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Friday, January 20, 2017

The Impossible Fortress and Behind Her Eyes

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak provides an interesting look at the advent of young computer programmers in the 1980's.  Adolescents who were not only fascinated by computers and games, but strongly predisposed to find beauty in writing code. 

Fourteen-year-old Billy Marvin has two main interests:  1) writing programs for his own games, and 2) (along with his buddies Alf and Clark) getting hold of the latest Playboy Magazine with Vanna White as the centerfold.

The boys are often amusing with their 1980's teenage angst, and because they are not old enough to buy a copy of the Vanna White issue, concoct a number of elaborate and doomed-to-failure plans to get a copy of the coveted magazine.  

As various schemes fail or are discarded, the boys grow more desperate, and a plan evolves in which Billy is to seduce Mary Zelinsky, whose father owns the shop that sells the magazine.  The idea is to get the security code from Mary so the boys can get into the shop, grab the magazine, and leave enough money to pay for it.

Mary is an even more accomplished novice programmer than Billy, and his real mission is to get Mary to help him with a game he wants to develop.  His agreement with the seduction plan is motivated by the contest Mary has told him about--the best game could win a prize from an admired game designer and possibly a future in programming.  

While the premise has many great opportunities, ultimately, I found The Impossible Fortress deviated into something I didn't much care for.  The heist, when it finally happened, almost prevented me from finishing the book.  

My final assessment: there are amusing portions at the beginning, but the characters failed to make me truly like or care about them and the plot felt hollow.  

Maybe I was expecting too much.

Read in November; blog review scheduled for Jan. 21, 2017.

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

YA.  Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.


Behind Her Eyes is a suspenseful and twisty novel that kept me off balance trying to come to grips with the characters.  

Louise, David, and Adele form a strange triangle that works in different ways.  Louise, a single mom, has an almost fling with a man she meets in a bar.  The next day, she discovers that the man in the bar is her new boss.  David is married to Adele and the marriage is complicated to say the least.  (A whole lot of controlling goin' on.)  Adele and Louise bump into each other on the street and form a friendship.  Oops.

A triangle of dumb, and dumber, and wicked.  Difficult to tell at times who is dumb and who is wicked as the perspectives change from chapter to chapter.  What a stew of dangerous emotions.  

It's one of those novels that is hard to put down, that keeps moving from one pov to another and from past to present, with a some "OMG-- you are so dense!" moments, a bit of astral projection, and a twist that you are only gradually prepared for at the end.

So...few people will be able to put it down because the need to know is so strong.  Some will be pleased with the twist at the end, admiring the author's manipulation of the narrative to keep the reader curious and uncertain.  Unsympathetic characters; twisted relationships; a necessary supernatural element to make the novel work. Shades of Edgar Cayce.

NetGalley/Flatiron Books

Mystery/Psychological?  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  320 pages.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Snail Mail and Sei Shonagon


I've been catching up on correspondence this month.  
After failing to reply in a time manner for over a month,
I had quite a few responses to write.

Had fun finally using some of the tea bags I painted last year.

Below: postcards to the grands on top,
The one in the middle has one of my embroidered leaves.  

click to enlarge

Still reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, but it, too, has suffered some neglect.  This morning, I read the following entry:

114.  It is Delightful When There Has Been a Thin Fall of Snow
    It is delightful when there has been a thin fall of snow; or again when it has piled up very high and in the evening we sit round a brazier at the edge of the veranda with a few congenial friends, chatting till darkness falls  There is no need for the lamp, since the snow itself reflects a clear light.  Raking the ashes in the brazier with a pair of fire-tongs, we discuss all sorts of moving and amusing things.
(then Shonagon speaks of an unannounced visitor and says that one of the ladies quotes the poem about the man who came today, and they all laughed and stayed up 'til dawn talking. 

 In the end notes, I found the poem by Taira no Kanemori:
Here in my mountain home
The snow is deep
And the paths are buried [in white].
Truly would he move my heart--
The man who came today.
It was a timely entry for me to read this morning, and I thought about my friends Patti and Dave who are shoveling snow in Colorado and my friend Penny, who is staying inside and admiring the snow in North Carolina.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace

I loved The Girl in the Garden.  

