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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Painted Veil by Beverle Graves Myers

Painted Veil is actually a re-read.  I read in 2006 and liked it and have occasionally thought about it without remembering much about it except that it involved a castrato singer with a Venetian opera house.  

Tito Amati has been accustomed to being the male lead, receiving plum roles with the Teatro San Marco, but he let success goes to his head, indulged himself and neglected his voice.  When another celebrated singer is brought in to play the lead in the next opera, Tito is humiliated, but recognizes his own role in his demotion.

Tito is eager to get back in form and to regain the good graces he once enjoyed with the theater's director.  when asked to locate Luca Cavalieri, the scene designer who has gone missing, Tito willing agrees.

Luca Cavalieri's body washes ashore at an inopportune moment, and now, Tito needs to discover the reason for Luca's murder...and the culprit.

The 18th century Venetian setting, the details concerning the theater and production of an opera, the role of the castrati (what a sad tradition), and political machinations all combine to make interesting reading.

Tito is a charming character who resents his demotion and his replacement, but takes responsibility for his behavior and acknowledges his rival's skill and genuine talent.  He has come to terms with his own situation as a castrato--his prized role as a singer is a result-- but still feels some bitterness about the price.  (Boys were castrated for singing in church choirs and on stage; at the height of the demand for these singers it is estimated that as many as 4,000 boys a year underwent this mutilation--often as in Tito's case--sold by their families in that hopes that their sons' voices would lift them from poverty.)
 "The first openly castrated singers were enthusiastically admitted to the Vatican chapel by Pope Clement XIII in 1599 and by 1625 had completely replaced the soprano falsettists. Taking their example from Rome, the other major Italian chapels quickly sought out and admitted castrati among their ranks and their use openly spread throughout the first half of the century."  via Origin of the Castrati
Beverle Graves Myers has created interesting and well-drawn characters, placed them in a unique historic setting, and provided them with an absorbing murder mystery.

Purchased.

Historical Mystery.  2005.  Print version:  315 pages.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Chorus of Innocents by P.F. Chisolm

I discovered this fictional series about the real Sir Robert Carey thanks to NetGalley and have  read An Air of Treason and A Famine of Horses so far.  

Here is some information about the real Sir Robert Carey that I lifted from my review of A Famine of Horses:

Background on Sir Robert Carey-- The real Robert Carey was the son of Lord Hunsdon, Henry VIII's illegitimate son by Mary Boleyn.  Lord Hunsdon was also Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain (and half-brother) and patron to Shakespeare.  Obviously, Robert Carey had some interesting DNA to draw from, and he had an interesting life as a dandified courtier in Elizabeth's court.  Then, for whatever reason, he decided to switch to soldiering, and he accepted the position of Deputy Warden of the English West March.  Quite a switch, that.  From courtier to sheriff/marshall of the wildest part of the kingdom in the West March where murders, horse thieves, and outlaws abounded.

Evidently a charming and cheerful man, his memoirs are lively and entertaining, and Chisholm says that she lifted him "practically undiluted from his own writings.

A Chorus of Innocents focuses less on Carey and more on Sergeant Dodd and Lady Elizabeth Widdrington.  Another engaging adventure in the Debatable Lands that finally allows Lady Widdrington a way to exert some control over her situation.  I do wish the repeated attention to young Henry's "spots" had been edited, but I like his character.   

As usual when reading historic fiction, I'm constantly researching such terms as couvre-feu (and its evolution to curfew), the rough wooing ( attempt to force the Scots to agree to a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary, Queen of Scots), border reivers, wheellock, jacks (leather and other), and arquebus.  Most of these were familiar to me in general, but I liked getting more information about specifics in this time period.

A violent and fascinating era with both fictional and real characters--and P.F. Chisholm writes about it with style.  While it isn't my favorite of the three I've read so far, it is still historic fiction at its best.

Read in February.  Blog post scheduled for July 20, 2015.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Historic Fiction/Mystery/Crime.  Aug. 4, 2015.   

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse by Martin Davies

Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse was originally published in 2002.  If  "Mrs. Hudson" doesn't immediately bring to mind Sherlock Holmes' landlady, the clever cover makes the association clear.  

What I liked:  Mrs. Hudson and Flotsam are vividly presented and likable; the inclusion of characters with which I was familiar and new, interesting characters; and plenty of tongue-in-cheek remarks discreetly poking fun at both the canonical Holmes and at itself as a pastiche.

