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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Historical Mystery and Fantasy and Some Ponderings

For Dead Men Only has a great cover.    

Alexandra Gladstone is a Victorian doctor who solves murders with the help of her maid and her friend Lord Dunsford.  In this novel, Freemasons are being murdered and the body count continues to increase.  

It is a light historical mystery series and most reviews are quite positive, but I had trouble believing in the characters.

NetGalley/Random House/Alibi

Historical Mystery.  April 12, 2016.   





An immigrant story full of martial arts, mythical Chinese creatures, evil spirits, and magic--The Girl with Ghost Eyes is set in San Francisco's Chinatown at the turn of the 19th century.  It is a unique fantasy, specifically Chinese/American.  Chinese immigrants faced with the conflicts that arise between tradition and progress  must carve out new lives for themselves amidst prejudice and cultural differences in a new country, and (since China is a huge country with many languages and dialects, ethnic groups, traditions, and beliefs) Chinatown itself is another kind of melting pot.  ( China has 297 living languages according to Ethnologue.[5))

Li-lin is a young widow and the daughter of one of Chinatown's most respected exorcists in the Maoshan tradition of Daoism.  She, herself, is in training, but at only a second ordination, her skills are limited.  When persuaded to take a dangerous journey to the afterlife to help a ghost, she is betrayed and an evil plot is initiated.

"Maoshan isn't like other traditions. We are ghost hunters, spirit mediums, and exorcists. When creatures out of nightmare trouble Chinatown, people come to the Maoshan for protection. With paper talismans we drive away the spirits, with magic gourds we imprison them, with peachwood swords we destroy them. People fear those who live at the border of the spirit world. They say a haunt of death taints us. They might be right."

Li-lin fights valiantly to do what is right and, forced into a new more active situation, her character grows from the always obedient and traditional daughter.  As she questions situations and dictums she previously took for granted, Li-lin eventually realizes that what she has been told is a curse and shameful...might actually be necessary to combat the evil that threatens Chinatown.

Li-lin is a wonderful protagonist, and I hope for more from Mr. Boroson.  

The information about the author and how he came to write this story is definitely worth the time to read it.

Purchased ebook.

Fantasy/Historical Fiction/YA.  2015.  Print length:  288 pages.



Jackaby by William Ritter is the first in a series featuring an eccentric paranormal investigator and a young woman recently arrived from England to keep from confronting her parents about a foolish adventure.

Abigail Rook is an intelligent young woman with sharp observational skills;  R.F. Jackaby is an oddball detective with the ability to perceive the supernatural.  They make an effective team with Abigail realizing the importance of ordinary details, while Jackaby recognizes what goes beyond the ordinary.

“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”


I found the novel entertaining, mostly because it offers the promise of more and better. Jackaby is full of suspense and offbeat humor, but I would have liked more character development and backstory.  I suspect that as the author develops the characters, the series could be one that improves with each addition.  I need to try the second in the series, Beastly Bones.  

Middle School/YA/Mystery/Paranormal.  2014.  Print length:  321 pages.
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So many more book reviews to catch up on, but I'm headed back upstairs to tackle a re-organization of my studio.  Tomorrow, I'll be searching for items I've re-organized.  

The final day in the Month of Letters challenge is tomorrow--Monday, Feb. 29!  I have something ready to go out in tomorrow's mail, and with this last letter, I will have met the challenge!  I'm pretty proud of myself for following through.

Of course, it won't be the end of writing letters.  Making the envelopes and postcards has been too much fun and will continue, but instead of worrying about putting at least one thing in the mail each day, I'll post several things at a time--maybe once or twice a week.  A more comfortable fit.

On Tuesday, I'll share some of the incoming and outgoing mail from this past week, but today I'm going to share the  invitation to Jack & Ginger's annual Critter Dinner that arrived in Saturday's mail.  Jack is an artist and designs the invitations each year.  




 Love that list of last year's dishes is included!

He even had a stamp made from his drawing at stamps.com!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Surveillance by Reece Hirsch

Surveillance has a fast-paced fugitive plot and a topic that concerns us all--the power of the government (or in this case, a shadow agency of the government) to monitor everything about our lives.  Even if we eschew social media, we are available online because banks, hospitals, libraries, and stores of all kinds are online.  