The characters whose stories weave themselves together in this lovely book are given up gradually.  Each character is isolated, by choice and/or circumstance.  Each one excepts or rejects the isolation in unique ways--and yet there are connections that exist, unyielding, even if not forcing themselves.

June, the girl abandoned with her infant at Mabel's seaside hotel, is the lynch-pin, not necessarily more important, but definitely the new arrival who has an effect on other characters both directly and indirectly.   

The long, meandering Faulknerian sentences pull the reader on--long prose sentences that have the sensation of poetry. Wallace captures so many lives in her prose (click, click, click--one image after another), like Claire's photographs, snapshots, but signifying more than the single slice of a photographic imprint.  

Wallace's writing contains a rare intimacy and immediacy, but the past is always present and slowly revealed.  

I loved all of the characters, those that figured largely in the narrative, and those whose appearances are secondary.  Like stream-of-consciousness, the reader flows with the events and with the thoughts, present and past, not sure where things are going or how things will work out, not expecting perfect endings, but hopeful.  

In spite of the circumstances--June abandoned; Mabel grieving for her husband; Claire independent, but yearning; Duncan afraid of betraying his duty; Oldman, an archetype of kindness and wisdom; Sam, disfigured in the Iraqi war; and Iris humiliated, remote and detached in her self-made fortress and sanctuary--in spite of all this, there is kindness and redemption.

Highly Recommended.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 15, 2017.

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Literary Fiction.  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  240 pages.

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Series based on Dan Simmons' The Terror

A while back, I mentioned Dan Simmons' The Terror in a post because the lost ship HMS Terror had been found after 168 years.  Although the novel is a fictional account (with some horror genre elements), when I finished it several years ago, I took a reading journey through other books about the Franklin Expedition, the rescue attempts, and some of the characters mentioned in the novel.

Now, AMC has a series based on Simmons'  2007 novel.


I'm currently reading Gretel Ehrlich's The Solace of Open Spaces.  Essays about Wyoming and her time there in the late 1970's.  The essays are descriptive and philosophical--but the philosophy is very personal--Ehrlich's version of the west and the people she knew.  There are parts I'm really enjoying and parts that are so specifically her own views, her own generalizations,  that bother me a bit.  

I find myself wondering how much has changed since the book was first published in 1984 when she combined her journal entries and thoughts for publication. Ranching as a way of live was rapidly changing in the 20th c.  Her interviews with elderly cowboys and sheepherders are interesting; she was recording a dying breed even as she wrote, and she knew it.  Now, over 3 decades have passed since the first publication of the book.  

Born on a horse ranch in California, Ehrlich's familiarity with horses stood her in good stead when she decided to retreat to Wyoming after the death of  the man she was in love with.  The two of them were supposed to be working on a Public Radio documentary, but his illness prevented him from being joining her.   Ehrlich adds very little context concerning her personal life, and it is a couple of essays in that she even mentions the man's illness and death.  She refers to him as David, no last name, and she speaks of her numbness and grief, but there is little other personal context.

I don't think anything in her life  (aside from being a horsewoman) would have prepared her for becoming an integral part of ranch life.  She graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and attended UCLA film school--not exactly the harsh environment presented by a  Wyoming ranch with all the attendant hardships.  Nevertheless, Ehrlich settled into the rigorous and austere life of a ranch hand, giving it her all.

Last night, I put it down after realizing that I was about half way through.  Time to let some of the essays kind of settle in.  My memories of Wyoming are vivid, even though I was only about 7 when we left.  The essays make me a little nostalgic.  I remember the snow, the wind, the cactus on the prairie that stretched behind our house into the horizon on three sides and the view of  Casper Mountain to the west.   Dreams about the mountains in Wyoming and Montana lasted for years after we moved.

I may try to read the rest of the essays more slowly.
-------

I've read more of the Captain Lacey Regency series, and I liked these better than the first three.  

The Sudbury School Murders #4.  Grenville has secured Lacey a position as secretary at the Sudbury School outside of London.   Grenville failed to mention that Lacey was supposed to solve the mystery of several dangerous pranks which had been occurring at the school.  The murder of the school's groom (who also was one of James Denis' hired men until about 6 months previously) involves Lacey in a much more serious situation, especially as an innocent man is accused and arrested.