Mrs. Hudson, in this version, is much more than the retiring housekeeper of the canon.  She has a past.  No, no, not that kind of past.  Mrs. Hudson has a reputation for having solved a number of crimes and tricksy situations for past employers who owe her a debt of gratitude.  Her effective methods and contacts  saved the lives and reputations of some powerful individuals who stand ready to give aid when needed.

Her observations are as skillful as those of Holmes, but her areas of expertise differ.  
"Look at it like this, sir."  Mrs. Hudson was now engaged in rooting out and discarding an extravagant selection of unrelated comestibles.  "When we have discarded the inedible, what remains, however unlikely, will have to be dinner." 
Mrs. Hudson's knowledge of how kitchens and households run is far superior to that of Holmes, and her ability to see past the obvious and to separate the wheat from the chaff in the most common sense manner make her a formidable opponent to wrong-doers.
"Very simple, Mr. Holmes," returned Mrs. Hudson steadily.  "One should never overlook the alimentary."
When the orphaned Flotsam is fortunate enough to come within Mrs. Hudson's sphere of influence, she finds safety, mentoring, and an unusual education in social norms, practicalities, and divergent thinking.  

Holmes is eccentric and arrogant, but gentler and more flexible in this version.  He becomes the foil to Mrs. Hudson's astute, but modest personality.  As much as I love Mrs. H. and Flotsam, I was a little uncomfortable with the roles of Holmes and Watson.  I did not mind Holmes being more human, but--he was wrong about several things.  His detailed and accurate observations often led to incorrect conclusions.  

That is my only real quibble with the novel because I loved Mrs. H., Flotsam, the other characters, and the entire entertaining adventure.

One character who interested me was A.J. Raffles, who played a minor role.  I Googled him and discovered that he was a fictional character created by E.W. Hornung, Doyle's brother-in-law (he married Doyle's sister).  "According to the Strand Magazine, these stories made Raffles "the second most popular fictional character of the time," behind Sherlock Holmes.[1]"

The next installment of this series is Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar Rose.  It is now on my wish list.

NetGalley/Canelo

Mystery/Holmes Pastiche.  2002/2015.  Print version: 235 pages. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Review and Some Pondering

A while back I reviewed Ghost Fleet, a novel that imagined what a third World War might look like. I found it frightening, to say the least.  And unnervingly plausible.

Evidently, I'm not the only one who felt that way:

Navy Times:  Ghost Fleet Offers a Realistic Look at an Imagined War

Discover Magazine:  Ghost Fleet's Fiction Aims to Shape Minds on Future War

----------

After reading Julia Heaberlin's Black Eyed Susans, I was determined to read more by Heaberlin.  When BookBub offered Heaberlin's Playing Dead for $1.99,  I snapped it up.

Tommie McCloud,  former rodeo star, psychologist, and equine therapist, returns to her Texas home after the death of her father.  As she deals with the grief of her father's death and her mother's descent into Alzheimer's, she gets another shock to her system:  a letter from a woman in Chicago who claims that Tommie is her daughter and was kidnapped when she was a year old.

OK -- the plot is a bit fantastic, yet it didn't bother me much while I was reading.  I liked the characters and the Texas atmosphere, but found the thread involving the Chicago mob(s) far-fetched and illogical.  There were plenty of twists and turns, but not all details and digressions were resolved.

There are plenty of mysteries, some surprises, almost everyone carries at least one gun, the novel has a modern wild west flavor, seasoned with Chicago organized crime.

Playing Dead is Heaberlin's first novel.  I liked it even though I thought it had flaws.  

Purchased.

Mystery/Crime.  2012.  Print version:  354 pages.

------------
Thinking about all those guns made me wonder a bit about gun culture.

"Don't mess with Texas" was a great campaign slogan to prevent litter, but it has a wider application as well.  A frontier mindset still exists in both fiction and fact about Texas.  There is a Texas mythology that prevails even in minds of Texans who have never owned a gun, ridden a horse, or worked a ranch--but the reality is that most Texans don't "carry" or actually lead lives that in any way involve the Western myth.  (Owning a gun and carrying a gun are quite different.)  