Plot:  Chris Bruen and partner Zooey Doucet are ready to open their new law office, but the first client who walks in changes everything.  

Ian Ayres, an "ethical hacker," is hired to do an online security check and discovers a secret government surveillance agency.  His life is quickly disrupted, and he is in danger.  He refuses to go into detail with Chris Bruen in the office, insisting that they walk outside.  Even as they walk, Ayres checks for parabolic mics.  Chris thinks Ayres is a nut case, but when they return to the office to find his receptionist and researcher dead, both Chris and Ayres are on the run.  Zooey, out of the office when the murders occurred, must also disappear.

The plot gets a little fantastic with hired assassins from the shadow agency monitoring every move that the two men make and Zooey seeking help from a hacker that plans to steal millions from a drug cartel (wish the author had left that part out).  

My main interest was in the tech involved and the means available to track any targeted individual through accessing phone calls, emails, and CCTV cameras.  

While I realize that this is fiction and that it would not be as easy as the book makes it seem, I know that when I Google something or buy a book or make an online purchase, that information is an open door for those who know how to gain entry.  Ads for items I have purchased show up on almost any page I view online.  If I research certain phrases like Sharia Law, that interest is out there.  

Does it make you uncomfortable, knowing how much information about you can be accessed?  For me, most of the time it doesn't make me uneasy--because I am not a criminal or a terrorist.  But the premise of the book is that even if you are innocent, you could be targeted for some reason, and like it or not, almost anything about your life is accessible.   

 Do I think this is a great book?  No.  I was much less interested in characters or plot than in the idea of cyber spying.  The book has, however, made me think a bit more about the NSA and the ability to abuse collected data.  

Reece Hirsch is the author of four thrillers that draw upon his background as a privacy attorney. His first book, The Insider, was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. His next three books, The Adversary, Intrusion, and Surveillance, all feature former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor Chris Bruen. Hirsch is a partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm and cochair of its privacy and cybersecurity practice.

I'm also adding No Place to Hide:  Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State to my list of nonfiction that I'd like to read.  

We all want to be safe, but the history of power and corruption is long and documented.  

:0 This is another example of a book that was just a few hours of escapism sending me off in another direction.  I was going to make this a really brief review--book was OK, kept me involved for a few hours...and look what happened!  
NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Suspense/Conspiracy.  March 15, 2016.  Print length:  299 pages.



Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Postcards and Letters

It is pouring here, and I don't want to even make a quick trip to the mailbox to get my postcard for the day in the mail.  Hoping it will let up soon--otherwise, hoping the umbrella will provide some defense from wind and rain.

So far, I've managed to keep with the Month of Letters challenge.  It has been a challenge in some ways and a revelation in others.  Making postcards and envelopes has been fun; I love experimenting with different materials, paints, stamps, etc.  Of course, making the postcards or envelopes isn't required--isn't even the point--but I love doing it.

I've sent Valentines

And received Valentines

What has surprised me is how much I've enjoyed writing the letters to people I know from real life and to people I've become friends with through blogging.  Not all real-life friends share the same interests, so it makes for a great mix.  I can talk about books or sewing or crafting with blog friends and about memories and kids with others.

My mind goes from "Oh, no!  I don't have anything to say!" to suddenly feeling ready to communicate.  The postcards are easy and quick, but the letters have me pausing and thinking and sorting through possible topics of interest .  

The challenge doesn't require a response, but almost everyone has sent an email saying that they received and enjoyed finding something in their mailboxes besides junk mail.  And quite a few people have responded with fun postcards and wonderful letters in return!  I've posted a lot of both incoming and outgoing mail on my other blog, but I sometimes forget to take pictures, especially on the outgoing mail.

I've sent letters

And received letters
 Isn't that stamp gorgeous?

I got a wonderful letter from Melody Lee (Melody's Reading Corner) in Singapore!  My return letter went out yesterday.  Writing people that you meet online, that share your interests (crafting on my other blog and reading on this one) has been such a pleasure.  

Writing friends with whom I've been out of touch for quite some time has been easier than a phone call because I can do the pause thing--take a sip of tea, read a while, whatever--and come back without any awkwardness.  

