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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two More Mysteries

Unfold the Evil     bk 2       

I was introduced to Larson's Natalie Joday series through NetGalley when I received The Hatch and Brood of Time, the first book in the series.  Larson's characters and style appealed to me, so on discovering that Larson also writes science fiction, I read her science fiction novel In Retrospect, which I also enjoyed and reviewed.  

Naturally, when NetGalley offered the second in the Natalie Joday series, I was eager to read it.  Natalie is debating where she wants to go as a reporter, and a more demanding (and better paying position) is available.  Since her brother Daniel's daughter is now a consideration, she must think about how much time is needed for the prospective job and how much for helping care for her niece.  

When the paper's advice columnist begins receiving letters from "Enigma,"  Natalie, somewhat reluctantly, begins helping out.  Her brother's girlfriend Rebecca is a psychologist, and Natalie and Rebecca puzzle over the riddles contained in the letters.  When it appears that a death from years earlier might not have been the accident it seemed at the time, Natalie becomes consumed with discovering more. third book by Larson was another success.  Her characters and her plots engage my imagination.  

Read in August; blog post scheduled for Oct. 23.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery.  2000; Nov. 4, 2014.  Print length:  304 pages.

The Seventh Link by  Margaret Mayhew   

A cozy mystery featuring a retired colonel and the small English village of Frog End.  

The good:  I enjoyed the elements relating to WWII and the information about bomber crews.  I also liked Thursday, the cat.

On the other hand, the novel is short, slow and low key, and lacking in real suspense.  Nor is the mystery completely resolved.  Not that, given the circumstances, I object.  Hard to have incontrovertible proof some 60+ years after the fact.  

Read in August; blog post scheduled for Oct. 23.

Netgalley/Severn House

Cozy Mystery.  Nov. 1, 2014.  Print length:  160 pages.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

The Red Magician

Fairy tale?  Magical realism?  Allegory? Jewish fantasy?  Holocaust story?

All are true.  Voros, the Red Magician, foresees the Holocaust and tries to warn people, but he cannot be specific, and the idea of leaving their ordinary lives to flee a vague and unbelievable danger is beyond the scope of most people.

Kisci is a young girl in one of the villages, and she becomes very attached to Voros and tries to aid him.  But a confrontation with a stubborn and misguided magical Rabbi ends with Voros moving on.

Things in the village proceed for a few years, but eventually the Germans arrive and the villagers who survive end up in the camps.  Kisci barely survives until the end of the war, but Voros finds her and nurses her back to health.  The two have one more journey to make.

A tale of faith and the lack of faith, of vengeance and of guilt, of Jewish mysticism, magic, and the harsh realities of Holocaust.

I can't say I loved it, but The Red Magician was provocative.  I've never been entirely comfortable with magical realism-- it always leaves me with a kind of dissonance and that is certainly true in this case. 

"Lisa Goldstein has published ten novels and dozens of short stories under her own name and two fantasy novels under the pseudonym Isabel Glass. Her most recent novel is The Uncertain Places, which won the Mythopoeic Award. Goldstein received the National Book Award for The Red Magician."

NetGalley/Open Road Media

Magical Realism/Fantasy.  Originally published in 1982; new publication Oct. 21, 2014.  Print length:  144 pages.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Purity of Vengeance (a Department Q novel) by Jussi Adler-Olsen

For some reason, publishers in the UK and US have chosen different titles for these books.  Mercy (which I received as an ARC some years ago) is the first book in the Department Q series; when published in the US, the name was changed to The Keeper of Lost Causes.  

The Purity of Vengeance was published as Guilt in the UK, but I also found it on Goodreads with its original Danish title--Journal 64.  Titles are important, of course, but  all you really need to know is that if it is a Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, it is going to be good.

One other minor complaint is that Amazon doesn't always include the name of the translator.  It is a hit or miss kind of thing, and any work of translation should include the name of the translator.  I don't believe the humor in Adler-Olsen's books could be as successful without a skillful, an artful translation, and it is the humor in the books that truly sets them apart.  The books are all great crime books with loads of tension, but the humanity of the characters and the humorous bits of comic relief make the tension bearable and lift the books above the typical Nordic Noir/Scandinavian Crime novel.

