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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Written in Blood

Lowe, Sheila. Written in Blood. The author contacted me about this one, "A forensic handwriting mystery." I've written about my interest in graphology and handwriting analysis on both of my blogs (here is one post that covers 2 different books on the subject), so I was glad to have this one offered.

Sheila Lowe
is a handwriting expert with 35 years experience and has testified in forensic cases herself. Written in Blood is her second Poison Pen novel featuring Claudia Rose, a handwriting expert with much the same experience as the author.

Claudia is called upon by a young widow to verify the signature on her husband's contested will. After determining the signature to be genuine (interesting details about the analysis) and testifying in court, Claudia develops a friendship with the young widow who is the headmistress of an exclusive girl's school. On hearing about a troubled and suicidal student at the school, Claudia volunteers to help the troubled young woman with graphotherapy, and unexpected complications arise.

I loved the all the stuff about forensic handwriting analysis and found Claudia an interesting and likable character. Some brief sex scenes with the boyfriend could have been omitted -- they weren't terribly graphic, neither were they necessary.

Overall, it was a good mystery with an appealing protagonist--suspenseful and involving. Again, the forensic handwriting element is a huge draw, and Lowe uses it skillfully.

The handwriting element gives a different touch to the typical mystery and offers some interesting insight into the different reasons for wanting writing analyzed.

Fiction. Mystery/Suspense. 2008. 306 pages.

Calling Home

McMahan, Janna. Calling Home. This was an ARC, and I hope to hear more from this author as she has the rare ability to bring a setting to life.

Set in rural Kentucky during the late 1970's, the novel examines the lives of the various members of the Lemmon family after the father abandons them and moves in with another woman. Virginia, the mother, and Shannon, the daughter, dominate the book, but the other characters are deftly drawn.

Decisions are made and secrets revealed, and for everything there is a consequence. Virginia is trapped by circumstances and culture, but Shannon hopes to move beyond those proscriptions and into a world with fewer restrictions on women.

For the most part, this book felt real. Difficult situations dealt with by imperfect people to the best of their ability. Are the decisions right or wrong? For whom? And isn't that always the case?

Fiction. 2008. 307 pages.

Just a few more...

I have only 4 books left to review, but by the time I get them done, I will probably have finished the one in progress.

The fact that the two Webber books combined were around 1700 pages is probably the only reason I believe I can catch up. Ordinarily, that many pages would be at least 4 or 5 books.

When I get behind with reviewing, there seems to be no way to avoid falling further behind.

You don't just stop reading, do you?

You don't say, "I won't read another book until I catch up on reviews." You just read another book, and then another, and the list of reviews gets longer.

Hi Ho!

At All Costs

Weber, David. At All Costs. An Honor Harrington novel, but not my favorite. In fact, my least favorite in this series of 11 books.

I don't mind the fact that Weber's books are long, but if he had discarded the entire section on the love triangle and the babies, I would have been much happier. Hamish, Earl of White Haven and wife Emily are two of the least developed characters in a cast of thousands (give or take a few and throughout the entire series). Honor's relationship with Hamish has seemed pretty thin from the beginning, but recent developments are not of interest to me.

I went back to see my review of War of Honor , the book previous to this one, and found that I didn't comment on the Honor/Hamish/Emily situation, but remember that I wasn't much impressed with it. I liked the Shadow of Saganami which is connected to the series, but doesn't feature Honor Harrington, I enjoyed In Fury Born (not connected to the H.H. novels),and I like his new series Off Armageddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder, but my fondness for the Honorverse is fading, as the last two novels in this series have been a bit disappointing.

I have no intention of abandoning Weber, but maybe this particular series has played itself out. Will I read the next one? Of course.

Fiction. Science Fiction/Space Opera.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Intention Experiment

McTaggert, Lynne. The Intention Experiment. I started this nonfiction book quite a while back and wrote a bit about it here. Finally got through all the quantum physics stuff (whew!), which although interesting, was hard going-- and into accounts of various fascinating experiments. Initially, the brain-strain bogged me down, and I put the book aside, but on returning to it, I was completely immersed.

Offering a scientific look at the power of human consciousness, Lynne McTaggert presents scientific studies conducted by leading researchers at imminent universities and research facilities to show the effects of intention; she examines the way the scientific community approaches the mind over matter debate.

Hmmm. How to describe the idea of "intention" - it the age-old practice of prayer and new-age interest in thought/action, it is quantum physics, shaman and healer, laboratory studies, qi gong, meditation, alternative medicine, spiritual healing, placebo effect, brain frequencies, complex magnetic fields, and quantifiable scientific data. Fact or Fantasy?

How can an individual's intention to harm a plant produce a quantifiable scientific effect?

How can meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks in a drafty Himalayan monastery in the middle of winter be covered with sheets drenched in ice water and then generate enough heat to cause steam to rise from the sheets?

How can remote intention effect the PH of water?

How can prayer/healing intention effect cardiac or cancer patients?

How can remote intention effect the growth of algae in a laboratory?