An artist friend of mine who lives in Santa Fe and I had recently gotten back in touch on FB, now we are exchanging letters!  We've known each other since the 7th grade, were friends all the way through college, then life journeys took separate paths, and we seldom got in touch. It was nice to send a FB message or two back and forth, but the letter writing--well, it feels real in a way that FB just can't.  In a way, the letters are like we are still the same 7th graders, not well-traveled "mature" women.

 When Bryce Eleanor was here a while back, she painted her postcards to her cousins.

      Max likes Freddy (Five Nights of Freddy) and Mila loves Erin Hunter's Warrior series.
Bryce Eleanor loves to draw; painting was a bit more demanding,
but she did a great job.



 I love her messages.  FNF3 is a game, and
evidently Night 2 has given her trouble.



This is just a taste of what has been going on here this month.  A lot of reading, a lot of letters and postcards, as little housework as I can get away with.  :)

Here is a site about the Royal Mail in the UK.  So many interesting topics:  historic letters, postage,  writing in code, the origin of the postmark, mail coaches, and much more.

Monday, February 22, 2016

3 Mysteries

Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham.  I really like this series featuring Joe O'Loughlin, a clinical psychologist with Parkinson's, and I have followed the series for quite a while--as much for the characters as for the compelling crimes Joe finds himself involved in.  

Joe is still in love with his wife Julianne, but because of mistakes he made, they have been separated for six years.  When Julianne asks Joe to spend the summer with her and his daughters, Joe is eager to do so, even if he tries not to hope for too much.

At the same time, he is asked to help with the murder of a mother and daughter.  At first he refuses, but a former student has used Joe's name, then betrayed the trust of the police and leaked information about the crime.  

Plenty of suspects and some red herrings, but Joe finally makes the right connections.  You need not have read the previous entries in this series to appreciate Robotham's latest, but if you have, the twist at the end may surprise you!  Nuf said.

What next, Mr. Robotham?

NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Crime/Psychological Suspense.  2015/ April 12, 2016.  Print length:  392 pages.



When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris is another series I've followed for several years, although I haven't read every book that features Sebastien St. Cyr.  I need to make a trip to the library to catch up on some that I've missed.

Brief description:  "Ayleswick-on-Teme, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has come to this seemingly peaceful Shropshire village to honor a slain friend and on a quest to learn more about his own ancestry. But when the body of a lovely widow is found on the banks of the River Teme, a bottle of laudanum at her side, the village's inexperienced new magistrate turns to St. Cyr for help."

C.S. Harris continues to keep my interest in this series; in fact, I think she gets better.  Again, you don't have to have read the previous books to enjoy this one.  There is an overarching storyline that develops a little with each entry, but the main plot of each one is complete.  

I like the cover, but it don't be misled into thinking this is a romance.  Harris plots intricate and atmospheric historical mysteries, and this one is excellent.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing/NAL

Historic Mystery.  March 1, 2016.  Print length:  370 pages.

A Lady in the Smoke is a debut novel by Karen Odden.  

brief description: "Following a humiliating fourth Season in London, Lady Elizabeth Fraser is on her way back to her ancestral country estate when her train careens off the rails and bursts into flames. Though she is injured, she manages to drag herself and her unconscious mother out of the wreckage, and amid the chaos that ensues, a brilliant young railway surgeon saves her mother's life. Elizabeth feels an immediate connection with Paul Wilcox—though society would never deem a medical man eligible for the daughter of an earl."

I like the time period, and the information about the early railroads in England is interesting.  The characters are likable, but there is a little too much emphasis on an insta-love romance for me.   The mystery itself is solid, but I would have like it much better without the insta-love.

NetGalley/Random House/Alibi

Historic Mystery.  March 29, 2016.  Print length:  411 pages.  




Thursday, February 18, 2016

Physical ARCs


The Hidden Man by Robin Blake is an historical mystery that arrived in the mail.  I read it sometime before Christmas.  

I like mysteries set in different time periods, often as much for the historical details as for plot or characters.   The Hidden Man is the third in a series featuring Coroner Titus Cragg and Doctor Luke Fidelis in the mid 1700's and does give a unique perspective of life in the Georgian period.