In the midst of trying to save Sebastian, the man falsely accused of murder, Lacey learns where Marianne has been disappearing to when she goes AWOL from Grenville's luxurious accommodations.  

The plot, characterization, and dialogue improve in this installment.  


A Body in Berkley Square #5.  Colonel Brandon is accused of murder at a society ball.  Lacey, despite the evidence against Brandon and their ongoing feud, does not believe Brandon guilty of the murder.  Although there is some re-hashing of the Brandon/Lacey past (which I tired of in the first book in the series), at least Brandon is actually part of the current plot.

Lady Breckenridge's role is further developed, and she is willing to do what she can to aid Lacey in his investigation.  A mystery document is missing and guess what?  Not only does Lacey need to find it, but James Denis wants it.

The author prefers to keep the reader on tenterhooks regarding James Denis, that shadowy figure who has a touch of Moriarty about him.  The almost priggishly honorable Lacey finds Denis both fascinating and offensive.  I can't help but be intrigued by Denis since Gardner has his behavior consistently ambiguous.  She's taking her time about giving more information about Denis, but keeping him involved in each installment.


A Covent Garden Mystery #6.  Pomeroy, Lacey's former sergeant, now a Bow Street Runner and Thatcher of the River Police approach Lacey about the disappearance of two game girls.

Denis has brought Lacey's wife (yep, the one who left him 15 years ago) to London, along with Auberge, her French "husband," and Lacey's daughter (who, of course, has no idea that Lacey is her father).

Gabriella disappears.  Is she lost in the unfamiliar streets of London or is the person who took the game girls responsible?

Whoa!  Even Brandon tries to help!

These novels are a little addictive.  I may have my criticisms about certain elements, but I always want to find out what will happen next.  :)


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Lost Woman by Sara Blaedel

The Lost Woman is the sixth book in Sara Blaedel's Louise Rick series.  As with many good series, it is not imperative that you begin with the first book.  I had not read any of the previous books, but did not find that it hindered my enjoyment. 
  Shot with a hunting rifle through her kitchen window, the woman is dead before she hits the ground. Though murdered in England, it turns out that the woman, Sofie Parker, is a Danish citizen--one who's been missing for almost two decades--so Louise Rick is called on to the case.  (blurb
While the murder of a Danish woman in England might not justify involving the Danish police, Sofie Parker has been listed as missing for eighteen years and was, at the time, the girlfriend of Eik Nordstrom, Louise Rick's lover and colleague.  As events develop, Eik becomes a suspect.

Eventually, a connection is made to a group that supports assisted and accompanied dying.   As Louise begins seeking information, a woman she planned to speak to is murdered.  when Louise realizes that other members of the group have recently been murdered in similar fashion, her investigation narrows.

Louise's friend Camilla, a journalist, becomes interested in writing a story about the reasons for choosing assisted suicide, how people connect (it is illegal in Denmark, but Switzerland has a non-profit group that provides the means and support if an individual qualifies), and about the process of the procedure.  

Although I found several aspects of the plot too coincidental, I ended up enjoying the book and the characters and liked the way assisted dying was covered.  Whether you agree or disagree, it is a contemporary dilemma that needs more discussion.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing

Mystery/Detective.  2014; Feb. 7, 2017.  Print length:  304 pages.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

I've enjoyed several of Lisa Gardner's previous books, but Right Behind You was not of the same caliber.  

Thirteen-year-old Sharlah, fostered by Rainie and Quincy, is unable to show her delight when told she is about to be formally adopted.  Her traumatic past keeps her from showing much emotion and from verbally expressing how pleased she is.   Sharlah's background includes an abusive family, the violent deaths of her parents, separation from her brother, and a series of foster homes.  Quincy, retired FBI profiler, and his wife Rainie are familiar with serial killers and psychopaths through their work, and although retired are still occasionally involved in solving cases. "Sharlah  loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters." 

A double killing at a gas station initiates a family crisis--the killer may be Telly Ray Nash, Sharlah's brother.

What didn't work for me:

The prologue (from Telly's pov) was too long.  And it is a rare book in this genre that doesn't have a prologue these days.  