I was curious about how Texas ranked in gun ownership because I live in a state that also has a love affair with guns.  I found this article:  Gun Owners as a Percentage of Each State's Population.  Surprisingly, Texas ranked as #30 on the list with 35.9% of its population owning one or more guns. Wyoming held the #1 position with 59.7% .  

But here is another way to look at it--the population of Wyoming (2014 census) is 584,173. The population of Texas is 26.96 million. While the percentages are higher in the sparsely populated state of Wyoming, the number of gun owners in Texas by far exceeds the number of gun owners in Wyoming.  

It is funny what detours the mind takes when reading (or when writing about reading). 


  • States with Extremely High Populations of Gun Owners(more than 50%)
  • 1. Wyoming - 59.7%
  • 2. Alaska - 57.8%
  • 3. Montana - 57.7%
  • 4. South Dakota - 56.6%
  • 5. West Virginia - 55.4%
  • 6. Mississippi - 55.3%
  • 6. Idaho - 55.3%
  • 6. Arkansas - 55.3%
  • 9. Alabama - 51.7%
  • 10. North Dakota - 50.7%
  • (via the above linked article)

The state with the lowest percentage of gun ownership?  Hawaii.  Where does your state rank in gun ownership?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Yesterday's Gone by Sean Platt and David Wright

The authors have a definite bias toward writing serial fiction.  :)  Like Dickens and Wilkie Collins and Alexandre Dumas in the 19th century.  Like Lost and Downton Abbey and Buffey on television. Well, maybe not exactly, more like The Walking Dead. The idea is to release the story in installments, and today, the popular mode of dissemination is the internet.  

I didn't read them in installments, though; I read by season when they were offered on NetGalley.

Yesterday's Gone (Season One)

Survivors of an apocalyptic event struggle with the loss of their families and the terrifying creatures that roam a landscape now curiously devoid of life.  Multiple characters in various locations must re-evaluate their world when at 2:15 AM on Oct. 15, almost everyone vanished.  

There are the good, the bad, and the hideous.

Entertaining, sometimes offensive, and weird.  

NetGalley/Sterling Stone

Post-Apocalyptic.  2011.  Print length:  500 pages.




Yesterday's Gone (Season Two)

While I found the first season entertaining, I found season two much less so.  The connection to season one was confusing, Boricio's role is simply abhorrent even with a twist at the end, too much violence, too little character development, and the plot becomes more complicated, not more complex (a considerable difference).

There are six seasons published so far, and I may read another season if offered on NetGalley, but I'm no longer really curious about what happens.

NetGalley/Sterling Stone

Post-Apocalyptic.  2013.  Print length:  514 pages.


Monday, July 13, 2015

For Suzie


My friend Suzie liked the fabric bead necklace
I wore to lunch when she was here for a short visit.
So I made her one.

It is in the mail now,
and I hope she likes it.

I really enjoy making these fabric beads
and they are perfect for using tiny scraps.
Inspiration:  SillyBooDilly


Saturday, July 11, 2015

This and That


The Hibiscus have been gorgeous this year.
They have bloomed and bloomed with such abandon!

My creative efforts took a back seat in June,
but I did do a lot of scrap patching.
Using triangles trimmed from other quilts
and tiny left-over scraps,
I pieced several squares like the one below.

 I also played with fabric manipulation
using scraps.


I loved Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (reviewed here).   It is due out July 28.  If you enjoy psychological mysteries, give this one a try!


I can't wait for Mr. Holmes.






I think I'm in love...

  

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Price of Justice by Marti Green

The Price of Justice

Dani Trumball, a lawyer for an agency that seeks to help prisoners who have been incarcerated for crimes they claim they did not commit.  The main criterion for their aid is that the men or women they help are too poor to have had adequate legal representation at their trials.

 Amelia Melton requests that Dani take on the case of her grandson Winston Melton, a young man convicted of rape and murder.  Win has been in prison and on death row for seven years;  his death warrant has been signed, and he has 180 days left until his execution.

 Dani initially refuses.  The Melton's are billionaires; they have had the best representation available.  Dani believes the calling of the agency (and her personal calling) is to seek justice for those who haven't been able to afford the kind of help they needed.  She resents the idea that the Melton's money can commandeer her services.

Eventually, however reluctantly, the agency takes the case, and as requested by Amelia Melton, Dani and her team must take the lead.  

