An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd – Book Review

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

This is the second book in the Bess Crawford series. I previously reviewed the first book, A Duty to the Dead.

Transporting injured troops back to England is one way to temporarily escape some of the horrors of war, although bringing home grievously injured men has horrors of its own, particularly when the men have been disfigured. One such soldier is Meriwether Evanson. Horribly burned in a plane crash, Meriwether is on suicide watch, but seems to be buoyed by the thought of his wife, whose picture he keeps pinned to his uniform. After looking at Marjorie Evanson’s picture pinned to Meriwether’s coat for days, Bess Crawford has her face basically memorized and cannot fail to recognize the woman when she runs into her at the train station, even though Marjorie is sobbing and pleading with a man who seems completely uninterested. Bess is headed back to France and war, but before long the news reaches her that Marjorie was murdered later that same day, and Meriwether killed himself with grief. Having witnessed the teary scene at the train station, Bess feels involved, and is determined to find out who murdered Marjorie.

The Bess Crawford series is really shaping up to be a good one. In An Impartial Witness, we once again find Bess pulled into a situation in which she never intended to find herself. After A Duty to the Dead, it is not surprising that Bess can’t bear to sit on the sidelines and simply trust that everything will get sorted out. She shows herself to be strong and smart, if occasionally not as cognizant as danger to herself as she should be. The highlight of An Impartial Witness, though, may be Bess’s back and forth relationship with Simon, her father’s right hand man. Their relationship is one of mutual respect, and his support for her intelligence and skills is particularly attractive considering the book is set in 1917. He is protective of Bess without being smothering or infantalizing her. I have to say, I really, really hope there’s a romantic relationship between them in the future, because I adore their interactions  and am not sure that many other men would fully accept and support the strong woman Bess is.

If I wasn’t participating in Book Club Girl’s Book Time with Bess readalong, I probably would just read the rest of this series straight through, but I’m trying to hold off so I can participate in the discussions more fully.  Still, I’m looking forward immensely to the third book, A Bitter Truth, and the soon-to-be-released fourth book, An Unmarked Grave. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
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Source: Contest run by publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd – Book Review

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

This is the first book in the Bess Crawford series.

As a nurse aboard a WWI hospital ship, Bess Crawford feels a duty towards her patients. Some more than others, of course. Arthur Graham was one such patient. Well loved not only by Bess, but by the entire hospital staff, Arthur was a man Bess could have pictured herself marrying – had only he survived. But even now that he is dead, Bess still feels that she must respect his final wishes and deliver a cryptic message to Arthur’s brother Jonathan, “Tell my brother Jonathan I lied. I did it for mother’s sake, but it must be set right.” While delivering the message to the Grahams in Kent, Bess finds herself drawn first into two medical emergencies and then into the mystery of an old murder. All may not be as it seems at the Graham’s estate.

In many ways, it is difficult not to draw comparisons between the Bess Crawford and Maisie Dobbs series. Both involve women who are or were WWI nurses, and both involve the solving of mysteries. Thus far, at least, Bess stumbles into her mysteries, instead of approaching them deliberately as Maisie does. In many ways, Bess is also more self-assured. Unlike Maisie she was born into the life of relative privilege and status she currently enjoys, and thus is not forced to work through the slightly angsty class mobility issues that Maisie has.

It is, of course, not fair to A Duty to the Dead to only compare it to another series, though, it must stand on its own. It does this quite well, really. The story moves along believably; it would have been easy for Bess’s entry into the Graham family mystery to come off feeling contrived, but the events of the plot flow naturally and with the character traits that Todd establishes for Bess, it would have been less believable had she not gotten involved. The first books in long-running series occasionally suffer from too much desire on the part of the author to create the character and setting (I refer partly to Maisie Dobbs, the first book in the series of the same name, which almost failed to compel me to move ahead in a series I now adore), but Todd manages to work the setting and character development into the plot so that the story isn’t bogged down in the service of the following books.