Back to the book.  The Purity of Vengeance (or Guilt, or Journal 64, whichever name you choose) was inspired by actual events on the island of Sprogo, where young women deemed unfit to reproduce were given abortions or sterilized without their consent and often without their knowledge.  From 1923-1961, the "pathologically promiscuous" were sent to Sprogo in an attempt to keep them from breeding more degenerates. (! Hard to believe, isn't it?) The picture below is from the 1950's.

When Department Q (the cold case department in Copenhagen) gets involved in a number of old missing persons cases that occurred on the same day,  similarities begin to appear.  Piecing together the connections of five missing individuals who, on the surface, have no connections, keeps the members of the team relying on their feelings as well as the few facts they gather, and they dig deeper in their efforts to discover what happened.  There are numerous sub-plots that the author skillfully manages and that keep the reader darting from situation to situation, from present to past and back again.  And things aren't always as they seem.

The humor is inserted in the relationships among the Department Q members (Carl Morck, Rose, and Assad), friends, and family.  The balance between evil and comic relief is so adept, so perfectly timed and deftly handled, that what could easily be overwhelmingly discouraging about human behavior is remedied by the humor the author uses to break the tension.

As expected, I was involved from beginning to end, appreciating all aspects of the novel:  anger,  apprehension,  horror of what happened to the women considered unworthy of reproducing--and the eccentric, kind, mysterious, and amusing behavior and remarks of the cold case team.  

The Department Q novels are the very best of Scandinavian crime fiction.  Highly recommended.  (I ordered The Keeper of Lost Causes, the first in the series, for each of my daughters, and I hope they will continue the series.)

Crime/Police Procedural.  2013.  512 pages.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

I read The Walled City as a dystopian novel.  Of course, I did.  The novel has all of the elements of a world that has undergone some serious change that leaves society in a state of primitive chaos.  However, when you get to the end of the novel, it turns out the story is based on a real place in Hong Kong.

The Kowloon Walled City  (via The Daily Mail) was demolished in 1992, but while it existed it housed 33,000 families-- a stunning 50,00 residents within 0.010 sq. miles. Photographs of the city look like it could have been from the imagination of a science fiction writer, and you can see more pictures if you check the link above or visit Greg Girard's website (Girard collaborated with Ian Lamboth in photographing the city for five years before it was demolished.) While it existed, Kowloon City was the most densely populated area on earth.

What I considered to be world building as I read the novel was not simply from the author's imagination.  

Although not a dystopian novel, the setting could easily pass as a dystopian world.  The walled city of Hak Nam (based on the Kowloon Walled City) is the home of three young people:  Dai, Jin Ling, and Mei Yee.  The story is revealed from each of these three perspectives, and we gather information as the three lives intersect.

It is a tense novel, set in a dangerous and gritty city within a city, populated by the desperately poor and run by gangs.  As I was reading, I was horrified by the conditions of Hak Nam; of course, I was thinking the entire time that this was an imaginary world, a dystopian setting.  The plot and characters may be fictitious, but the world Graudin describes existed.  A stranger than fiction experience, even if the reader doesn't realize it at the time.

The characters feel authentic:  Dai, a young man who hopes to make a kind of amends and return to his own world; Jin Ling, a courageous young woman, scarcely more than a child, is on a mission to rescue a beloved sister; and Mei Lee, sold into prostitution, and initially, grateful that at least she is in a higher-class brothel, but who gradually finds herself surprised to be hoping for freedom.

The stories and intersecting goals of these three characters make compelling reading.

read in july; blog post scheduled for 

NetGalley/Little, Brown

Suspense.  Nov. 4, 2024.  Print length: 448 pages.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Grave Mercy by Robin Lafever

Grave Mercy:  His Fair Assassin   

Grave Mercy is the first book in a trilogy.  I wasn't sure if I would like it, but soon found myself hooked.  Set in 1480 Brittany, amidst Brittany's struggles to remain independent of France, the political intrigue and corruption are basically true and many of the characters and events are real.  While I did not like the list of Dramatis Personae that prefaced the story, I did appreciate the author's historical information at the conclusion.

"Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?"

Rescued from a brutal father and an arranged marriage, fourteen-year-old Ismae is hurried in secret to a convent.
Not any old convent, however;  this convent serves St. Mortain, the god of death.  Ismae is given a test and a choice.   Ismae passes the test and chooses to remain at the convent, where she will be trained as an assassin and taught multiple ways to kill.  She will become one of the Handmaidens of Death.  

After a three years of training, Ismae begins her role as an assassin.  Her victims are traitors who have sided with France and betrayed Brittany.  When Gavriel Duval arrives at the convent incensed that the convent has ordered the deaths of men he had hoped to interrogate, it seems that either a mistake was made or that Duval himself is a traitor.  Ismae is assigned to travel with Duval, to determine his loyalties, and to protect the young Duchess of Brittany.

History, fantasy, myth, and a little romance.  I found Grave Mercy entertaining and look forward to the next in the series.  Goodreads reviews were certainly mixed!

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Historical Fantasy.  2012.  Print length:  565 pages.  (didn't feel like it was that long at all)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

The Ploughmen   

I received this ARC in the mail.  Impressed by the beautiful austerity of the cover, it was a pleasure to discover that the writing was just as beautiful.  The Montana landscape, often harsh and uncompromising, is depicted with such appreciation and skill that it is easy to feel present in the story.

And yet, the story, in spite of the beautiful writing, is not a peaceful or pleasant one.  John Gload, seventy-seven, is a brutal killer who has finally been caught.  Val Millimaki is a deputy, a man of quiet integrity in the last months of a troubled marriage. 

Assigned night duty at the jail, Val finds himself sitting with Gload and sharing problems about insomnia and a similar farming background.  An unusual bond develops between killer and the deputy; a bond that Val is at a loss to understand, but certainly recognizes.  Despite the insomnia and years on a family farm that both share, the two men couldn't be more different.  Gload's career of murder began at 14 and has continued for more than a sixty years.  Val and his dog Tom are at the other end of the spectrum, a search and rescue team; but his rescue missions have been locating only the dead lately, adding to his depression over his troubled marriage.

It is a novel of gradual revelations about the lives of both prisoner and deputy.   The novel patiently and dispassionately provides important glimpses into the lives of both men, and Gload, despite his horrific career, is a fascinating and strangely sympathetic character.  

The night shift and insomnia, however, begin to take a toll on Val--he is lonely and despairing as his marriage disintegrates, his rescue missions are leading only to the recovery of the dead, even the nightly conversations with Gload are a two-edged sword, both adding to his despondency and somehow keeping him engaged.  

While the crux of the novel involves the killer and the deputy and their journeys, I was also fascinated by three minor characters:  the women who felt constrained by their lives. The three women take up little physical space in the novel, but their influence is huge.  All three women are circumscribed in a kind of emotional prison, separated by the emotional distance of their men and the isolation of their homes.  (Montana is "4th in size, but 44th in population and 48th in population density of the 50 United States"  according to Wikipedia). 

But the men, too, are bound by circumstances-- defined and confined by their early life experiences.  

The Ploughmen is an impressive novel, and I'm surprised it hasn't garnered more attention. It is not a novel that everyone will enjoy, but one that everyone should appreciate.

Highly recommended for its prose, characterization, and its lingering impact.

Literary Fiction.  Sept. 30, 2014.  272 pages.

Legacy of the Claw (Book 1 of the Animas series) by C.R. Grey

Animas is the first book in this series by C.R. Grey.  The Animas bond links humans to animal, a mutual sympathy and understanding.

Bailey Walker, however, is one of those rare and unfortunate humans with an Absence.  He has not found his kin yet; not having awakened to his bond at his age means he is mostly an outsider, an object of ridicule, and a human with a tremendous sense of emptiness.

When Bailey is accepted to the prestigious Fairmount Academy, he has high hopes that one of the teachers, known for his skill in awakening and strengthening bonds, will be able to help him.