Dani isn't comfortable with the case--not with the original conviction, not with the last minute confession by Earl Sanders that he, not Win, committed the murder, not with the idea that the Melton's money may have bought the confession.  Even when she believes Win Melton, who still maintains his innocence, several things about the case bother her.

Several twists and turns keep the novel interesting as Dani's team work to discover what really happened seven years ago.  

Read in June; blog post scheduled for July 10, 2015.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery/Legal Thriller.  July 21, 2015.  Print length:  271 pages.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White

The Perfect Son

Dealing with a child with disabilities always changes a family dynamic.  Parents raising a child with what must, at times, seem like insurmountable obstacles are faced with multiple challenges and obstacles of their own.

Barbara Claypole White has written a touching, sensitive novel about a husband and wife who have a bright, handsome son with Tourette's syndrome, ADHD, and anxiety.  Ella decided early on that she would give up her career as a talented jewelry designer to stay home with Harry, making all the decisions concerned with his care. Felix would devote himself to earning the money required to finance all of the medical, educational, and psychiatric contingencies involved in Harry's well-being.

But what happens when Ella can no longer manage after a genetic condition produces a damaging heart attack?  How will Felix, who has removed himself from Harry's care for nearly seventeen years, be able to connect and provide for Harry's needs?  

Harry is a lovable high school junior who has accepted himself and his condition and has friends at his tiny, expensive private school.  His best friend Max is the kind of friend everyone should have; his supportive role throughout is impressive.  A typical adolescent, Harry is interested in girls and has a crush on a beautiful classmate, but with his Tourette's, ADHD, and anxiety issues will she even give him the time of day?

With Ella in the hospital, Felix must adjust his schedule and his priorities, and this does not come easily for him.  He loves Harry, but finds Harry's behaviors annoying and frustrating. Ella has always dealt with "Harry issues"; Felix has maintained his distance.  He dreamed of a perfect son, and Harry doesn't fit the bill, but neither did he or his brother meet his own father's expectations.  

A wonderful mix of characters who are detailed, flawed, and deeply human.  The Perfect Son is one of my favorite books this year and was a completely unexpected and totally satisfying experience.  

NetGalley/Lake Union Publishing


Literary Fiction. July 1, 2015.  Print length:  396 pages.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

John Connolly and the Charlie Parker Series

Last month I received A Song of Shadows by John Connolly from NetGalley.  It is the 13th in the Charlie "Bird" Parker series, and I had read only two of the previous novels, The Wolf in Winter and The Whisperer.   The Charlie Parker series is one of those in which each book functions well as a stand-alone, but has characters that weave themselves in and out through the various books.   

Charlie is an anti hero haunted by the ghosts of his family; a flawed man who believes in evil (not just people doing bad things, but true evil) and feels bound to fight it; and who believes in justice over the law and has to live with the guilt when he crosses the line.

My blog review for A Song of Shadows is scheduled for Sept. 21, but I've already posted the review on Goodreads.  At the close of my review, I mentioned that I wanted to begin with the first book in the Charlie Parker series, and eventually, catch up on reading the entire series. 


I ordered Every Dead Thing (Book 1) and discovered that graphic violence is much more evident in this one.  NYPD detective Charlie "Bird" Parker is out drinking while his wife and young daughter are viciously murdered.  I almost gave up with that horrific description.  

After the death of his family, Charlie quits his job with the police department, quits drinking, and simply tries to keep his sanity.  Eventually, he sets himself up as a private investigator.  

The book is divided into two parts; it is almost as if there are two novels contained in the one book.  The two plots are connected, and Charlie begins to feel that he is finally on the trail of the man who killed his wife and child.  From a small town in West Virginia to New Orleans and the bayous of South Louisiana, Charlie pursues The Traveling Man.  Tante Marie, the blind woman with psychic ability, gives some credence to Charlie's belief that he is on the right track.

I haven't read anything by Stephen King (amazing, I know), but think Thomas Harris and Peter Straub and you have a mash-up of violence and the supernatural.  So...fair warning.  Had I not read the later books, the prologue of Every Dead Thing might have been the last I read in this series.  

But I had read some of the later books, and I did finish Every Dead Thing, and then I ordered another one. 

 Every Dead Thing won the 2000 Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye Novel; Connolly is the first author outside of the U.S. to do so.

Read in June.  Purchased.