Too much telling.  The sections with the thoughts of Sharla and Telly were also way too long--but of course, without them the action makes little sense.  While inserts like these are often useful, they shouldn't be required to order to understand the story.  

The tracker Cal was a cheese maker.  That fact has little to do with the plot, but is mentioned over and over.  Sharlah says that you can recognize an FBI profiler even in casual clothes.  Huh?  

The plot was over-complicated.  There were elements that should have worked, but didn't.  

I liked Gardner's Crash & Burn (Tess Leoni series) and Find Her and Catch Me (D.D. Warren series), but Say Goodbye the only other book I've read in the Rainie and Quincy series I've read, I didn't care for.  

I will stick to the Tessa Leoni and D.D. Warren books from now on.  

Read in Dec.  Blog post scheduled for Jan. 9, 2017.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Crime/Suspense.  Jan. 31, 2017.  Print length:  400 pages. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Novel Information: Learning New Stuff from Books

New words and new information are side benefits of reading.  Do you sometimes read a familiar word or phrase and suddenly become curious about it?

Recently a book I was reading mentioned silk velvet, and for the first time, I wondered about how velvet was made.  A little research made me appreciate the fabric in a new way and realize that I would never be able to afford silk velvet.

Sometimes I'll read a familiar phrase or idiom and realize for the first time that it is a little weird and wonder about the origin. 
Bob's your uncle, an expression meaning "everything will be fine", originated when Arthur Balfour was unexpectedly promoted to Chief Secretary for Ireland by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, in 1900. Salisbury was Balfour's uncle and his first name was Robert.  (a little nepotism goes a long way in making things fine)
In another recent read, I came across the word toxophily and had no clue.  The context was an archery contest, but I'd never come across the word before.  
2. of or relating to archery. toxophily, noun. Word Origin. C18: from Toxophilus, the title of a book (1545) by Ascham, designed to mean: a lover of the bow, from Greek toxon bow + philos loving.

I enjoy reading the blog The History Girls and on Jan. 3, there was an interesting article by Debra Daley about drugs and stimulants in the 18th c.  Laudanum and other opiate mixtures were mentioned, as well as Spanish Fly and laughing gas.  Two days later, I came across both Spanish Fly and laughing gas in a Regency novel by Ashley Gardner.  Serendipity!


The blister beetle was dried and powdered 
to make the aphrodisiac known as Spanish fly


Nitrous Oxide Party. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, nitrous oxide
was inhaled for entertainment and amusement

Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey series was available as a three volume set (e-book).  I found all three historical novels entertaining and there were a couple of short stories included.

The Spanish Fly and laughing gas mentions were in  Book 2--A Regimental Murder.

I had some problems with Captain Lacey, but nevertheless, found the 3 novels interesting.  I was less interested in the short stories, but I'm not a short story fan.  Although I read these novels in the three volume set, the links are to the individual books.  I don't like the new covers which look so Romance Novel, so I used the original covers.  Evidently, Gardner writes romance which explains the new covers, but the Captain Lacey series is historical mystery, not romance.


The Hanover Square Affair takes place in 1816 and introduces Captain Lacey and several other characters who will appear in later books.  This first book in the series gives the basic background of Captain Gabriel Lacey and the hint of an overarching story line which includes his former commander, Colonel Brandon and his wife Louisa.

Lacey, a retired cavalry officer, suffers from a game leg and occasional melancholy.  Although Lacey comes from an old and respected family, his father squandered the family fortune, and Lacey finds himself with a mostly empty purse and few social contacts as a result.

He happens upon a riot in which an elderly man is shot and manages to get Mr. Thornton home to his wife.  Curious about why the man was trying to get into the house in Hanover Square, Lacey discovers that the family believe that the Thornton's daughter and her maid are being kept captive by the owner.

Interest piqued, Lacey decides to find out what happened to the two young women.   In the process, many of the secondary characters (who will continue to be important) are introduced.


A Regimental Murder is the second in the Captain Lacey series.  Lacey has found his post-military career in solving murders.  

Another interesting mystery and the return of several of the secondary characters from The Hanover Square Affair.