Historically, the novel contains a number of fascinating topics, including the beginnings of investment banking (which, in this case, go sadly awry), the circumscribed lives of women, medical practices that sometimes both doctor and patient are reluctant to change, the evolving judicial system of the 1740's, issues with the slave trade, and more.  

I was a bit put off by the slow beginning.  This may have been partly because I had not read the two earlier novels, but it took the lack of anything else to read at the time to keep me reading.  Eventually, I became quite involved with the characters and plot.

The circumstances surrounding the death of pawnbroker Philip Pimbo in a locked room situation are mysterious, but the mayor is less concerned about Pimbo's death than he is about the money that the Preston Guild invested with him.  Coroner Cragg and Dr. Fidelis each play a role in solving Pimbo's murder and a subsequent related murder.

I ended up enjoying the book, but unless another free copy arrives in the mail, I probably won't pursue the series.

From Minotaur Books

Historical Mystery.  2015.  353 pages.


Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves is also one from November or December that I had not reviewed.  I read one of the books in the Vera Stanhope series before I started blogging, and I've read two books in her Shetland Island series, but haven't kept up with this author like I should.  It's a shame because Cleeves creates fascinating characters and atmospheric settings with great twisty plots.  A trip to the library is in order so I can catch up with both Vera Stanhope and Inspector Jimmy Perez.

Cleeves excels at character building and the characters she creates are atypical in the police procedural/crime genre.  Vera Stanhope is older, overweight, unattractive, brusque, and intuitive.  She's lonely and drinks too much, but her instincts and determination make her exceptional at her job. I haven't watched the BBC television series, and probably won't because I don't want anything messing with my own version of Vera.

Briefly:  When all but one of the passengers on a train have disembarked, an elegant, elderly woman remains.  At some point during the journey, she has been murdered; but why would anyone kill Margaret Krukowski?  A quiet, caring woman, Margaret doesn't seem likely to have been targeted for death, and the motive for her murder remains elusive.

Vera Stanhope ends up staying at the bed and breakfast on Harbour Street where Margaret lived and worked.  Peeling back the layers, Vera and Detective Joe Ashworth delve into the lives of various people in the small community, puzzling through possibilities, discovering some surprising events from the past.

This is a skillfully plotted and character rich novel!  Recommended.

From Minotaur Books

Police Procedural.  2015.  400 pages.



A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders.  I loved A Murder of Magpies by Flanders and was excited when this arrived in the mail.  Another beautiful cover.

Flanders again fills the reader in about many of the problems and conflicts involved in publishing.  While people who love to read enjoy learning a bit about how books reach the public, Flanders may have spent a little too much time on the details at the beginning of the book.  

However, when Samantha Clair leaves her office to have lunch with old friend Aidan Merriam, an art dealer, she is shocked to learn that his partner has committed suicide.
To add to her dismay, the investigation is being led by her boyfriend, Inspector Jake Field.  Suicide or murder?

Sam finds herself in the uneasy situation of divided loyalties.  Even as she tries to distance herself from the investigation, she keeps finding herself dragged in.  

I did like it, but not as much as I loved the first book.   Does Sam seem a little more befuddled than in A Murder of Magpies?  She is not the most socially adept person, but she is smart and witty, and I don't think it showed as much in this book.  There are some great secondary characters that reappear, and it is nice when characters that you liked in the first book continue to contribute.

Although this one is a hardback from the publisher that arrived in the mail, the ebook is being offered on Netgalley.

From Minotaur Books

Mystery.  2015.  392 pages.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it...

But if she didn't kill Frank, why doesn't she stay to explain to the police that he fell down the stairs?  Instead, Tanya Dubois packs a suitcase and heads out with no particular plan in mind.  In this way, Lutz keeps the reader engaged, but puzzled.  Feeding little "hints and allegations" (can't resist--if I see or hear the word hints, allegations just follows) along the way, Lutz allows this woman, who assumes many names in her travels, to intrigue and mystify us as she makes her flight across the country.

When she lands in Austin, with the new name Amelia Keene, she meets Blue, a bartender who sees more about Amelia Keene than anyone else notices.  When things begin to go wrong and Amelia/Tanya's past catches up with her, Blue is inadvertently and drastically involved.  For a while, I thought this was going to be Thelma & Louise story,  but Lutz doesn't allow that to happen.  Both women have pasts that seem to be closing in on them, but they work out a plan, and each proceeds in her individual journey.  New names, new places, but Amelia/Tanya/Debra is never able to stay long in one place regardless of how she wishes for a rest from those who pursue her.