Crime/Suspense/Horror.  2000.  Print length:  480 pages.


Dark Hollow (Charlie Parker Book 2)

Charlie takes a case looking for Billy Purdue in order to get child support for Billy's wife and child.  When Billy's wife and child are murdered, the obvious suspect is Billy, but Charlie isn't convinced that Billy is the culprit.

Guess what?  A lot of people die.  And this time the killer may be the subject of a child's rhyme.

Read in June.  Purchased.

Crime/Suspense.  2001.  Print length:  258 pages.






The Wrath of Angels  I really screwed up here, I clicked a link and ordered TWA (#11) instead of the third book in the series.  

I didn't even realize at first how far out of order it was.  While it still functions as a stand-alone, there are a lot of hints about what I missed in the intervening books, derailing my intention to read them in order until I caught up.

The Collector, Epstein, and Eldritch appear in this one, but I've missed their first appearances somewhere between Dark Hollow (Bk 2) and TWA (Bk 11).  

Not only the characters, but the conspiracy of good vs evil and supernatural elements is pretty well-developed in TWA, but I've missed the build up.

Crime/Supernatural.  2012.  Print length:  529 pages.

Below you can see the order of publication and the order in which I read them--duh!  What a mess.   

  • Every Dead Thing (1999)          fourth one I read - purchased
  • Dark Hollow (2000)                   fifth - purchased
  • The Killing Kind (2001)
  • The White Road (2002)
  • The Black Angel (2005)
  • The Unquiet (2007)
  • The Reapers (2008)
  • The Lovers (2009)
  • The Whisperers (2010)              first one I read - NetGalley
  • The Burning Soul (2011)
  • The   Wrath of Angels (2012)     sixth - purchased
  • The Wolf in Winter (2014)          second - NetGalley
  • A Song of Shadows (2015)        third - NetGalley

I will go back and pick up the rest eventually, but the truth is that having read 4 of them in June was excessive, especially since I read them so out of order.  It was too much brutality and murder to read in a few days, but I couldn't put them down.  I really needed a respite after all the darkness and will give myself a long break before continuing.

All the books in the series are all dark and frequently violent with a heavy emphasis on evil.  There are supernatural elements, quirky characters, witty dialogue, comic relief (with Angel and Louis), and a heaping helping of brutality.  They are really not for everyone, and I am surprised that I've enjoyed them so much.  The series is categorized as Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, and Supernatural on Amazon; I think I'd have to add Horror, as well.

If you participate in Carl's RIP Challenge, keep John Connolly in mind!

Oh, one last thing, several years ago I read The Book of Lost Things by Connolly which is a beautifully written fairy tale for young readers!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Blog Absence, N.K. Jemisin, and Medieval Mystery

I've taken a blogging break for the last several weeks.  It wasn't intentional, but somehow events kept interfering, and I found myself thinking less about blogging.  I always have several months of reviews scheduled, so I knew that I'd have several posts ready to break through despite my absence.

I've done some gardening when it wasn't raining.  We have had way too much rain this year. After several years of drought, having so much rain for the last few months has been a surprise--initially appreciated.  Then the combination of our own rain and the rain in Oklahoma and Texas had the Red River rising to flood stage...then past flood stage, flooding all that was in reach of the river's expanding banks.  Early June spelled disaster for many.
The water is mostly gone now, but the clean up continues.  

We are fortunate not to live in the flooded areas, but it was both amazing and horrifying to see the normally well-contained Red spill over its bank and destroy so many homes.     

Because I couldn't work in the garden, my reading became unusually obsessive.  Now in July, it is so hot and the humidity so high, that at 7:30 AM the sweat burns my eyes and by 10:00, I'm bedraggled, debilitated, almost prostrate with exhaustion--ready for a shower, air conditioning, and a book.  And still facing so many gardening tasks that didn't get done in the spring.  If the humidity is 60% or less, we rejoice.  Right now, my Weather Bug app says 94% humidity at 8:00 AM.  

At any rate, I spent most of June reading like some kind of crack addict.  Right now I have 12 reviews scheduled (most of which were June reading) for between now and October (keeping in mind their publication dates)...and probably that many left to write.  