All in all, a strong and intriguing start to a new-to-me series. I can’t wait to read the next one! Recommended.

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Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Gingerbread Man – Saturday Story Spotlight

Welcome to Saturday Story Spotlight, my feature where I discuss books my husband and I are reading with our son, Daniel. These are books that he, we, or all of us particularly enjoy.

The Gingerbread Man illustrated by Karen Schmidt
Published by Scholastic Paperbacks, an imprint of Scholastic

I’m sure you all know the basics of this one: gingerbread man comes to life, taunts those who attempt to chase him, becomes over-confident, gets eaten by a fox.

We started reading this with Daniel around Thanksgiving and it became a favorite in no time and has been an oft-requested book for the entirety of winter (or what has passed for winter this year, anyway). Most of the time Daniel now “reads” this to us, at the very least reciting the gingerbread man’s lines “Run, run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man!” Actually, he doesn’t just recite those lines when we’re reading the book, if he’s running (particularly if he’s running AWAY from us around the house) he is extremely likely to be shouting the same lines.

The predictive text in this book is great for a pre-reader like Daniel, but what is even better is how much it has captured his imagination.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy

Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy
Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin

This is the fifth book in the White House Chef series. I have previously reviewed the first four books: State of the Onion, Hail to the Chef, Eggsecutive Orders, and Buffalo West Wing.

Having to scope out party locations with White House Sensitivity Director Peter Everett Sargeant doesn’t rank particularly high on Olivia’s list of best ways to spend a day. Actually, it is more likely to fit in as one of her personal circles of hell. Sargeant has, after all, had it in for Olivia ever since he began work at the White House. Olivia’s bad day only gets worse when she and Sargeant arrive at the First Lady’s preferred location for the party and find two fellow White House staffers already there – dead. Not only is Olivia back in the middle of another White House mystery, this time she’s stuck investigating with Peter Everett Sargeant.

Another fun book from Julie Hyzy! I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as Eggsecutive Orders and Buffalo West Wing, but that seems to have more to do with the fact that I read those three in quick succession and just needed to space them out a bit more. I love that Hyzy is continuing to keep this series fresh by changing up how and where Olivia investigates the various crimes that come across her path. Teaming up with Sargeant is certainly not a plot point I ever imagined seeing.

Okay, everyone, I’ve spent the last year recommending Julie Hyzy, and this series in particular, to you. If you haven’t read it yet, why not?

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy – Book Review

Eggsecutive Orders by Julie Hyzy
Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin

This is the 3rd book in the White House Chef series. I have previously reviewed the first two books: State of the Onion and Hail to the Chef.

Ollie Paras is back, and she’s just as fabulous as ever. In Eggsecutive Orders, we see much less of the White House and the White House kitchen, because Ollie herself gets kicked out of her kitchen in the first few pages of the book. The night before the book begins, the President hosted a dinner that included the Joseph McCarthy of terrorism, the NSA’s Carl Minkus. Minkus has made plenty of enemies, so when he dies after dinner, the Secret Service suspects foul play – and the food service – immediately.

Julie Hyzy does a fabulous job keeping Ollie’s adventures fresh. I was initially a bit worried about how Ollie not being in the White House much would play out, but Hyzy added two new characters to the mix: Ollie’s mother and grandmother who were on their way to visit her from Chicago when the crisis comes to a head. To spice things up even more, Ollie has once more been prohibited from sticking her nose into the investigation, but this time her Secret Service boyfriend Tom is essentially a hostage to ensure her good behavior. He has been put in charge of keeping her in line, and his job depends on her staying out of trouble.

Although I really like Hyzy’s Manor House series, I had forgotten just how much fun the White House Chef series really is. Ollie is a fabulous protagonist: smart, sassy, and occasionally prone to embarrassing herself (but not too much). Even better, she’s just as engaging three books into the series as she was at the beginning, if not more so.

This series is an absolute joy to read, I highly recommend it. I know I’m looking forward to the next books in the series: Buffalo West Wing and the newly-released Affairs of Steak.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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