Hints of Amelia/Tanya/Debra's past emerge through emails from a previous life addressed to Jo.  We know that even before Tanya and her marriage to the unfortunate Frank, there is something in her past that she has been running from.  Plenty of twists and turns and a conclusion that I DID NOT EXPECT.

This was one of those books that kept me (figuratively) turning the pages (actually, swiping the e-reader frantically).  Considering that I never plan to be on the road and off-the-grid, it may seem odd that the idea of trying to live incognito and fleeing from unknown assailants always fascinates me.  On the other hand, for someone who willingly reads about versions of the zombie apocalypse, maybe not so strange.  

Lisa Lutz is best known for her Spellman books about a family of private investigators.  I have not read any of them, but I will.   Besides The Passenger, Lutz has also written another stand alone -- How to Start a Fire, which is also now on my TBR list.

Read in Oct., 2015; blog review scheduled for Feb. 16, 2016.

NetGalley/Simon & Schuster

Mystery/Thriller.  March 1, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Anne Bishop, The Others

I decided to try Marked in Flesh from NetGalley, in spite of not having read the 3 previous entries.  Urban fantasy is one of those "hit or miss" subgenres for me, but I'm so glad I tried this one.  Marked in Flesh caught me by surprise--and I'm hooked on this series. 

I admit that the place names and days of the week initially put me off, but then I became so enthralled with the characters that putting down the book was an annoyance of major proportions.  My husband wanted clean jeans?  Well (pointing authoritatively): there is the washing machine, have at it!  Leave me alone, I'm not just reading--I'm immersed in the world of the Others, and I'm not ready to leave.  

When I finished Marked in Flesh, I immediately ordered Written in Red, the first in the series.  It seemed imperative to know the backstories of these characters; I was not willing to let them go.  No waiting for a trip to the library.  Must have it now.  Therein lies the wonder of the ebook--it appears within minutes.  Instant gratification.  

Written in Red has been all over the blogosphere for a while, but I hadn't paid much attention.  Now, I realize why readers are so fascinated.  The world Bishop has created is powerful and addictive.  Despite the fact that I  initially quibbled over some minor details, the world of the Others is compelling: full of suspense and imminent danger and populated with well-drawn characters, but no romance.  The  book examines prejudice and propaganda, malevolent characters and corruption, but also contains a lot of gentle humor.  Bishop has diligently built a unique world, full of layers and anomalies.

Briefly--in the world of the Others, shape-shifters, vampires, and Elementals exist in a precarious relationship with humans.  Humans are prey, but they also manufacture products that the Others want, so an uneasy truce is in place.  

In addition to the Others and the "normal" humans, a special kind of human exists--the cassandra sangue, blood prophets.  Unlike the daughter of King Priam, the problem is that people do believe these Cassandras.  To achieve a prophecy, the skin of a cassandra sangue is cut, over and over, one cut for each prophecy purchased;  the women are segregated, imprisoned in various compounds under "benevolent ownership" and used for profit by unscrupulous humans.  

Meg Corbyn, a highly sensitive and valuable cassandra sangue, escapes from her compound and ends up in one of the Others'  Courtyards.  Simon Wolfgard reluctantly gives her a job as Human Liaison. Meg's Controller, however, wants her back and will go to any length to regain his property.  

In addition to this plotline, a growing rebellion among humans whose slogan is "Humans First and Last" is escalating.  The fragile relationship that has been fostered between humans and the Others is being tested.

In spite of the fact that the Others will kill and eat any human who violates the rules of the contract between them, they are more trustworthy than humans.  They can be trusted to eat violators.  Humans are meat, but the Others can refrain from eating humans as long as they follow the rules.  Which, of course, being humans....

As soon as I finished this one, I ordered Murder of Crows and devoured it.  :)  I'm trying to behave myself and leave a little space before ordering the third in the series, but I'm weak.  It will happen sooner rather than later.

I was going to review Murder of Crows, but think I'll just wait.  Maybe I'll review books 2, 3, and 4 together, since I don't think I can resist Vision in Silver much longer and may even re-read Marked in Flesh after having read the series from the beginning.  

