Gruen, Sara. At the Water’s Edge.

NY: Random House, 2015.

Gruen is best known for Water for Elephants, but this novel, her fifth, is rather different. It’s January 1945 and Maddie Hyde is a wild child in New York society. She’s been married to Ellis for a couple of years now, but she’s really more of a mascot for him and his best buddy, Hank, than she is a wife. Also, her in-laws hate her, her own father ignores her, and she feels guilty for her scandal-ridden mother’s suicide a decade before.

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Pratchett, Terry. The Shepherd’s Crown.

NY: HarperCollins, 2015.

This is the fifth and last book about young Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk and Wee Hag of the Nac Mac Feagles. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a year, waiting for me to read it, because it’s also the last book by Sir Terry that I will ever be able to read for the very first time. And that’s a hard thing to do. Since it also begins with the death of Esme Weatherwax, the most powerful and by far the most influential witch on Discworld, it’s also about death and about replacing the irreplaceable: The last lesson Terry wanted to teach us.

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Ashford, Lindsay Jayne. The Woman on the Orient Express.

Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016.

It’s a historical fact that in the fall of 1928, still recovering mentally from a very painful divorce and not wanting to be trapped by the press in England when her ex-husband married his mistress, Agatha Christie, already famous as the author of ten mystery novels (and also for her public bout of “amnesia”), anonymously crossed the Channel and boarded the Orient Express, headed for Baghdad.

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Spark, Muriel. Memento Mori.

NY: St. Martin, 1959.

It’s the late ’50s in London, and what with two world wars during their lifetimes there are a lot of now-elderly middle and upper-middle class widows around. A dozen of them, either old or infirm or both, inhabit a row of beds at the Maud Long Medical Ward, all of them resentful at being patronized by the staff as “Granny.”

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Hill, Reginald. Arms and the Women.

NY: Delacorte, 1999.

Detective Superintendent “Fat Andy” Dalziel, head of Mid-Yorkshire CID, and his able right hand, the more intellectual (and liberal) DCI Peter Pascoe, have been at their jobs a long time. Together with the notably ugly (and gay) Sergeant Wield, they constitute a well-oiled machine when it comes to solving crimes. But this time, the guys are sidelined somewhat by the ladies.

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Waters, Sarah. Tipping the Velvet.

NY: Penguin, 1998.

This was apparently Waters’s first novel and it sort of sets the pace for the five books (so far) that have followed. It’s 1888 and eighteen-year-old Nancy Astley spends her days help her family run its oyster business in Whitstable, down in Kent. Though it’s only an hour or so away by train, none of them have ever visited London, but Nance frequents the Palace music hall in nearby Canterbury and knows all the tunes and the comic turns from the big city.

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Robinson, Peter. When the Music’s Over.

NY: Morrow, 2016.

This is the 23rd installment in the professional adventures of DCI Alan Banks of East Yorkshire CID and I’m pleased to see that the series continues as strong as ever. Things change, though, and Banks has recently been promoted to Detective Superintendent, which involves more meetings and much more paperwork than he would like. But he’s not going to let that keep him from getting closely involved in his team’s cases, of which there are two this time.

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Abercrombie, Joe. Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law.

NY: Little, Brown, 2016.

I’m a great fan of Abercrombie’s adult-level novels — six so far, the original trilogy plus three more set in the same bloody-minded world. (He’s done a YA trilogy, too, but that’s a rather different sort of story.) If you’ve read those books, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy these thirteen shorter pieces. But if you’re new to Joe’s work, these really won’t mean much to you.

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Griffith, Nicola. Always.

NY: Penguin, 2007.

This is the third novel about the lethally vikingesque Aud Torvingen, Atlanta ex-cop, who can — and has — killed men with her bare hands. The narrative this time consists of parallel stories, the first concerning her self-defense class for women, which is far more than just karate kicks and ju jitsu holds. Aud insists on teaching her middle-class housewife students how not to be afraid and the way she does that is fascinating. But even Aud can’t predict where they will go from there.

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Russell, Alan. Multiple Wounds.

Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2005.

I’ve read several of this author’s earlier detective novels — about a Los Angeles cop and his K-9 partner — and while they were entertaining enough, they also tended to be relatively lightweight and written in a somewhat gushy style. This work, though, is altogether darker and far more mature in content and style.

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