At Fairmount, Bailey makes connections with some true friends, something he has lacked before, but his hope that his bond will awaken has still not been fulfilled, and he senses something dark in the forest surrounding the campus.  At the same time, revolution is brewing in the city, as the leader of the Dominae's propaganda is inflaming the populace and encouraging humans to enslave their animal kin.

Things are getting dangerous, and Bailey and his friends are uneasy about the unrest.  Is there anything they can do to prevent this horrific threat?

I did not expect to enjoy this one as much as I did.  Written for a younger, middle-school audience, it nevertheless kept me interested.  One for the grandkids?  Very likely, but I will also eagerly anticipate the next in the series.

Read in June.  Blog post scheduled for Oct. 8, 2014.

NetGalley/Disney Hyperion      

Fantasy/Juv.  Oct.  28, 2014.  Print length:  324 pages.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Catch-up Reviews

The Thirteenth Tower by Sara C. Snider 

Book Description:  Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn's life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

This is a fantasy novel that was OK; there were parts that were interesting and parts that were slow.  For the most part, none of the characters captured any deep interest.  

In a way, I guess it is something like a traditional fairy tale in which the characters have little depth or personality.  Emelyn tried to come off the page, but even she could not maintain a strong presence.  It isn't listed as YA, but should be.  Some YA books, the very best of them, appeal to all ages, but this one didn't truly satisfy me.  Not bad, but not completely engaging.

As usual, please note that my reviews are not literary criticism, but merely my opinion of a book.  I notice at Goodreads, several people gave it 5 stars.  

NetGalley/Double Beast Publishing

Fantasy/YA.  2014.  Print length:  251 pages.  

The Nightingale Bones by Ariel Swan.

Book Description:
Someone has been waiting a long time for Alice Towne to arrive in Hawthorne. Two hundred years, in fact. Trying to accept her mother’s belief that the women of the Towne family are blessed, not cursed, with supernatural abilities, twenty-seven-year old Alice leaves a disapproving Boston husband to house-sit for the summer in tiny Hawthorne, a historic village famous in the 1800s for its peppermint farms and the large, herbal-essence distilleries that flourished around the Massachusetts township. 

Oh, doesn't that blurb sound interesting?  I was sucked in by the idea of some waiting for two hundred years for Alice, and the beginning of the book seemed promising.

But for me, the novel quickly degenerated into an insta-love romance .

The paranormal element degenerated as the romance element increased.  

NetGalley/Belle Books

Paranormal.  Sept. 30, 2014.  Print length:  258 pages.

Cipher by Aileen Erin

Cipher started off well with a hacker trying to find information that could help make her life normal.

But this one, too, went from interesting to trite pretty quickly.

From the book description:

Hacking into the Citadel mainframe is a huge risk, but it pays off when she finds a database on red helixes. Before she can copy it, she loses control of her power, charring her last processor, and the only person in the Arizona Voids that can get her back online is her oldest friend, Knightly. She hasn’t seen him in person since she started running, and Knightly 2.0 is fully upgraded with a six-pack and knee-melting smile.

Descriptions that involve impressive abs should be stricken from all books.  Can't authors come up with less stereotypical descriptions?  I'm not impressed with female characters drooling over male bodies, yet this seems to be the approach too many YA authors employ.  Story?  Character development?  Are they unnecessary if there are enough cheesy descriptions about appearance?  Sometimes books sound as if they high-jacked their characters from shower commercials with beautiful models--male or female. 

 A disappointment.

NetGalley/Ink Monster

Science Fiction.  Oct. 14, 2014.  Print length:  210 pages.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes (Oct. 28)

The Ship of Brides 

I've only read one other book by Moyes--the deftly handled Me Before You.

The war bride phenomenon is fascinating. Men and women thrown together in circumstances of heightened emotions. Men far from home and grateful for feminine companionship; women falling in love with men they barely know; rushed weddings;  women waiting and hoping their new husbands would survive the brutality of war.  

