Category Archives: history

Book Review: The Skeleton Garden – Airplanes, bodies, gardening..Great Mystery!

The Skeleton GardenThe Skeleton Garden (Potting Shed Mystery #4) 
by Marty Wingate

Long lost brother and sister, Simon and Pru are reunited in adulthood. Pru was raised by their parents in the United States, while Simon was left behind in England to be raised by his mother’s relatives, Birdie and George Parke. He was told his parents died in a car accident. Even though he was brought up in a loving home, to find out his family left him behind had a devastating effect on him to say the least.

Pru  and her new husband Christopher move to Chelsea to spend a year house sitting and working on a proper English garden. The current gardener is actually her brother, and she is thrilled to share her love of gardening with him, but everything isn’t coming up roses. She and her husband settle in, she in the garden, Christopher working with the local police but there are skeletons in the garden, both figuratively and literally .

Things are not always sweetness and light between brother and sister, they are learning to get along as siblings and gardeners. Simon is thrilled to be chosen to show off the garden in an upcoming issue of a very prestigious gardening magazine, but Pru has a bad feeling about the whole idea. There is so much to do the pair wonder how it will be possible to get done. Then Christopher’s teenage nephew is sent to live with them because he got in a bit of trouble and his parents want him to be removed from the situation. Orlando isn’t too keen on working in the garden. As a matter of fact, Pru spends more time fixing the problems he creates by taking short cuts.

Things change for everyone when a plane from the war and a skeleton is found buried in the garden. Christopher is working the investigation to see if they can find the identity of the bones. Then one of the locals winds up dead in the garden, this crime casts suspicion on almost everyone in the village.

Pru can’t help herself – she has too many questions and not enough answers so she quietly talks to the people she has become close to hoping to help Christopher crack the case. But will this happen without more murders?

This is the fourth Potting Shed Mystery, but the first one I’ve read. It worked perfectly well as a standalone novel. I was not confused about the characters and their relationship to each other.

I love the cast of characters. They were interesting and well developed. Pru’s relationships with her husband, brother, friends and cook brought so much life to her character I felt like having a cup of tea with her telling her everything would be ok! Evelyn, the cook, has a hard shell, but inside she is a soft, caring woman who loves her husband Peachey. I want her to cook for me, the recipes she whipped up while the other characters moved in and out of her kitchen sounded delicious.

Wingate wrote a solid mystery with as many twists and turns as an English garden maze. I enjoyed every minute of this book and will seek out the previous books in this series.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from House Party that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under cooking, England, family, history, House Party, Mystery

Book Review: The Great Trouble – A Great Read for All Ages

The Great TroubleThe Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death & a Boy Called Eel

Deborah Hopkinson

234 pages

London 1854 is not a kind city for an orphan. Eel lives in a world where children live day to day in the filthy streets, sleeping under bridges, and begging, working, stealing for food. Eel has a steady job as an errand runner and a second job taking care of animals for Dr. John Snow a prominent London physician. Eel has it a bit better than other twelve-year-olds, but unfortunately he loses the errand job due to a thief and liar who has a grudge against him and the job with Dr. Snow does not pay him as much as he needs to make live.

Back on the streets, with a bad man from his past looking for him would seem like the worst thing that could happen. But Eel has a secret. This secret is costing him money each week that he does not have due to the boy that caused him to lose his job. His desperate attempt to make money forces him to make decisions that would terrify grown men, let alone a young boy.

With all of this going on, Eel goes to see a friend of his only to find the father of the family dying from “the blue death” which was cholera. The common theory is that this disease is spread by poisonous air, but Dr. Snow has a different theory. When he enlists Eel to help him investigate and support his theory.

Working against the clock amid the death knocking at almost every door in the neighborhood, Eel faces friends and foes to help the Doctor. This just might be the best thing that has ever happened to him.

This book was written for children 10 years and up. I am way past 10 and was thoroughly engrossed in this story. There was history, mystery, science, intrigue and relationships to wonder and worry about. The story is based on real people and the actual cholera epidemic in London.

I loved the way Hopkinson wrapped the true events in a great story that adds depth to the story to keep the reader’s interest high. As a bonus, at the end of the novel, she has biographical information on each of the characters that were based upon real people, including pictures of them. She also tells the reader about the books available for more information on the Broad Street cholera epidemic and the efforts of Dr. John Snow to stop the Blue Death from spreading.

I would recommend this book to adults and children that are interested in history and mysteries. It would be a great read-along for a classroom or with your child if it seems too long for him or her to read alone. The story will keep their interest.