So here are some quick reviews of books I purchased and read last month.  Since they are not ARCs or NetGalley ebooks, no need to schedule them.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin.  The trilogy consists of 3 novels:  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of the Gods

 Whoa!  The gods in these novels are the powerful, petty, flawed, unreasonable, impetuous, interfering, often malicious kind.  They resemble the Greek gods with all of their flaws and destructive behavior--intriguing, but frightening.  Each novel in the trilogy is connected, but emphasizes different characters; the role of Sieh the Trickster, however, is important in all of them.  

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms were awesome, but The Kingdom of the Gods was less appealing and too long with occasional pacing problems.  There is also a novella (The Awakened Kingdom) included in this omnibus that is less connected, but interesting.

Overall, The Inheritance Trilogy is more a modern take on myth than epic fantasy, but it is a strange, imaginative, fascinating, and original world.  Jemisin has created a character-driven trio of novels set in a curious world with eccentric gods and mortals.  More please.

Read in June.  Purchased.

Myth/Fantasy.  2014.  Print length: 1,472 pages.  (lotta' pages, but 3 novels & a novella--all in one)
-------------
Season of the Fox by Denise Domning

I loved the first book in A Servant of the Crown series (Season of the Raven) and was eager to continue. 

Book Description:  A wealthy merchant has been murdered in his own home, and the suspect has fled to sanctuary in a local church. Enter Sir Faucon de Ramis, the king’s new Servant of the Crown in the shire, to solve the murder, assisted by his prickly secretary, Brother Edmund. 

As Faucon begins his hunt, the shire’s new Crowner finds himself in the upside-down world of a woman’s trade. Not only does the merchant’s wife own the business—unheard of!—the suspect is the daughter’s betrothed, or so the town believes. But what about the bloody shoe prints and missing tally sticks, and what does the sheriff have to gain?

 As much as I loved the first in this series, I was a little disappointed with this one.  What was missing?  

The first book had much more about the characters and the medieval world they inhabit (with such interesting historical details that I found myself Googling for more information about "hue and cry"-- its historical significance and all that was involved in the process, Keeper or the Pleas, Coronarius/Crowner/Coroner, and various other medieval laws and practices).  Season of the Raven was character driven with excellent world-building, while Season of the Fox is more about the plot with less character development, although there are interesting elements about sanctuary and women who managed their own business.

 I enjoyed it, but while I gave Raven 5 stars on Goodreads, Fox would only merit 3 stars.  It was shorter, less detailed, and lacked much of what made the first in the series so engrossing.  A good mystery, but without the same whole-world atmosphere Domning created in Season of the Raven.
 
Hopefully, the next in this series will return to developing Faucon, Edmund, and Brother Colin.  I'm also eager to find about about the thread that is curiously (and briefly) winding through the first two books.

Read in June.  Purchased.

Medieval Mystery.  2015.  Print length:  193 pages.
------
Tomorrow:  my John Connolly digression.  




Thursday, July 02, 2015

Too Clever by Half by Will North

Too Clever by Half

In May NetGalley offered Will North's Harm None, a new series featuring CID Detective Sergeant Morgan Davies and Scene of Crime officer Calum West.  

I liked the setting in Cornwall and the characters, so I was pleased when I found Too Clever by Half on NetGalley in June.  Cornwall is a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Celtic Sea to the north and west and by the English Channel to the south.  It has a vibrant history and has inspired many artists, writers, and poets.  Daphne Du Maurier set many of her novels, including Rebecca, in Cornwall.

The body of an unidentified man was discovered far out from the coast, and Davies and West need to discover the man's identity and who murdered him.  So the romantic setting of Cornwall, a murder, modern "Druids," the discovery of priceless ancient artifacts, witchcraft, jealousy, and betrayals all come together in the second in the Davies & West series.  

My only disappointment is that Tamsin and Tegan only made a brief appearance.


Read in June.

NetGalley/Booktrope

Police Procedural/British Detectives.  June 1, 2015.  Print version:  291 pages.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

What a strange, dream-like, and enchanting novel this turned out to be.  I've had mixed feelings about steam punk novels, enjoying some and finding others more concerned about steam punk elements than plot or character.

This strange little novel is a bit confusing at first because the magical and clairvoyant aspects are not immediately clear, and yet the writing and mystery engaged me from the beginning.

The more you read, the more you doubt the various characters.  Well, Thaniel Steepleton seems reliable (if uncertain and with good reason), but Grace Carrow, Matsumoto, and Keito Mori are enigmatic.  Good or bad or caught up in circumstances...hard to tell.