I'll be checking out Bishop's other series as well.  If you've read any of her other series, are they as good as The Others?

The series in order:

Written in Red
Murder of Crows
Vision in Silver
Marked in Flesh

Marked in Flesh is from NetGalley.  I purchased Written in Red and Murder of Crows.




Saturday, February 13, 2016

Oops!

I just wrote an entire post on this blog, thinking it was my other blog!  Duh!

I do have some book reviews to get done, but I think my company just arrived.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Snail Mail

Many of you who responded to the review of Neither Snow Nor Rain mentioned a present or past interest in correspondence.  I gathered a few sources of places to send cards, postcards, or letters in case you might be interested:

Send Kids the World, postcards to kids with life-threatening diseases.  Schools and other groups have joined this effort.  Love the idea of kids sending letters to kids.
Family Service Night at Blake School via Send Kids the World
Our Armed Services always appreciate letters.  If you scroll down on this one there are some responses from those who received letters (both individuals currently deployed and veterans of previous wars--so touching!)

One more for the military--Soldiers' Angels  



The buzz about Eduardo Munez is all over snail mail sites.  The mystery of it!  Naomi explains the origin here.  If you write Eduardo, your letter might be in the film.

Postcard Exchange on Goodreads

The Letter Writers Alliance has lots of ideas.   

Teachers might be interested in class projects featuring letter writing, and the above links will lead to other links.

And, of course, you can write to me.  I will write back.  :) Maybe not as promptly this month because I'm doing the Month of Letters challenge, but certainly as quickly as I can--I'm  putting something in the mailbox everyday.

Jen Mullen
104 Carondelet CT
Bossier City, LA  71111

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service

Years ago, before I had a blog, I had great fun with mail art, submitting work to mail art calls and corresponding with several mail artists.  Then my hiatus from work ended, and I had less time or energy for this entertaining hobby.  A couple of months ago, almost accidentally, my interest in mail art and snail mail found new impetus, and I began to increase the number of letters I was writing and to begin making and decorating envelopes and postcards.


In the serendipitous way of things, NetGalley recently 
offered Neither Snow Nor Rain, and I thought it would be interesting to learn a little about the postal service that we all take for granted.

That I would find this book so entertaining, so funny and fascinating, and in the final sections, so somber--came as a surprise.  

The history of the U.S. Postal Service, its origins in England, letters without envelopes (any extra sheet of paper increased the price), the American postmasters from Ben Franklin through the present, the Pony Express, the battles with private carriers, the introduction of stamps, the innovations with railroads and rail mail, the danger of early air mail, the almost incomprehensible volume of mail handled, and so much more are written about in a way that is not only educational, but compelling.

Tidbits:

"The U.S. Postal Service is a wondrous American creation.  Six days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers deliver 513 million pieces of mail [a week, yall!]], 40 percent of the world's total volume.  In parts of America that it can't reach by truck, the USPS finds other means to get people their letters and packages.  It transports them by mule train to the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Bush pilots fly letters to the edges of Alaska.  In thinly populated parts of Montana and North Dakota, the postal service has what it refers to as "shirt pocket"routes, which means the postal workers literally carry all their letters for the day in their shirt pockets.  At a time when the USPS is losing several billion letters a year to the Internet, it still has to do this six days a week because it is legally required to provide universal service to every American home and business."

"Long before Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, he was the postmaster of New Salem, Illinois.  Harry Truman held the title of postmaster of Grandview, Missouri.  Walt Disney was a substitute carrier in Chicago.  Bing Crosby was a clerk in Spokane, Washington.  Rock Hudson delivered mail in Winnetka, Illinois."  And William Faulkner was fired from his post at the University of Mississippi.

Montgomery Blair was postmaster general under Abraham Lincoln.  In 1863, Blair started free home delivery and city residents had their mail delivered twice a day.  Blair also instituted railway mail service and had clerks ride trains, sorting letters as the went.  "The Railway Mail Service became an elite operation within the Post Office Department.  Clerks who rode the rails threw bags of letters from speeding trains and grabbed incoming ones with hooks.  They memorized as many as 4,000 post office addresses in order to sort the mail faster."