The experiments and studies on plants, inanimate objects, eggs, mice, and humans are definitely involving and intriguing.

The "how" is not yet fully explained, but evidently both the "what" and the "how" are under vigorous academic and scientific study. I guess the "why" is obvious.

McTaggert interviewed scientists in various fields, medical doctors, clairvoyants, practitioners of meditation, and healers, looking at both scientific experiments and studies of people who appear to have unusual talents. She investigated studies by leading institutions and interviewed participants. Her bibliography is extensive and impressive including studies from journals such as Physics World, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, International Journal of Psychophysiology, American Heart Journal, American Journal of Psychiatry, and other well-known and respected medical and scientific journals and studies - as well as journals on parapsychology and alternative medicines.

I found the book engrossing (after the hard science and quantum mechanics) and suppose it goes back to not only do we use only a fraction of the power of the brain, we aren't even aware of some the power we do use.

Nonfiction. Popular Science (mostly lay terms, explanations). 222 pages + 50 pages of Notes and Bibliographic material.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pharmakon

Wittenborn, Dirk. Pharmakon. This ARC examines drug research and drug use, the American Dream transformed, ego and arrogance, and family dysfunction.

It is one of those novels with a particularly impressive first line: "I was born because a man came to kill my father."

The first paragraph draws you in and the first half of the book is quite interesting. Research psychologist William Friedrich has many good qualities, but is, overall, a damaged individual who perpetuates some of his own childhood misery. His ambition leads him on a destructive path that he never intended when he develops a new drug that attempts to relieve suffering, to increase happiness. Good characterization and tension in this portion of the novel.

The last half of the book, however, deals with the children and is less interesting. Much less so. While it is sad to see the effect of events and parental personalities on the children, they were strangely unappealing and unsympathetic.

The Greek word pharmakon means both poison and cure. An apt description of the pharmaceutical industry.

Fiction. 2008. 403 pages.

In Fury Born

Weber, David. In Fury Born. Captain Alicia DeVries resigns from the Imperial Cadre because of a political decision to cover up a betrayal that cost the lives of all but 9 of Charlie Company, Third Battalion. She joins her family on the developing planet Mathison, and several years later, returns home to find her family dead or dying, massacred by space pirates. With her Cadre training and enhancements, Alicia manages to kill all the pirates who have attacked their remote home, but in the process receives fatal wounds.

And yet...

When rescuers find her, they are amazed and bewildered and not a little frightened. Alicia becomes a medical mystery and a very dangerous patient. What she actually is would be even more unbelievable to her doctors -- because one of the Furies from early mythology has taken residence within Alicia and will help her take revenge on the murderers of her family and her planet -- for of the forty-one thousand inhabitants of Mathison, there were only 306 survivors.

The Fury Tisiphone has mad sure that Alicia will live and be able to take her revenge; the two of them eventually are able to escape and steal an AI starship...

And then there were three.

I liked it. Another fast-paced novel with lots of action by David Weber, there are a few flaws and the book is long, but it was interesting and exciting.

Fiction. Science Fiction/Space Opera. 2006. 828 pages.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Clubbable Woman

Hill, Reginald. A Clubbable Woman. This is the first in the Dalziel & Pascoe series and the characters are pretty rudimentary. Dalziel is simply crude in this first novel in the series (published in 1970), and Pascoe is almost cardboard. Not a bad mystery, I suppose, but mostly interesting to see the first novel in which Fat Andy Dalziel (pronounced [diːˈɛl]) and Peter Pascoe appear. Hill had a better grasp on them within a year when he published An Advancement of Learning (# 2 in the series; reviewed a few weeks ago, here and here).

I was unable to find copies of #'s 3-7 -Ruling Passion, An April Shroud, A Pinch of Snuff, A Killing Kindness, and Deadheads (1973-1983) - when I ordered from Alibris, but was able to get Exit Lines (1984), and will look for the #'s 3-7 in the series, maybe at Amazon.com.

I've read 9 of the last 10 of Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe novels and find it great fun to see the evolution from the early to the late novels. A nearly 40 year span!

Fiction. Mystery/crime. 1970. 255 pages.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Blood of Caesar

Bell, Albert A. The Blood of Caesar. Set in ancient Rome, this mystery has Pliny the Younger and Tacitus investigating the missing memoir of Nero's mother, the death of a Jewish slave, and the possibility of a previously unknown descendant of Nero who might provide a rallying point for those who would challenge Emperor Domitian.

An interesting look at Rome and some of its well-known figures and some of its social and political intricacies, but the characters just didn't come off the page for me. Does include a chronological timeline and a list of terms and people at the back.

My favorite Roman mysteries are those of Lindsey Davis and the irrepressible Marcus Didius Falco. Lindsey Davis and Stephen Saylor (Gordianus the Finder) are perhaps the most familiar authors who use ancient Rome, but there are quite a few others as I discovered at The Detctive and the Toga. Here is a list of recently published Ancient Roman Mysteries.

Fiction. Historical mystery. 2008. 252 pages.