Mori, the watchmaker, is the most interesting.  He has the ability to--not "remember" the future, but to "remember" future possibilities that may or may not come to pass.  In some cases, he is able to manipulate the possibilities to his own preferred outcomes.  But not always.

Pulley leads the reader down several twisting paths, keeping the reader always a bit uncertain about who to trust, but always intrigued and curious.

 I thoroughly enjoyed being misled, confused, and always engaged with the quirky characters and uncanny elements of Pulley's debut novel!

Read in April.  Blog post scheduled for June 30, 2015.

NetGalley/Bloomsbury USA

Steampunk/Fantasy.  July 14, 2015.  Print length:  336 pages.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Speaking in Bones

Speaking in Bones

Along with many others, I've found Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan series a bit hit or miss in the last few years.  Speaking in Bones was somewhere in between for me--I enjoyed it, but not as much as many of the earlier books.

Most interesting to me in this latest installment is the idea of web sleuths--something I'd never heard of before.  Web sleuthing is a fascinating phenomenon, and sure enough, there are plenty of articles on line about these web detectives. From Websleuths:  Dozens of experts, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, teachers and prison officers, have joined Websleuths. They can post as such if their credentials are verified by site owner Tricia Griffith, who bought it in 2004 for $US1500. "We're seeing an influx of professionals," she tells Fairfax via Skype.

And there is much more online about web sleuthing--articles, podcasts, a Facebook page, and different forums.  

Even if I find Reichs' novels sometimes more, sometimes less fascinating, I don't think there has been a single one in which I didn't learn something new.  Past books have been based on the archaeological excavation on Masada,   the leper colony in New Brunswick,  endangered wildlife, the importance of board qualifications for forensic pathologists/anthropologists, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, just to name a few interesting and informative themes taken from real life developments.  

Another reader of the Temperance Brennan series mentioned that she preferred those set in Montreal.  I had not thought of it that way, but on consideration, I agree.  While I like the fact that the books always have an educational element (even though I have to do some research to find out more), it does seem the best-developed mysteries are set in Canada.

read in April; blog post scheduled for June 29, 2015

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery.  July 21, 2015.  Print length:  320 pages.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ghost Fleet


Ghost Fleet

Not much in character development, but a very scary novel of possibilities.  We are all so dependent on technology--from the individual shopping online to big banks and financial institutions to...the military.  

What happens when something cuts the communication? Can you imagine?

It isn't that we aren't aware of the dangers, but I doubt many of us have truly considered all of the ramifications involving an attack on the U.S. that impaired or destroyed our ability to use the computer technology that is a major part of our defense system.

How possible is this scenario?  Could a country actually invade our military computers with viruses?  Destroy the communication satellites?   Let's just say that the military is aware of the possibilities.

The Navy bought fake microchips according to this 2011 article in Business Insider.  The problems were discovered, but it does leave a creepy feeling about how hyper-alert the military must be since computers are involved in almost every phase of our defense system. 

 I will admit to being terrified by the scenario the authors described.  It sounded so plausible.  As it turns out, it is much more than plausible even if some of the technology is not yet available.

P.W. Singer and August Cole are uniquely qualified to make the predictions of what might occur in a third world war.  Singer is a specialist in 21st century warfare and has worked for the Defense Department.  Cole also specializes in national security issues.  Check the above links to get an idea of expertise each man offers.  

Is it a great novel?  No, and I wish it had been; but it did scare the bejeezus out of me.  :) It is a chilling look at the precarious nature of our dependence on technology--our strength and our weakness.

read in april; review scheduled for June 15.  

NetGalley/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suspense/Tech thriller.  June 30, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Rhyme of the Magpie

The Rhyme of the Magpie  is a cozy mystery by Marty Wingate.

Julia Lanchester, unhappy with her father's remarriage too soon after her mother's death, quits her job on his popular BBC program, A Bird in the Hand.  She retreats to a small village, taking a job in tourist management.

Then her father goes missing, a man is murdered, and Julia reluctantly joins forces with her father's new assistant to discover just what is going on.

Marty (Martha) Wingate has another cozy series about gardening:  The Potting Shed Mysteries.  In addition to her mysteries, Wingate has written four books on gardening, writes for various gardening publications, and gives garden tours.  