I do find Lacey frequently annoying, however.  And the Brandon connection becomes old fast--partly because of the repeated references to the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between Brandon and Lacey and the recurring attempts of Louisa to heal their friendship.

This is the book that mentions Spanish Fly and the nitrous oxide (laughing gas) parties.  I love the happy chance that connected Daly's article and the mention in the novel within a few days time.


In The Glass House, the vices of Regency London are once again part of the plot.  

I found this one the least satisfying of three, although I was never inclined to abandon it.  

Some of the characters and relationships throughout are puzzling.  Mr. Denis, for example, continues to work to put Lacey in his debt, but then asks nothing.  Marianne and Grenville...what's up with that?  And the wearying conflicts with the Brandons--let them move to the Peninsula and be done.

I'm going to continue reading this series (my library is still closed).  I do enjoy Regency mysteries and hope to see less of the Brandons in future episodes.  

By far my favorite Regency mystery series is Kate Ross' Julian Kestrel novels.  I read them years ago and was devastated when Kate Ross died so young.

----- Have you learned anything new and interesting from reading fiction lately?

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

I read and very much enjoyed Barry's The Lace Reader in 2007 and the map of true places in 2011,  and I was looking forward to this novel set in the same location.

excerpt from Kirkus Reviews: 
 ...It’s 2014, and Rose Whelan, once a prominent historian specializing in the study of the Salem witch trials, is now an addled bag lady who wanders the streets of Salem, accosting passers-by with dire predictions and obsessing about oak trees, Celtic goddesses, and an avenging spirit called a banshee. When a bad-seed teenager who threatens Rose is killed, seemingly by an unearthly shriek, the townsfolk pressure Salem Police Chief John Rafferty, a recovering alcoholic, to reopen a 25-year-old cold case, the 1989 slayings of three wannabe witches in which Rose was implicated but never charged.

Unfortunately, this one did not work at all for me.  Kirkus also calls the book, "A flawed but entertaining occult murder mystery."  I am afraid that I did not find it very entertaining.  As much as I enjoyed The Lace Reader, I found myself plowing through this one.  Reviews on Goodreads run the gamut from 2 to 5 stars--so there is a lot of room to disregard my opinion.

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Jan. 7, 2017.

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Mystery/Supernatural?  Jan. 24, 2017.  Print length:  448 pages.  

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Girl Before by JP Delaney is another book in the trend of mostly unlikable characters.  

Add a coldly efficient house to the mix.  The chapters alternate between Emma and Jane, past and present.  Each of these young women are willing "audition" to rent a clinically beautiful and technologically advanced house by a famous minimalist architect.  First comes a long questionnaire of odd and personal questions.  

Each young woman fills out the questionnaire which also requires three photos.  Hmmmm.  The weird questions and the photo requirement didn't set off any warning bells?  If Edward Monkhouse, the architect and owner, likes the responses, then he grants an interview to decide who is appropriate for the house.  Of course, both Emma and Jane get an interview. 

There are rules--lots of them:  no books, no rugs, no personal effects, no photos, no clutter.  A computer "housekeeper" monitors everything in the house.  Both Emma and Jane are unreliable narrators and willing to surrender their personalities to fit the house and the architect.  

I have a thing about people who give up everything to satisfy another person or ideological belief.  I know it happens, but it is almost impossible for me to imagine.  It is one thing for it to happen gradually as in a Stockholm Syndrome situation or a domestic situation that develops over time as a matter of gradual reconditioning, but for an eager almost immediate surrender to someone else's dictates?  Both women have had some traumatic events and want a fresh start, but still....

Definitely hanging on the trend of other "Girl" books, The Girl Before will hold your interest and provide a few surprises.   

Read in September; blog review scheduled for  Jan. 2, 2017

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery/Suspense.  Jan. 24, 2017.  Print length:  352 pages.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Whining and Two Reviews

I've had a period of "withdrawal" since Thanksgiving.  When periods of stress and anxiety hit, I withdraw as much as possible into myself, avoid anything I can get away with, and read. 

Unfortunately, my library is having some work done and the parking lot is full of building materials.  When I arrived last time to return my books, I had to park in the neighboring parking lot, a minor inconvenience, because the worst was yet to come.  

