother.

Online reviews of Murder Below Montparnasse were mixed. Some reviewers felt that the first half of the book dragged on but was redeemed by the faster moving second half.  I enjoyed the story and figured out bits and pieces of the coming revelations.  Because the story is set in the not-too-distant past, it was interesting to read references to cutting edge technology, such as a prototype flash drive.

Although a bit predictable, the ending of the book reveals a story arc twist that will probably change Aimee’s life.

If you’re new to Cara Black’s books and would like to start at the beginning of the Aimee Leduc series, Murder in the Marais is the first title.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Nevermore: Dan Brown, Christopher Coake, DNA and Game of Thrones

Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, was the subject of discussion in more than one Nevermore meeting. Robert Langdon, the professor of symbology from The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, etc. awakens in a hospital in Florence with a touch of amnesia.  The next thing he knows, he’s on the run and following Brown’s trademark trail of codes, ciphers and clues. The first reviewer was definitely unimpressed, feeling that the book had too much padding-- much in the form of architectural description. Another reviewer found it very slow going at first, but then the plot did pick up.  He too noted the abundance of information on various Italian cities and architecture as well as on Dante. Finally, the book was sort of summed up as "excellent plot, terrible narration."

Another reviewer highly recommended a collection of short stories by Christopher Coake entitled We’re In Trouble.  As the title promises, each story opens with a character in some sort of serious trouble, love in the face of death.  Each character is challenged and the reader anxiously waits to see how the character will react.  Our reader said she was instantly drawn into each story and thinks Coake is definitely a writer to watch.  The book earned strong reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is proving popular across various media.  The recent HBO series has attracted a wide and avid viewership, and putting the original novels back on the library’s reserve list in both printed and audio formats.  A Nevermore member put in a plug for the new graphic novel version of the books, and requested we get the others in the series as they come out.

Louise Erdrich’s novel Love Medicine was mentioned by another reader.  This was Erdrich’s first novel and revolves around two Chippewa families, spanning some fifty years. The novel moves back and forth in time, and is actually a series of interwoven short stories that form a whole.

Two non-fiction books were mentioned, both involving DNA.  Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer uses the latest genetic, archaeological, and linguistic findings to determine the composition of the British people.  Oppenheimer argues that the bulk of the genetic heritage predates the Anglo-Saxons and is a great deal more complex than was previously believed.  The subject is fascinating, but our reviewer found the book to be almost too technical.

A similar comment was made about The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean.  The title refers to the Paganini’s extremely flexible fingers, the result of a genetic mutation which aided his musical ability but may also have shortened his life. Other parts of the book discuss an assortment of human and some non-human DNA (Neanderthals, for example) which makes for an interesting book, although the reviewer said there was a bit of a slog through the more technical aspects of DNA.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Speaking From Among the Bones by C. Alan Bradley

Reviewed by Jeanne

I admit from the outset that I am a devoted Flavia fan. The precocious twelve year old with a passion for chemistry and solving murders is one of my favorite literary characters, but sometimes this series is a hard sell.  It just sounds so—well, Nancy Drewish. It helps a bit to tell folks that the setting is an English village in the 1950s, where she lives with her emotionally distant father and two disagreeable sisters in a crumbling manor house but that still doesn’t convey the appeal of the series. Flavia has an insatiable intellectual curiosity, be it for a way to slightly poison someone or how to read her sisters’ diaries undetected.

In Speaking from Among the Bones, Flavia is enthusiastically looking forward to the disinterment of St. Tancred’s bones on the 500th anniversary of his demise.  It makes a nice diversion from the worry that her home, Buckshaw, may be sold out from under them.  Before the tomb is opened, however, Flavia discovers a much fresher corpse:  the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist who had gone missing.  How did he end up in Saint Tancred’s crypt? Why was he wearing a gas mask?

The writing somehow remains fresh and funny, though never silly.  Some of the descriptions of Flavia’s hair-raising underground graveyard adventures made me hold my breath for a variety of reasons. (Bradley does have a way with description!) The mysteries pile up and the solutions are ingenious.  I'll admit that for once I spotted the murderer before Flavia did, but that in no way lessened my enjoyment.  In fact, I'd venture to say that the reason she failed to figure it is a reflection of Flavia's character, which is one reason I like the series so much:  Flavia, while brilliant and seemingly sophisticated, is still a child and her analysis and interpretation of events is often from a child's point of view. She finds her old sister's romances baffling, for example, and is still naive enough to half believe some of her sisters' taunts even if she pretends not to.

You don’t have to read the series in order, but if you want to understand the full significance of the last line it might be better to start with an earlier book. Fans will be counting the days until the next book comes out.  Alas, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches  isn’t scheduled until 2014!

