Posts Tagged fun books

Romance Saturday Redux: Stephanie Osborn’s “A Case of Spontaneous Combustion”

It’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review! So what could be better than another romantic science fiction/mystery offering from Stephanie Osborn?

DDSpontaneous_CombustionTonight’s subject is book 5 in her long-running, popular Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Skye Chadwick-Holmes, A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION. (Books one and two of the series were reviewed here; book three was reviewed here; and book four was reviewed here.) This time, Sherlock Holmes is summoned to merry old England without his wife, Skye, to consult on a perplexing case: the village of Stonegrange has died all at once, apparently of spontaneous combustion, and no one knows how or why. And for reasons of national security, Sherlock isn’t even allowed to wake her up to tell her what’s going on.

This is a problem, as Sherlock and Skye haven’t been married all that long (maybe a year, tops), and have just had a huge fight (as newlyweds the world over tend to do). The fight was over something minor, and if Sherlock had been able to tell Skye that he’d been summoned to England, it’s possible the two would’ve made up right then and there — but he wasn’t, and they’re both about to be in a world of hurt.

While Sherlock tries desperately to figure out what’s happened that’s caused Stonegrange to spontaneously combust, Skye is left at home in Colorado. Both are miserable, both try to write each other letters, but as their letters are considered classified on both ends, there are intermediaries between them and their letters to one another.

And their letters are not getting through, which adds immensely to their overall “frustration factor.”

Making matters even more dicey, the mystery of Stonegrange has a strong scientific component, so Sherlock needs Skye. And she’s not there, so solving the mystery is made that much slower and more complex, too.

Mind, Sherlock doesn’t know why Skye wasn’t sent for along with him. Neither do the people who guard Sherlock and Skye on a regular basis. And as the National Security Act has been invoked, it’s keeping them from talking with their counterparts as they normally would.

So that, too, is a mystery that both need to solve . . . but as they’re both extremely upset (Skye has fallen into a severe depression), it takes a bit more time than usual to get to the bottom of this problem.

Regarding Stonegrange, Sherlock goes undercover to find out who did this and why. He uncovers a few leads, but again realizes he needs Skye’s scientific expertise.

After quite some time, romantic and domestic matters are resolved and Skye’s back where she belonged. (So for romance readers, there is a “happily ever after” ending.) And a good thing, too, as Skye’s knowledge of physics is absolutely essential to the solving of this particular mystery.

As always with the work of Stephanie Osborn, her command of language is strong, while her knowledge of physics, England, and Sherlock Holmes trivia is excellent. Her pacing is good, the romance is outstanding, and the hard SF component (the physics involved) is explained well enough that I had no trouble figuring out what was going on.

The one quibble I had here is that the ending was a bit too gentle for my tastes. After all the sturm und drang Sherlock and Skye went through to get back into contact with one another, and then back to each other, I would’ve liked to see some retribution handed out to the person who kept them apart.

But everything else worked quite well.

Bottom line? It’s not everyone who can make cutting-edge physics comprehensible to the intelligent layman and write a kick-butt romance along with an absorbing mystery all at the same time, but Stephanie Osborn did just that in A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION.

One, final thought: If you love Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day and haven’t tried Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective novels yet, what’s stopping you?

Grade: A-minus.

–reviewed by Barb

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Rebecca Rupp’s “How Carrots Won the Trojan War” is One Great Read

Rebecca Rupp’s HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR: Curious (but True) Stories of Common Vegetables is a fun, fast read that brings up many interesting anecdotes about vegetables.  From asparagus being thought of in medieval and Renaissance times as “sex food” to the title anecdote about the Greek warriors who, historically speaking, were said to have consumed many carrots beforehand in order to not have to eliminate while being stuck in the Trojan Horse for hours or days before they were turned loose, there are many intriguing facts here to pique your interest.

My favorite chapter was the twentieth chapter, which is about turnips and rutabagas.  Rupp points out on p. 349 that the turnip has fallen on hard times, as it

 . . . comes in dead last on the National Gardening Association’s list of most popular American garden vegetables, and a lot of seed catalogs leap insouciantly from tomatoes to watermelons without a turnipward glance.

Yet in the sixteenth century, turnips were often carved into fantastic shapes, suitable for the finest dinner parties.  And the Romans ate them, though mostly the peasants did as turnips, then and now, have mostly been seen as a form of cheap, palatable food that would help fill you up without making you go broke in the process.

And turnips have been a staple of literary tales since the fourteenth century; as Rupp says on p. 345:

The Grimm Brothers’ tale “The Turnip,” for example, hearkens back to a trio of medieval Latin poems, the gist of which is deserved comeuppance.  A poor but honest farmer brings an enormous turnip as a gift to the king, and receives a purse of gold as a reward.  The farmer’s wealthy neighbor (or, occasionally, half-brother) then decides to give the king a horse, hoping for an even bigger and better reward.  Instead, he gets the turnip.

Who can resist such anecdotes about the humble turnip?  (Surely not me.)

Other interesting facts brought up by HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR include:

  • Most Romans ate beans, and had all sorts of interesting recipes for them.
  • While beets aren’t very popular in contemporary US of A, they’ve been grown as a source of sugar since 1801 (with the first place known to have grown them for this purpose being Kunern, Silesia, within the Kingdom of Prussia).
  • The ancient Greeks ate melons.
  • Winston Churchill once said that “All the essentials of life” boil down to four: hot baths, cold champagne, old brandy, and new peas.
  • Henry Ford was obsessed with carrots and once dined on a twelve-course all-carrot meal.

This is a lively, fun book that discusses the nutritional value of our favorite veggies along with common ways they’ve been prepared, historically, along with the ways we eat them today.   Along the way, Rupp also discusses the various types of veggies and how they propagate, whether any of the historical versions of melons and cucumbers and tomatoes, etc., are still alive today in the wild, and dispenses for once and for all the whole “is the tomato a fruit, or a vegetable?”  (Biologically, the tomato is a fruit.  But we use it like a vegetable and it’s often been taxed as a vegetable.  Which is why Rupp included it in this book.)

So if you want a great read that’ll educate you on the one hand while making you laugh on the other (as some of the anecdotes Rupp includes are quite amusing), you should immediately grab HOW CARROTS WON THE TROJAN WAR as it’s easily the best book, bar none, I’ve ever read about vegetables.

So what are you waiting for?  Go read this book today!

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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