The Ship of Brides is the story of four Australian brides who are among the 655 women who leave their homes and families in Australia and depart on a six week voyage to join the men (with whom they have spent very little time) and their families in England.  Whatever their reasons, for these young women to leave behind country, family, and friends required courage.  

Moyes did her research, and the Acknowledgements at the beginning of the novel gives a list of the sources she used, including unpublished journals.  The fact that Moyes' grandmother was one of the Australian war brides that embarked on the aircraft carrier the HMS Victorious in 1946 (the same aircraft carrier as the fictitious brides) gives a greater sense of verisimilitude.

The prologue, set in contemporary times, was slow and a bit confusing, and I wondered how it would fit into the book's plot.  However, when the story moved to 1946 and settled down to the individual women, my interest picked up.  

At first, it seems that Maggie is the main protagonist, but that is misleading. Jean and Avice each have an important purpose, but Frances is the key character, a quiet, unassuming nurse whose service in the Pacific theater has shown her the horrors of war.   She also has secrets that she wants to keep hidden.  

The plot moves back and forth in time (but still within the war years), giving up a little about the situations that led the brides to their current situations, yet keeping back all but the whispers of circumstances still undisclosed.  Paul Simon's phrase "hints and allegations" just swept through my head....

I did enjoy the book and the extracts from non-fictional sources even if The Ship of Brides didn't feel as polished or as compelling as Me Before You.   

Read in Aug.;  blog post scheduled for Oct. 6

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Historic Fiction.  2004 (original publ.); Oct. 28, 2014.  Print length:  496 pages.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage is the first in Carriger's Finishing School series  for young readers.

"It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School."

This series is geared toward the lower end of the YA series and takes place about twenty-five years before the Parasol Protectorate series.

The first book started out really well.  Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminick is a trial to her mother, and after a messy incident with a dumbwaiter and a trifle, Sophronia is packed off to Mademoiselle  Geraldine's Finishing School for Young Ladies of Qualities.  The school, however, is not the typical finishing school that young ladies of quality attend.  First, the school is on a dirigible floating over the moors, and second it is a school for intelligencers.  Despite Sophronia's initial vexation at being shipped of to finishing school, she finds both teachers and subjects much more interesting than expected and much more in line with her own abilities.  Sophronia may struggle with a proper curtsy, but she has an inborn aptitude for espionage.

She makes friends with a few students, studies with a vampire and a werewolf, encounters flywaymen and Pickle Men, associates with the boys from the boiler room and from the school's partner school for boys (that caters to developing Evil Geniuses).  

The first book fills in the background for much of what will evolve in the next novels. Initially, I was disappointed that the book was for younger readers (I was expecting something more like Carriger's Souless), but then I realized that my granddaughter might really like it, and I began to enjoy it. 

 I ordered a copy for Mila, and decided to continue the series as they were all NetGalley offerings.

An ALSC Notable Book for Children
A YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick
A Horn Book Summer Reading List Selection

NetGalley/Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Steampunk/Ya.  Feb., 2013.  Print length:  327 pages.

Curtsies & Conspiracies spices things up a bit.  Sophronia is eager to remain at the school, and although her etiquette may still need work, she is quite adept at recognizing conspiracy and applies what she learns with aplomb.  While still a book for the younger end of the spectrum, there is more action and the plot threads seem to be connecting to a bigger picture.

There is a love triangle developing as well that speaks a little to the class distinctions of the day.

NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Steampunk/YA.  Nov., 2013.  Print length:  329 pages.

Waistcoats & Weaponry is the third of the four books planned for the series.  The pace increases with each book, and by now, the reader is pretty well acquainted with all of the main characters. (I do wish Lord Akeldama played a larger role, though.)  Sophronia and her friends Sidheag Maccon and Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott are now sixteen. Complications come with age--especially when dealing with boys. 

Not only do the possible threats to "the world as we know it" have to be addressed, but difficult decisions about the opposite sex must be made.  Soap or Felix?  Felix or Soap?

The books are recommended for seventh grade and up.  Light reading and plenty of humor to counterbalance all of the serious goings on that Sophronia and her friends must deal with.  