1. The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
4. I Am Half Sick of Shadows
5. Speaking From Among the Bone

Monday, June 10, 2013

Boone's Lick by Larry McMurtry

Reviewed by Nancy

No one writes about the West like Larry McMurtry. Please do not mistake me. The novel Boone’s Lick is not a Western in the traditional sense. This is not a cardboard epic of cattle drives, old time bank robberies, good guys in white hats, and bad guys in black hats with a lot of fancy horse riding and pistol twirling thrown in.

I don’t know what the frontier was like in the 1860’s, but I think Larry McMurtry’s take on things is a lot of fun. A native Texan, he grew up listening to tales of the old west as told by his father and uncles who were ranchers. It seems possible this has given him insights as to what it was really like. Boone’s Lick is set in the hungry years immediately following the Civil War, and relates the adventures of the Cecil family as told by Shay Cecil, son of Mary Margaret and Dick Cecil, and nephew of Seth Cecil.

The action in the narrative is centered on a journey undertaken by most of the Cecil clan. Dick Cecil has fallen into the habit of working in the Western Territories and only returning home every year or so to visit  Boone’s Lick, Missouri, where his wife and children live with his brother, Seth.

After sixteen years his wife, Mary Margaret, tires of this arrangement. She announces to the family that they are embarking on a journey to find their father.  They tie everything they can use onto the wagon, harness the mules and set off. Of course, when they set out they are not sure exactly where they are going, as they are not sure exactly where Dick Cecil is. That turns out to be Wyoming, probably a thousand miles from Boone’s Lick, Missouri.

Furthermore, Mary Margaret is the only member of the group who knows exactly why they are going. Is the purpose of this journey to reunite husband and family, or hmmmmm… something else?

The band of travelers includes Mary Margaret, Uncle Seth, Shay, Shay’s siblings G.T. and Neva, Granpa Crackenthorpe, and Mary Margaret’s half sister, Rose. On the first day of the journey the group encounters an Indian named Charlie Seven Days who is traveling in the same direction as they are.  He joins the group to function as a guide. Also on the first day they encounter a barefoot French priest, Pere Villy. Traveling barefoot, Pere Villy has just stepped on tacks scattered in the road by some thoughtless unknown individual. He accepts a ride on the wagon, and guess what? He joins the group, too.

There are many adventures along the way as the Cecil clan journeys up river by boat and then west by wagon. This is definitely a novel worth reading. There is an appearance early in the narrative by Wild Bill Hickok, and a gun battle you will remember not for its bloody fierceness, but more for its hilarity.

Please, please, please, if you’ve got the time, and even if you think you don’t give a fig about reading about the West in 1860, read this book. Give McMurtry a chance.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Murder on the Rocks A Gray Whale Inn Mystery by Karen MacInerney

Reviewed by Kristin

Cranberry Island, Maine, is the refreshing setting of a new innkeeper series by Karen MacInerney.  Natalie Barnes has moved from Texas to Maine to recover from a broken heart, and to fall in love with the island beauty surrounding the Gray Whale Inn.  Although she finds herself at the beck and call of her guests, Natalie is willing to work hard to make her inn a success.

But as you might expect in a light, cozy mystery, all does not go according to plan.

Right away, Natalie’s livelihood is threatened by Bernard Katz’ plan to develop a large resort next door to the Gray Whale Inn.  The Shoreline Conservation Association also has reservations against the large amount of development that Katz plans to do.  The resort plans are drawing even more criticism from the Save Our Terns bird protection group.

As might be expected, Bernard Katz is soon found on a cliff near the nesting terns.  Found dead, that is.  Found dead, by Natalie.  Sergeant Grimes has quite an interest in Natalie, seeing as she found the body and had so much to lose if Katz developed his resort.  In fact, Sergeant Grimes seems to be limiting his investigation and considering Natalie to be the number one suspect.  While trying to remove herself from that position, Natalie interferes with the investigation a bit too much, snooping around in the dead man’s room and trying to figure out who else might be happier now that Katz is gone.

Although Natalie moved to Maine to recover from a broken heart, she has an obvious interest in neighbor John Quinton, sculptor and island deputy.  This follows the usual pattern of “amateur sleuth hooks up romantically with a law enforcement professional”, but fortunately is not too contrived.

A colorful cast of characters rounds out the book.  These include Gwen, Natalie’s college age niece, who helps Natalie at the Gray Whale Inn; Charlene, local store proprietor and Natalie’s friend; Claudette White, member of Save Our Terns and goat owner; and many others.

This book was simple and light, and while a bit predictable, still an enjoyable reading experience.  I read this book in an eBook format, through the library’s Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. (Regional eBook & Audiobook Download System).  These eBooks can be read on your computer or downloaded to a compatible device.  If you need help downloading, pick up a how-to pamphlet at the reference desk.  Audiobooks are also available.  Check out this great resource at: .