If you don’t have any children to share this great book with, read it yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review

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Filed under Book Review, books, children's books, history, Mystery, Science

Book Review: The Mark on Eve – History and Mystery in a Perfect Package

The Mark on Eve  The Mark on Eve

By Joel Fox

280 pages

Fox  begins The Mark on Eve in New York City 1835. Eve Hale (one of the many names she goes by throughout her life) scoffs at P.T. Barnum’s 161 year-old-woman. It takes one to know one and Eve knows a charlatan when she sees one. Born in the early 1700’s, Eve was cursed by a spell when she tangled with a local witch, Eve was left to wander the earth until the end of time or break the curse by kissing her dead lover on the lips, whichever comes first.

The next chapter is set in modern times. There is a woman running for president and Eve is the first to support her. She has seen women become more powerful over the years and is doing everything she can to get her candidate elected. That literally translates to taking a bullet for her.

Without thinking, Eve jumps in front of the candidate when she sees a would be assassin take aim. Eve is hurt, but miraculously survives a wound that would have killed any other person.  The candidate feels indebted to Eve,  and makes her a part of the political machine rolling towards the White House.

With the national exposure of this incident comes the press. In particular Tom Evanger. Eve Skeller is a mystery to him. She doesn’t want any press for saving the person most likely to be the next President of the United States. What intrigues Evanger even more is he cannot find a record of Eve anywhere other than the fact that she owns a production company that focuses on historical movies. No birth certificate, marriage or divorce information or even a driver’s license can be found in Eve’s name.

His persistence forces Eve to face the demons of her past that are rushing towards her as Evanger begins looking under every stone to uncover her secret. If he keeps digging, he might just bury them both.

Expertly weaving between the past and the present, Fox fills in all of Eve’s years and past personas until they collide in present day California. I love the way he lets the reader know where Eve is with section headings such as “Washington, D.C., 1867”. The chapters are short within the sections, making the reader keep turning pages to see where Eve will take us next.

Watching Eve morph into each different setting she has to adapt to is really interesting. She keeps some of her basic traits, but must change and grow with the times to fit it. As she leaves friends and lovers behind when age catches up with them, she begins closing emotions deep inside herself to avoid the pain. It is very interesting watching her interact with Evanger. He is a man that interests her and frightens her at that same time.

History buffs, mystery fans and anyone who loves to get lost in an intriguing tale will love this book. Fox deftly changes settings and locations, pulling the reader along for a fabulously interesting ride. Any author that can combine pirates, lost love, witches, a woman that cannot die and a few other twists and turns that I’ll let you find on your own is a master.

Fox has written two other books that I will be adding to my queue, FDR’s Treasure and Lincoln’s Hand. Both are from his Zane Rigby Murder Mystery Series.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

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Filed under Book Review, history, Mystery, Pirates, politics

Book Review Sons of Sparta – A Mystery Steeped in Good & Bad Traditions

Sons of Sparta

Sons of Sparta

By Jeffrey Siger

241 pages

Special Crimes Division detective Yianni Kouros has been called from Athens by his uncle for what could mean his family is in trouble. Returning to the region of his family on the tip of Peloponnese Island, Kouros reminisces about the time he spent with his family in Mani.

Unfortunately, his uncle isn’t a squeaky clean citizen. Kouros’ father was sent to Athens while Uncle stayed at the family home barely making ends meet.  Life was not easy for his family, but the tide turned when he began to reap the benefits of a side business consisting of “piracy and banditry”. Uncle claims to be retired from that life and Kouros would like to believe him. Unfortunately, his uncle and cousins are embedded in the old world culture of revenge and even murder when the family has been wronged.

His uncle has gathered his children and Kouros to tell them he has decided to sell of part of the family property to a developer. A golf course, hotel and air strip will replace the land used by the family for many generations. Uncle feels this will be better for his children after he is gone, as the money it brings in will give them all a comfortable life. But before the paperwork can be signed with the hotel developer, Uncle dies in a car accident.

Kouros is suspicious, so he quietly starts to investigate the death and finds there are more questions than answers. Calling in a favor from a co-worker, he finds his suspicions are warranted when the evidence shows Uncle was murdered.

Trying to keep the crime quiet and investigate it at the same time is not easy. When his cousins find out, they are literally gunning for the person that killed their father.

The case isn’t as simple as that. It involves illicit affairs, double crossing crooks and long lost love. As hard is Kouros tried to keep his investigation quiet, his boss Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis catches wind of the problems and becomes part of the investigation. The two men work feverously to find the killer before anyone else dies.

This is the sixth book in Siger’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery series. The plot was solid, twisting and turning to the end while leaving little breadcrumbs of clues throughout to lead the reader to the killer. There were believable surprises and an interesting love triangle.