I find the steampunk elements a bit distracting, but I think the age group the novel is written for will find them amusing.  I was also happy that the series became more involving with each book.

NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Steampunk/YA.  Nov. 4, 2014.  Print length:  304pages.

Read all three in September; blog post scheduled for Oct. 3.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Vendetta

I love historical mysteries.  Of course, I love mysteries of any kind, but historical mysteries offer a glimpse (a fictional and not always factual glimpse) into different time periods, and I've always loved history.  C. W. Gortner has written a series of three books called The Spymaster Chronicles about the Tudor/Elizabethan period, but this is the first that I've read.

Although this is the third book in the series, Gortner easily and efficiently gives the reader enough back information to feel up to date without it seeming like a review of the previous books.  Of course, characters like Elizabeth, Dudley, Cecil, and Walsingham require little or no information as to who they are, but Gortner manages to smoothly slip in plenty of motivation for each of these historic characters.

Brendan Prescott was raised in the Dudley household, an orphan who was often mistreated and who has a long and troubled history with Elizabeth's favorite.  Prescott is, however, a queen's man who has been protected by Cecil and trained by Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster.  Aside from his determined loyalty to Elizabeth, Prescott has a connection to Elizabeth of which only Cecil and Walsingham are aware.  

Prescott's service to his queen resulted in a hasty exile during Mary's reign, but upon Mary's death, he is summoned home.  Elizabeth has an assignment for him.  Even before she can talk to him privately and tell him what she wants him to do, there is an attempt on her life.   Even before her coronation, she is besieged with courtiers and sycophants who want something, receiving marriage proposals, and aware that bitter Catholics want her dead and her cousin on the throne.  And there are messages that need to be deciphered and secrets that need to be kept.

Elizabeth sends Prescott to find out what happened to Lady Parry, who has been Elizabeth's staunch supporter and companion since Elizabeth was a child.  Lady Parry has disappeared, and Prescott must find her.  Prescott knows there is more to the situation, but Elizabeth never reveals everything; she has too much experience to trust too much information to anyone.  

I found this an exciting Elizabethan mystery:  style, plot, and characters make a great mix.

Read in Sept.; blog post scheduled for Oct. 1, 2014.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Elizabethan Mystery.  Oct. 21, 2014.  Print length:  304 pages.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two Mysteries

Melancholy Manor by Ellie DeFarr is an interesting mystery that kind of turns things around as far as good guy/bad guy goes.  

The protagonist Hera Hunter is a private investigator, and when she feels it necessary, an executioner.  Her best friend is an art thief and her foster sister owns a brothel.  These are the good guys.  

The bad guys present a respectable facade, but engage in corruption and murder. 

I like the twisty reversal, the suspenseful plot, and the engaging characters.  We all root for those who cross the lines sometimes.  

Melancholy Manor is the 2nd in the Hera Hunter series, and I enjoyed it.

NetGalley/Amazon Digital Services

Mystery.  Sept. 6, 2014.  

The Heiress of Linn Hagh by Karen Charlton is an entertaining historical mystery set in Northumberland in 1809--a Regency Mystery, I suppose. 

An heiress disappears from a locked room, something strange prowls Hareshaw Woods, unhealthy sibling relationships, gypsies, and a very good detecting duo in Detective Stephen Lavender and  Constable Woods.

Good characterization and well-plotted, the novel is an interesting start to a new series.  I like the time period with the Bow Street connection and the characters.

Historic Mystery.  2014.  Print length:  270 pages.  

Stitch It Simple by Beth Sheard

Stitch It Simple

Book description:  

In Stitch it Simple you will enjoy making absolutely achievable and quick-to-stitch projects with fabrics from world renowned quilt designer Kaffe Fassett. These 25 fun, stylish, and easy-to-make sewing projects are playful, vibrant, and charming. There are projects and patterns for all sorts of accessories, including a super-simple tote bag, soft alphabet letters, a throw, pillows, and a simple wall hanging. All are guaranteed to work well for sewing novices, offering polished results on the first try. Best of all they make up fast and beautifully. Each wonderfully photographed project also comes with clear step-by-step instructions and colorful illustrations.