The fiction section was blocked off with yellow tape--you know, like what you see on television marking off a crime scene.  A couple of sad-faced people were standing there looking longingly at the stacks.  I was about to slip through the tape to get to the books, when someone said the section will be off limit for a month!  My frustration left me stuttering.  If I'd had a list I could have had one of the librarians pull the books, but I didn't and was so derailed that I couldn't even think of a single title.  

None of this helped my general attitude or anxiety, but there are book bargains from various sources.


One of those bargains was Fellside, a one day offer for $3.29 (usually $13.99).  I really liked The Girl with All the Gifts, and have had Fellside on my list for some time, so I was quite pleased to find that bargain.

Is there anyone who is not familiar with the plot?  Heroin addict, fire, death of a young boy, conviction, prison, ghost?   There are so many reviews that go into great detail about the plot, and I'm not going to give a synopsis here, just a few thoughts...  

* I found Jess Moulson's conviction of murder hard to believe.  Not that I think the judicial system always works well or fairly, but I couldn't see a murder conviction from the evidence.  Of course, Jess does nothing to help herself.

* Fellside, the maximum security women's prison where Jess is sent, is aptly named.  One meaning of "fell" is a barren moor, but older meanings of the word are distinctly malevolent:  sinister, baleful, deadly, cruel.  Even the "side" part of the name works well with the book's content and the idea of a parallel world.   Fellside is a brutal place with plenty of corruption and violence among both the keepers and the kept.  The prison story is distressing because I suspect that it has more truth than I want to think about.

* The astral projection into dreams and the ghost story...could have worked, but didn't really convince me.  There was a twist in this portion, however.  

* Although I sympathized with Jess, empathy was a little harder to come by because in some sense she didn't feel real to me.  She was, in a way, almost a ghost herself; never a fully-realized person.

I was a little put off from the beginning since Jess' conviction did not make sense to me. The book is too long, and although many scenes are suspenseful, they ended up feeling like filler. If the prison episodes had been condensed, the plot would have been tightened.  The action does speed up toward the end of the book and some of the mystery of the fire is explained--but like most readers, I'd figured out most of it in the initial chapters.  Waiting for hundreds of pages for the principals to figure it out was a bit annoying.

Was I expecting too much?  I don't really believe so.  I read The Girl with All the Gifts in 2014, and there have been so many books since then.  Fellside wasn't my cup of tea, but it has pleased hundreds of others.  

Purchased.

Mystery/Suspense/Paranormal.  2016.  Print length:  485 pages.


I'm not sure how I missed The Sound of Broken Glass as Deborah Crombie's series featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James is a favorite.

The Sound of Broken Glass is the 15th book in the series that began in 1993.  Duncan Kincaid is taking time off to care for Charlotte, his and Gemma's foster child (this story is told in Necessary as Blood), so the main plot involves Gemma.  

Gemma and DS Melody Talbot investigate the death of a respected (but not particularly liked) barrister found in a compromising situation in a hotel that the man has used for casual sexual encounters.  Then another barrister is found murdered in similar fashion. 

The case requires backtracking to an event 15 years earlier and is slowly unraveled through both interviews and flashbacks.

As usual, Crombie makes use of characters from previous books, but in a way that doesn't interfere with understanding the current book.  I like the feeling of meeting familiar characters who have appeared in previous plots, and the way Crombie weaves them into the story in a purposeful way.  Have to admit to being surprised at Melody Talbot's out-of-character behavior.  

I read To Dwell in Darkness (#16), the next in the series last year, but Crombie has a new book scheduled to come in February.

Purchased.

Police Procedural.  2013.  Print length: 531 pages.

Interesting that The Sound of Broken Glass is actually a little longer than Fellside--and did not feel nearly as long.
-----------
I have 18 book reviews scheduled for 2017--from January - June.  One of the hazards of NetGalley is that you can read a book 6 months or more before publication.  These are books that I've read since July of 2016--so I've been scheduling them for 6 months.  All of these are already posted to Goodreads, but the blog posts are scheduled closer to publication.  

Half of them are scheduled for January:

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

The Girl in the Garden by Melanie Wallace * (beautifully written!)