I hesitate to say this reads well as a stand-alone novel. It was a good story, with good characters, but a bit confusing. There is a very fine line between adding too much back story and not enough. For me there wasn’t enough. I kept going back to the beginning chapters to figure out the characters until I was about half way through the book, part of that could be the Greek names were difficult for me to remember with so many characters being introduced.

Sadly I am not well read when it comes to Greek Mythology, so most of the references were lost on me. That is certainly not the author’s fault. Siger painted a picture of a beautiful region of Greece. It was a perfect setting for the juxtaposition of the warring clans with vendettas and the bucolic countryside filled with Greek traditions.

Siger is a gifted writer, he allows the reader to step out of their life and travel to Greece. I would suggest starting with the first book in his series, and then read all of them up to Sons of Sparta. If you want to jump in feet first into a good mystery with interesting characters go ahead and start with Sons of Sparta.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under Book Review, Greek Islands, history, Mani, Mystery, mythology, series

Wandering Weekends: Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, IL

We like to go places and do things. Hubby love to take pictures, I love to write…that is how Wandering Weekend Blog posts began. Hope you enjoy the first in (hopefully) a weekly series.

 

Have you ever been to Chicago? Maybe you live in or near the City. Yes, I know that isn’t normally capitalized, but when you live in Illinois, Chicago is often called “the City” or “Downtown”. We live 45 minutes – give or take traffic and construction time – and go in often.

There are tons of things to do and see. Some attractions don’t cost anything, Lincoln Park Zoo is has free admission every day. Others cost crazy amounts of cash. A recent concert had prices up to and probably exceeding 6 figures. So pick your price range and choose something fun to do.

A few weeks ago we went into the Museum of Science and Industry. Located at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive, it is easy to find from all the expressways. They are open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Regular Admission is $11 for children 3-11, $18 for adults and $17 for seniors 65 & over. Parking is convenient, but not cheap – $22.00 flat fee. Before you purchase tickets, go online and check Groupon. I got a membership for our family that includes parking for less than the cost of 2 visits. There are also free days for Illinois residents. Follow this link to find out when: http://www.msichicago.org/visit-the-museum/museum-info/admission/free-days/

Because the museum has always been a part of my life it is easy to overlook the rich history it provides, as well as how many people have enjoyed it over the years. According to the website:

“The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI), the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, is home to more than 35,000 artifacts and more than 400,000 square feet of hands-on experiences designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity. Since opening our doors in 1933, we’ve welcomed more than 180 million guests from around the world.”

It is also the only remaining major building from the 1893 World’s Fair.  “… the Palace of Fine Arts (as it was known), which was built to showcase artworks, remained. The backside of the museum (over-looking Jackson Park Lagoon) was actually the front of the palace during the fair, and the color of the exterior was changed during renovations. But the building looks almost exactly the way it did in 1893. Some of the light posts from the fair still illuminate the museum campus.” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2004-07-02/features/0407020064_1_world-s-fair-science-and-industry-ferris-wheelFans of Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in The White City will love the connection.

There are so many things to see, it would take days to enjoy all of them. We decided to take our time since we have a membership and plan on coming back within a few months. We started on the first floor, checking out the restoration work on one of the airplanes on exhibit. This 1941 German Stuka is one of two in existence today.  It was given to the MSI in 1946 from the British Secret Service and looking closely you can still see the bullet holes in the skin of the plane from the last mission it flew.

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We went to the special exhibit, Numbers in Nature. No extra charges to go through it, but you do have to get an assigned time so be sure to get a ticket at the kiosk right by the entrance to the exhibit. The mirror maze was fun and looked like it was filled with electric blue trees.

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Another one of my favorites is Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. It began in 1928 with a teeny tiny book and grew to priceless work of art. It amazed me as a child, and as an adult I see something new each time I visit. It has been at the MIS since 1949, and recently they renovated/cleaned the entire castle. They documented the process and it is amazing to read about and watch the video.

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Some of the other exhibits we visited that day were the Great Train Story (a 3,500 square foot model railroad)., Farm Tech (very cool machinery for kids & adults), Streets of Yesteryear (a cobblestone block of stores & shops – that includes a working soda shop) and a quick zip through the space exhibit in the Henry Crown Space Center.

After 5 fun hours we were on our way home after seeing only a fraction of the exhibits available at the Museum. Plan ahead if there is something you really don’t want to miss, or just mosey through the connecting halls and exhibits to see what you find. The “hands on” learning and fun facts will make this a favorite family destination.

 

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Filed under Chicago, Family fun, history, Museum of Science and Industry, museums, Science, Wandering Weekends