A book for those new to sewing regardless of age. 

The included templates are nice to have, even if not all of the projects appeal.  For someone who wanted to teach sewing to a young person, however, the projects might be perfect.  

Beth Sheard completed her fashion degree in 2007.  "She also works as Kaffe Fassett's studio assistant--which she sees more as a daily delight rather than a job!"   Yes, working for Kaffe Fassett would be a treat in itself.

Read in June; blog review scheduled for Sept. 29, 2014.

NetGalley/The Taunton Press

Sewing/Craft.  Oct. 14, 2014.  Print length:  128 pages.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

New computer!  Yes, finally, after a virus overtook and screwed up the last one (which will go to the computer docs for an examination, and hopefully, a cure), I can now at least try to catch up on blog reading and reviews.

I do have a lot of reviews to catch up on, but when NetGalley provided Maggie Stiefvater's Blue Lily, Lily Blue: The Raven Cycle #3, I dived into it yesterday and read the whole thing.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that this is one of those series that must be read in order: 

The Raven Boys
The Dream Thieves
Blue Lily, Lily Blue  

Stiefvater doesn't include a great deal of background information that helps a new reader sink into the story effortlessly.   In order to figure out what is going on, it is necessary to have read the previous books.  At least now, readers can go through three books without waiting a year between installments.   The novels are character driven and each book provides a greater focus on one or two characters, so having the opportunity to read the books without year-long gaps in between will be much more fun.

My favorite is still The Raven Boys, the first in the series that introduces all of the main characters and sets up the basic plot. Blue Sergeant is the daughter of a psychic who, despite her own rules, gets tangled up with the Raven Boys of the Aglionby prep school.  The Raven Boys: Richard Gansey III, Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah are involved with locating ley lines and trying to find the "sleeping" Owen Glendower.   As the series continues, the difficulties and dangers that arise from their efforts increase and the complex relationships develop. 

In The Raven Boys, Blue and Gansey get most of the attention, and Blue's curse is explained. In The Dream Thieves, Ronan and Adam are better developed, and Ronan's role increases. In Blue Lily, Lily Blue, characters mentioned in the previous book appear on the scene, and Blue and the Raven boys move closer to their goal.

Mysteries and magic, complicated friendships, myth and murder,  trust and betrayal, psychics and dream thievery all blend together.  Damn, I hate waiting for the next book!

NetGalley/Scholastic Press

Mystery/Paranormal/YA.  Oct. 21, 2014.  Print length:  400 pages.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport  

1984:  miner's strike; the suspicious death of a baby; a troubled housing estate; a reporter with some personal and emotional problems of her own.

Clare Jackson follows the story of the dead baby and finds herself entangled with the life of a neglected young girl who knows more about the baby's death than anyone realizes and whose lies cause more tragedies.  Unable to keep herself from becoming too close to nine-year-old Amy, Clare also finds herself entangled with the possible connection to the strikers.

Clare is one of those characters that you want to reach in and shake.  Clare's own troubled past is interfering with her ability to keep from becoming personally involved with her stories, and while I was able to sympathize with her situation, I was certainly frustrated by her blindness to the possibilities that all was not what it seemed.  

Although Davenport only concentrates on a small segment of the striking minors, she provides a view of what life might have been like for the miners, their families, and the scabs who broke the picket lines.   

 As to the mystery, there is little surprise--the author provides enough information for the reader to make a pretty good guess at what happened.  

NetGalley/Legend Press

Mystery.  Oct. 1, 2014.  Print length:  256 pages.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Aurora: Meridian by Amanda Bridgeman

 Aurora: Meridian   

I've read the previous novels in this series (Thanks, NetGalley), and I couldn't wait to discover what Amanda Bridgeman could deliver with this one.

Aurora: Darwin - reviewed here.
Aurora: Pegasus - reviewed here.

I may have thought this would be a trilogy and that Aurora: Meridian would be the final installment, but that is not the case.  There will be at least one more novel, maybe more.

