Saturday, October 22, 2011

China's Chowder and Holly Blues

 I began reading Susan Wittig Albert's 'China Bayles Herb Mysteries' in the mid-'90's after they had been recommended by a friend. The first in the series was published in 1992, so I had a few to catch up on. I instantly fell in love with Albert's characters and setting. What woman wouldn't want to leave the fast-paced corporate world behind, buy an old building in a small Texas Hill Country Town and open an herb shop? I certainly could identify with her and her ability to solve mysteries and use herbs. (All the titles of her novels contain the name of an herb.)
I tried to read this series in order, but have had to skip around some as I was able to find copies. Holly Blues is number eighteen. All have been immensely enjoyable. Even though Ms. Albert states in every book that Pecan Springs is a fictional town, it doesn't stop her devotees from trying to find it. Her books were one of the reasons I wanted to spend time in the Texas Hill Country which I was able to do several years ago. I was not disappointed.
As with other novels in this genre, Albert includes herb recipes at the end of each book. As I write this, I can smell  China's Easy Slow-Cook Sausage-Corn Chowder simmering away in the kitchen. I hope it tastes as good as her books read.
 Funny how the subject matter or setting can make such a difference in whether or not you like an author. I had previously reported on one of Carolyn Hart's 'Death on Demand' series books that while it was good, I didn't like it well enough to keep reading more books in the series. I felt entirely different about her stand alone Letter From Home which won the Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel in 2003.
The setting: WWII home front in a small Oklahoma town; the protagonist: a teenage girl hired as a summer reporter for the local paper - she's a good writer and all the guys have gone off to war. Perfect setting for a mystery for me. I have put Hart back on my 'to be read' list of authors.
One of Victoria Thompson's books was on the recent additions shelves at the library. I read the fly leaf and thought it sounded good. Then I noted it was the latest in a series. I thought if I was going to give Thompson's 'Gaslight Mystery' books a try, I would start with the first, Murder on Astor Place. Sarah Brandt was raised in New York's high society in the 1880's and '90's. At the turn of the century, due to circumstances we only get hints of, she is estranged from her family, widowed and working as a midwife.
"After a routine delivery, Sarah visits her patient in a rooming house and discovers that another boarder, a young girl, has been killed. At the request of Sergeant Frank Malloy, she searches the girl's room. She discovers that the victim is from one of the most prominent families in New York - and the sister of an old friend. The powerful family, fearful of scandal, refuses to permit an investigation. But with Malloy's help, Sarah begins a dangerous quest to bring the killer to justice."
I must admit I had the reason for the murder and the killer figured out before the unfolding, but that didn't diminish my reading enjoyment of this book. There is just something about the time period that fascinates me and I like the interaction between Sarah and Frank. Luckily our library does have many (I hope all) of the books in this series.


William Trevor is an Irish author one reviewer compared to Ruth Rendell. That and the cover of Felicia's Journey were enough for me. "Felicia, young and pregnant, steals away from a small Irish town to search for her boyfriend in the industrial sprawl of the English Midlands, where she falls in with the fat, fiftyish, unfailingly reasonable Mr. Hilditch. He is looking for a new friend to join the five other girls of his Memory Lane."
This book had the psychological tenseness that made me want to quit reading because of what I felt was coming - but kept me reading in order to find out. Trevor has a number of other books to his credit including a couple Whitbread Award winners, one short listed for the Booker Prize, and others on best seller lists. Unfortunately, this is the only novel of his our library has. I will add his name to the list of authors I search out in other venues. I liked this book even if it did creep me out.

Last month while visiting with a classmate at our 50th Class Reunion, I remarked to him that I had always wanted to read his Dad's book. He told me his father had actually written two books and that the first was better than the second. Also that he had given copies of his book to all the local libraries. So I checked and our library did have a signed copy of Footprints by Eldon "Zeke" Roberts. I think this must be the second book Allen spoke of. It is a series of stories about the inhabitants of "Mt. Nebo" - a thinly disguised Mount Etna, Iowa. It was fun for me to try and figure out who some of the people he was writing about were and to picture those winding roads, timbers and ridges of the area southeast of Mt. Etna. I had great and great-great grandparents who lived in and around the town when it was still a thriving community. I have memories of the Sunday drives and hikes back to the "Slide-off" that we took when I was a kid.
And while I did not know Eldon Roberts all that well, his brother was my Uncle Howard - married to Mom's sister, Evelyn. Eldon's wife, Twylla, was a Means - a cousin of Grandma Delphia's - so I am distantly related to him by marriage. Reading his book reminded me of Zeke and Uncle Howard and the large family they came from - ten children. The boys all had nicknames, Zeke, Speck, Wimp, except Uncle Howard. It makes me wonder if he had a nickname, too, and that it quit being used after he married Aunt Evelyn. Mom's folks were not big on nicknames. Maybe some day I will have the opportunity to read Zeke's other book.

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