(Or if you still prefer real books, we can borrow a copy from Elizabethton Public Library!)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cats & Daughters by Helen Brown

Reviewed by Jeanne

I first encountered Helen Brown with Cleo, the Cat Who Mended a Family.  Helen hadn’t wanted the scrawny black kitten, but her nine year old son Sam had begged and she’d given in.  Tragically, Sam was killed before they ever got the kitten, leaving behind a heart-broken mother, father, and younger brother. Helen reluctantly accepted Cleo after Sam's death as the kitten had been a connection with Sam, and had helped Helen to learn to live again through her grief and breakup of her marriage.  I know this all sounds dreadfully depressing, but that’s what I found so amazing about the book: while Helen didn’t minimize her pain, somehow I found the book to be less a tear-jerker and more of a warm, funny memoir that nevertheless touched the heart.

When I learned that Helen had a new book out, this one about dealing with a headstrong daughter, fighting breast cancer, and adopting a new cat, I was hesitant.  Cleo the cat and Cleo the book were unique; I was uncertain that another book could be anywhere near as good as that one.

I really should be used to being wrong by now.  I am so frequently.

As the book begins, Helen is ready to move her family to another house, one in a neighborhood where no one is quite so keen on keeping up with the Joneses and where lawn mowing wasn’t a near religion. Also, she finds herself stopping at Cleo’s grave for a chat, and while she knows she’s perfectly sane she does understand that it looks a tad peculiar.  She discovers Shirley—yes, the house has a nameplate, an unattractive brass one affixed to the wall and not removable—and feels that they are soul mates. They’re both of a certain age, a bit past their prime, and possibly structurally unsound. Obviously, they’re meant for each other.  Helen’s husband Phillip is a bit less enthused, but somehow they end up with Shirley, for better or for worse. The house is going to need a lot of renovation, but just as they get started Helen’s daughter Lydia throws her a curve by announcing that she wants to go to Sri Lanka, possibly to become a Buddhist nun. Helen is shocked: has Lydia somehow failed to notice that there’s a civil war going on in Sri Lanka? Has she forgotten she’s just won an impressive scholarship?  What about her plans to get her degree? But not only is Lydia descended from a long line of strong, independent women, she’s a Taurus, born in the Year of the Ox, at the Hour of the Ox—triple stubbornness. Then Helen is diagnosed with breast cancer and is facing an uncertain future. As Helen struggles to cope, she discovers love at first sight is real. She’d never believed it was, especially not between a middle-aged woman and a Siamese kitten, but one look into those blue eyes and she’s a goner.

Helen says that someone told her your last cat picks your next for you. If this is so, she wonders, what on Earth was Cleo thinking? Jonah is nothing like Cleo and brings his own form of chaos into an already disturbed household.

I’ve tried to describe Brown’s writing and why I love it so much but I’ve been largely unsuccessful.  The best way I can put it is to say that when I read most other books of this sort, I feel as if I’m in a room with a group of people and the author is standing at a podium, telling us about his or her life. When I read Helen’s books—and note that I call her by her first name-- I feel as if I’m at Blackbird Bakery sharing coffee and treats while catching up with an old friend. I laugh a lot, I care a lot, and find much to which I can relate.  I become totally absorbed.  I had the book with me in the car while running errands and decided to sit and read a chapter before going into another store.  One chapter turned into several and when I made myself put the book down, I was totally disoriented.  I had to get out of the car and look around to figure out where I was.  

Not many books do that to me.  

I highly recommend Cats and Daughters.

(Note: The review of Cleo can be read here.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Nevermore Historical Fiction Picks

Historical fiction has remained popular, and some Nevermore members had some books to recommend.  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is the widely acclaimed novel about Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII.  Henry is desperate for a male heir, afraid that England will sink into war again without a clear line of succession.  He wants to end his marriage and marry Anne Boleyn, and Thomas may be just the man to help him do it. Mantel’s equally brilliant sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, picks up the story just as Henry is growing tired of Anne and the political intrigue and conspiracies flourish.

James McBride’s novel  Miracle at St. Anna is set in Italy during World War II when four black soldiers befriend a small boy who has become mute after some terrible trauma. They become cut off from the rest of their division and are trapped in a mountain village as winter sets in and the enemy is on the move. The book is loosely based on a true incident. McBride is best known for his nonfiction book, The Color of Water:  A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother.

Another blend of historical fact and fiction is found in The Empty Glass by J. I. Baker, in which  deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald is called to investigate the death of Marilyn Monroe.  From the start, he isn’t convinced that the narrative of accidental suicide he’s been given is the correct one, and that a number of powerful entities are out to cover up a murder.  Readers were divided about this book, which skips about in time a bit, but those who like noir fiction felt it was well done. Our reviewer loved it!

Freeman by Leonard Pitts, Jr. takes place right after the Civil War has ended. Sam, a former slave, returns from Philadelphia to Mississippi in search of his wife, Tilda, determined to find her no matter the risk.  Prudence, a white woman from Boston, is going to Mississippi to set up a school for blacks.  Pitts’ book has been praised for its strong characters, emotional depth, and for its sensitive and perceptive evocation of an era.