OK -- Meridian didn't work as well for me as the previous novels have.  Carrie's behavior seemed foolish and put others in jeopardy.  (You know how you have a character's personality in mind from reading the other novels he/she has appeared in?  Carrie's behavior in Meridian didn't match my vision of her.)  There are 3 reviews on Amazon that have a more positive take on this third book in the series, however, so my opinion may be skewed by personal preference.

Have to admit that, although not as pleased with this one, I eagerly await the next book in the series.  Saul is beginning to admit the importance of his dreams, the spy has been detected, and the members of the crew are prepared to tackle the bad guys with renewed determination.  

NetGalley/ Pan Macmillan

Science Fiction.  Sept.  2014.  Print length:  552 pages.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd

I saved several books I received from NetGalley in the summer-- awaiting Carl's RIP Challenge.  I'm glad I did because as soon as September hit, I dived headlong into the challenge with enough scary, paranormal, horror type books to keep me involved for a while.

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd is the one I looked forward to the most as I've read all of her books  set in Victorian England and featuring Charles Maddox.  Yet I delayed starting it because of the intense, but subtle undercurrent of threat that accompanies the Charles Maddox series.  I have to be in the right mood to enjoy (or subject myself?) to the melancholic menace Shepherd's writing delivers.  

Charles Maddox isn't an entirely likable protagonist.  As a means of imparting atmospheric stories, however, Charles is a complete success.  Or perhaps I should give credit for that not to Charles, but to the omniscient narrator who respects Charles, but doesn't withhold details that expose his flaws.  

As for the writing style, I have to admit that many readers have a problem with the detail, the lengthy sentences, and the slow revelations.  All true, but the books are creepy and historic, with loads of allusions to Victoriana and the authors and works of the period.  I like this element, but can understand some of the objections to pace.  

The Pierced Heart presents a different version of the Dracula story.  If you've read Bram Stoker's Dracula, you will at once pick up on similarities of characters, descriptions, and style--yet the book is not simply telling the story from another point of view.  It is, rather, the telling the story that might have inspired Bram Stoker to write his fictional version of certain events.  In fact, I kept expecting Stoker himself to appear in the story, grateful for the inspiration and ready to put pen to paper.  At first, I thought that the young man Charles met in the library was Stoker (he did have red hair), but I realized the timing wasn't right, Stoker would have been a toddler in 1851.

If you like Gothic novels, The Pierced Heart fulfills the qualifications for the genre and gives another version of one of the most popular Gothic characters of all time. 

My fourth book for the RIP challenge.

NetGalley/Random House/Bantam Dell

Gothic/Mystery/Historic Fiction.  Oct. 21, 2014.  Print length:  256 pages.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lazarus Prophecy by F.G. Cottam

The Lazarus Prophecy is a supernatural/horror/crime story that involves attempts by the Catholic Church to contain an ancient evil.  Unfortunately, not everyone believes in the concept or the prophecy, and as a result a terrible demon is loose in London.    
The first victims are prostitutes, and in spite of the distressing mutilations of the bodies, the killer has left no clues.  With each victim, the killer has left a message, written in archaic languages requiring linguists to decipher them. 

Always a step ahead, the killer enjoys taunting the police and leaving them hand-delivered messages directing them to the next body.  DCI Jane Sullivan is in charge of the investigation, and in spite of her impressive solve rate, the investigation remains stymied.

When the killer moves from prostitutes to a well-known and respected actress, the media attention becomes pervasive, whipping up public fear and putting pressure on not only the police, but the government itself.

What are the connections to the Whitechapel Murders of 1888?  To the secluded monastery in the Pyrenees?  To historical characters and their descendants?  Who hopes to profit from the frenzy of blame?  What is the end-game of the killer?

This is a horror story, and even if you can't fully accept all the details of the premise and have some questions about a few gaps in explanations, you may not be able to avoid the feelings of dread and trepidation the novel evokes.

This is my third book for Carl's RIP IX challenge.  It certainly kept me on tenterhooks.


Horror/Supernatural.  Sept. 2, 2014.  Print length:  289 pages.