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

Old Bones by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles * (great one-liners:  "You're no fun on a road trip, Thelma"

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan

Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard

Stasi Wolf by David Young * (interesting look at East Germany in 1975; unique police procedural because of setting)

The three with asterisks are my favorites-of course, that's just my opinion, but for me they stand miles above the rest.  Most disappointing was Brunonia Barry's The Fifth Petal.  I really liked The Lace Reader, but found The Fifth Petal boring.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis

Two Days Gone started out beautifully, and I was full of praise--in the way you just comment to yourself about the writing with excitement and pleasure, but...

I'm going to link to Deb Marten's review, which says almost everything I intended.  The only difference is that she does not mention the ending, then the ending, then the ending.  She was probably exhausted.

So much potential here!   I've rarely been so disappointed by a book that had such promise at the beginning.  

Read in Oct.; blog review scheduled for Dec. 19.

NetGalley/Sourcebooks

Crime/Suspense.  Jan. 1, 2016.  Print length:  400 pages.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

I've had The Ghosts of Belfast on my list for awhile, and after reading So Say the Fallen, I made a point of checking for it on my next library visit.

So Say the Fallen is a crime/police procedural novel, and I enjoyed it, but The Ghosts of Belfast is in another category altogether.   It is an important book about a period in Northern Ireland that resonates with the problems many countries are facing today.

 Gerry Fegan , a "hard man" and former IRA assassin, was responsible for the deaths of twelve people, including innocent civilians.  When released from prison, Fegan tries to repress the past, drinks heavily, and has trouble sleeping.  Haunted by the twelve individuals he has killed, Fegan is a shell of a man who sees ghosts--and the ghosts are demanding revenge.  The ghosts view Fegan as a tool, and wordlessly, they demand that he kill those who gave the orders or were in some way responsible for their individual deaths.  

For seven years after his release from prison, Fegan resists the ghosts, but when Michael McKenna tries to draw him back into the game--now more criminal and less political--Fegan breaks.  McKenna is the first to die--leaving Fegan with only eleven ghosts seeking revenge. Fegan's vendetta, however, could disrupt the peace process, and he becomes a target from both sides, but his ghosts are relentless in their quest.  Guilt and the possibility of redemption drive Fegan.  No, not even redemption, but at least he hopes that appeasing the ghosts will set him free. 

The Ghosts of Belfast is a crime novel with psychological and supernatural elements.  It is novel about political terrorism, The Troubles, the "disappeared," the brutality and murders committed by the various paramilitaries on both sides--even as the fragile possibility of a resolution was in process.  

Brutal and terrifying and strangely moving, The Ghosts of Belfast gives an intimate look at the violence and the effects of violence on the people of Belfast.  Neville does not spare either side--both sides were guilty of atrocities.  Even now, Belfast is a divided city, physically and emotionally, still dealing with what took place during those 30 + years and the damage to the psyches of not only those who suffered from the violence, but on those who committed acts of violence as well.

This article explains why Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK.  
   
source


source

New York Times Notable Book and Winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Neville's debut remains "a flat-out terror trip" (James Ellroy) and "one of the best Irish novels, in any genre, of recent times" (John Connolly).


Barry Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2010)Macavity Award Nominee for Best First Mystery Novel (2010)Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2010)Dilys Award Nominee (2010)Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller (2009)

Other good books I've read that deal with the period known as The Troubles:

The Bird Woman by Kerrie Hardy
Shadows on Our Skin by Jennifer Johnston
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw (from NetGalley; review scheduled for June, 2017)

Another good article about this period by Anthony Quinn, who grew up during The Troubles and has written a book I'm adding to my list.

It is one of those strange coincidences that I had just been reading Yeats when I started this book.  I think a line from The Second Coming best illustrates the senseless bloodshed during The Troubles and that is currently happening in the world.  
"The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity."

Library copy.

Crime/Historical.  2009.  337 pages.

A Rustle of Silk and Death Notes

A Rustle of Silk by Alys Clare introduces a new historic mystery series featuring Gabriel Taverner, whose life as a ship's surgeon is no longer possible after a head injury results in irremediable sea sickness.