"She is a member of the Arboretum Foundation, Northwest Horticultural Society, the Royal Horticultural Society, Sisters in Crime, and the Mystery Writers of America."  (via The Garden Show Blog)

Read in February.  Blog post scheduled for June 13, 2015.

NetGalley/Random House/Alibi

Cozy Mystery.  June 22, 2015.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Manifesto and a Mystery


In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Micheal Pollan is exactly that--a defense of real food, but it is also an indictment of the over-processed and "edible food-like substances" we consume because they are fast or easy, of the way food is grown (and in the case of meat, the way animals are fed with the food that is grown), of additives and GMOs.   Nothing new in that, but Pollan does gives some interesting history of food science and the food industry and some statistics and examples that are startling.  

His philosophy is distilled into very few words:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

 Or...real food, smaller portions, vegetables.  

Not as easy to do in today's world, at least here in the U.S.  Is it worth the effort?  For a society raised on quick and easy, huge portions, snacks, and GMO modified heavily promoted "food-like substances," it may not be that simple.  Since I'm already checking labels, Pollan's advice to be cautious about anything with over 5 ingredients or unpronounceable additives is an easy task, but finding items that meet that qualification will not be that easy.  Right now, it is time for Farmer's Markets, which are fun and provide locally grown produce rather than what has been shipped for thousands of miles.

Our food has been altered and over-processed for at least 40 years, and our eating habits and traditions have change almost without our realizing it.  But more and more people are growing indignant about the fact that processes banned in other countries are the norm here, and most people would like our government to be more responsive to the health of its citizens.


Purchased.


Nonfiction.  2008.  Print length:  268 pages.



The Evidence Room by Cameron Harvey is set in Cooper's Bayou, a little back-water town in Florida.  Two young people have recently returned to Cooper's Bayou after long absences.  

Josh Hudson is a cop who has an obsession with finding his older sister.  Aurora Atchison has just returned to settle her grandfather's estate.  When Aurora discovers that perhaps her father was not guilty of her mother's murder, she begins digging into some old secrets that several Cooper's Bayou citizens would rather be left alone.  Josh and Aurora have sad pasts in common, and Josh, who has been placed on administrative leave and "sentenced" to working the evidence room, is inclined to help.


Both characters have tragic and depressing pasts.  It is a bit too coincidental that they both have a murdered family member, a missing family member, and more questions than answers.  The repeated assurances from many different individuals that Josh is a "good man"  got on my nerves.   Aurora doesn't need to be told more than once and having so many characters make the same remark is redundant.  


The Evidence Room is unexceptional.  I wasn't tempted to put it in the DNF pile, but neither did I find it compelling.


ARC from Minotaur Books.


Crime/Mystery.  2015.  306 pages.



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler


Simon, a young librarian who lives in a house threatened by the encroaching sea, receives an old book in the mail.  Sent by a bookseller named Martin Churchwarry, a note included with the book says that Churchwarry bought the book on speculation at an auction and tracked one of the names inside, leading him to Simon's family.

So--an old book (very 0ld)--about a traveling carnival in the 1700's, a book connected to Simon's family.  The partially damaged book tells of women in the family with careers as carnival mermaids; women who drowned young on July 24th, from generation to generation.

July 24th is approaching, a kind of due date for our hapless librarian; Simon's sister is coming home.  Already rattled by his crumbling house and losing his job at the library, now Simon must confront the possibility that his sister is in danger.

A book that has been half drowned in a flood. A house on the verge of drowning.  Women in the same family who drown on the exact same date.  A young man drowning in complications and the secrets he uncovers.  Intriguing?  Add Tarot cards, supernatural/magical realism elements, the odd match of carnival characters and librarians, a curse, two time frames, odd and intricate connections...

A book full of potential, but that sometimes seemed to fall a bit off the mark.  I can't explain exactly why without spoilers, but one reason (for me) was that the characters were a little remote and strangely impersonal for a story that purported more...energy.  The pacing was also slow and sometimes repetitive.

As usual, my favorite character was the a secondary one.  Doyle, the tattooed man.  He was (tongue-in-cheek--Tentacular!) and had the most likable personality.  

This is a debut novel, and an enjoyable one with a distinctive flair.  I look forward to more from Erika Swyler.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Literary fiction.  June 23, 2015.  Print length:  352 pages.