He settles in rural Devon near his family and begins life as a country physician.  Asked to accompany the local coroner and give his opinion on a decomposed body, Gabriel discovers a connection that could have a serious impact on the sister he loves.

Overall, a quick read of a new series that may improve as it develops.  I hope to see more weight given to several of the secondary characters in the next one.

I've only read a couple of books by Alys Clare, each one a part of two separate medieval mystery series she writes.  I was glad to be reminded that I'd enjoyed those books.

read 9/8/16; review scheduled for Dec. 16

NetGalley/Severn House 

Historic Mystery.  Jan. 1, 2017.  Print length: 256 pages.


Death Notes by Sarah Rayne is another debut series.  

From Severn House:  Introducing professional researcher Phineas Fox in the first of a brand-new series of chilling mysteries.
Phineas Fox has mixed feelings when he’s asked to research the infamous 19th-century violinist Roman Volf for a TV documentary. Hanged for his part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, Volf was a notorious criminal and womaniser, whose glittering talent was undermined by his scandalous private life. However, on uncovering evidence which suggests that Volf could not have been involved in the Tsar’s murder, Phin’s investigations lead him to the west coast of Ireland – and a series of intriguing, interlocking mysteries reaching from 1881 to the present day. 

A number of twists in this one, and as many involve the present day as the past.  

read 9/7/16; review scheduled for Dec. 16 

NetGalley/Severn House

Mystery.  Jan. 1, 2017.  Print length:  256 pages.  (yep, I checked--both books are 256 pages)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Phantom and Police by Jo Nesbo


Jo Nesbo has a new book coming out in 2017, and I realized that I still had not read the last two in his Harry Hole series.  I was getting a little tired of Harry's frequent falls from grace and the increasing violence, red herrings, and misdirections and took a break after reading Snowman.

But last week's library trip found me placing Phantom (2012) and Police (2013) in my bag, and I read through both novels within a couple of days.  I will be prepared when Thirst comes out in 2017.

*The Harry Hole series can be best appreciated if you've read the earlier novels.  But fair warning, these are dark and brutal books.

Phantom brings Harry back to Oslo from Hong Kong because Rakel's son Oleg has been arrested for the murder of his junkie friend Gusto.  Much of the story is interspersed with Gusto's dying thoughts which explain some of the backstory required for this complicated plot.  

Harry has returned to find a way to prove Oleg's innocence--if he is innocent.  He is not terribly concerned with who killed Gusto, as long as it wasn't Oleg.

Parts of Phantom are engrossing, but it is a brutal story of vicious violence and corruption.  The book feels even longer than it actually is because of the number of characters and various subplots that are all intertwined--drugs and the mysterious drug lord called Dubai, police and political corruption, lots of murders.

The secondary characters that made up Harry's team in the previous novels are barely mentioned because Harry is no longer a policeman.  In previous books, the balance provided by the familiar team helped counteract some of the darker elements of the plots.  

As usual, Harry finds himself in a fine mess and struggles with commitment, but his character does show a change in Phantom.  The conclusion may come as a surprise.

Library copy.

Crime/Nordic Noir.  2012.  466 pages.

Police continues the misdirection Nesbo used in Phantom It is difficult to review this book as almost any comment on the plot becomes a spoiler.

At first, I was happy because the old team reunites to help with the murders of several policemen.  Seeing the team work together was initially rewarding, but Nesbo throws in some unpleasant surprises.  

To keep the reader off balance and prevent the reader from making any logical deductions, Nesbo uses "he" to refer to the actions of the bad guy, and the tangled schemes leave the guilty party ambiguous--makes it pretty difficult to have any insight into character or behavior when the villain could be almost any of the characters.  Nesbo puts more effort into keeping the reader in the dark and offering conflicting scenarios than anything else.

The novel turns out to be more complicated than complex, and the complicated manipulation of  plot elements annoyed me.  Gimmick after gimmick.  

And yet--having followed the series for several years (although I did begin to have reservations after Snowman, reviewed here), Nesbo does keep me reading.  Which is why I will read Thirst when it comes out--and hope that it will conclude the series.  Oh, and hope Mikael Bellman meets his downfall.  Of course, I've hoped for that for a long time, and the man survives.

Library copy.

Nordic Noir.  2013.  644 pages.