Mark Twain couldn't recall an address and wrote: "For Mr. C.M. Underhill, who is in the coal business in one of those streets there, and is very respectably connected, both by marriage & general descent, and is a tall man & old but without any gray hair & used to be handsome.  Buffalo N.Y.  From Mark Twain.  P.S. A little bald on the top of his head."  

Mr. Underhill received his letter.

OK-- this always happens when I read good nonfiction, I highlight almost every other page.  

As the book drew to a close, however, it became evident that the history of the USPS may be near its end.  Junk mail is now the majority of the mail handled and delivered. 

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, who retired in 2015, said that the bottom line is "With the exception of the holidays and your birthday, think about your own mailbox.  When was the last time you got a piece of mail that had a stamp on it?  You don't get it."

We pay our bills online, we sent texts and emails.  We appreciate the ease and convenience of these technologies.  But do we want to do without the postal service?   A friend said that she just expects the mail to be there.  So do I.  It has always been there.

When I decided to participate in A Month of Letters  (the challenge of sending something in the mail each day) none of this was on my mind.  Synchronicity, serendipity, that strange coincidental kind of thing happened to make this book available at a time when I was in the mood to genuinely appreciate it.  Mr. Leonard has done an outstanding job.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it...right up until the end.  The prospect of the demise of the USPS saddens me.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Nonfiction/History.  April 5, 2016.  Print length:  288 pages.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Three for Monday

Admiral by Sean Danker was one of those books that surprised me.  I mean, I like science fiction.  A lot.  I like military science fiction and space operas.  What surprised me was the quirky little smile that appeared on my face at the  tone of the book.

6 word review:  Who the heck is the Admiral?   

A wrecked freighter on a mysterious planet; 3 Evagardian trainees and an "Admiral" awake from stasis confused and alone on the freighter.  What happened to the captain and the pilot?  

Suspicion abounds, but in order to save themselves the four of them must work together.  

Loved it. 

Found this about Sean Danker:  Sean Danker has been writing since he was fifteen. He read entirely too much Asimov in college, and now we’re all paying the price for it. His hobbies include biting off more than he can chew, feeling sorry for himself on Twitter, and telling people to lighten up. He is currently serving in the military on a base in North Dakota.  Source

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing/ROC

Science Fiction.  May 3, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages.

I reviewed A Better World (the second in the Brilliance trilogy by Marcus Sakey) a while back. NetGalley offered the first book, but I couldn't get it to download, so I went on to Written in Fire, the final installment. 

Although it would be best to begin with the first in the series, I enjoyed the last two without that benefit.

from description:  For thirty years humanity struggled to cope with the brilliants, the one percent of people born with remarkable gifts. For thirty years we tried to avoid a devastating civil war. We failed.

Lots of action and some things to think about.  People who are different are often feared.  

This must be part of our genetic programing as it has been true even from times before civilization and civilization has only improved upon the ways to subjugate the "other."  What is different is feared,  the fear leads to persecution, and in so many historical situations, to extermination.  Things aren't much different today.  Trusting leaders is a risky business worldwide.  Leaders and followers may be acting out of good intentions, but the results can be disastrous regardless. 

This trilogy is a science fiction thriller, but as is often the case, a certain truth can be extrapolated from even exaggerated and implausible plots.  

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Science Fiction/Thriller.  Jan. 12, 2016.  Print length:  348 pages.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell sounded so good.  Unfortunately, I found it...hummm, frustrating.  

from the description:  the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family's long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

Such an interesting premise, but I didn't really like any of the characters or the play on Bronte's Jane Eyre.  The novel  came across as sullen (don't know if you can really have a sullen book, but...), and I guess I didn't appreciate the humor.  The Bronte family is immensely fascinating; however, this take on Brontes, past and present, didn't work for me.  Nice cover, though.

NetGalley/Touchstone

genre?  March 1, 2016.  Print length:  352 pages.





Saturday, February 06, 2016

A Fire Beneath the Skin Trilogy

Ink Mage: A Fire Beneath the Skin (Bk 1) by Victor Gischler 

A fantasy world with strange gods, magical tattoos, wizards and sorcerers, a conquered city, a duchess in exile, and a whirlwind of action.  I liked it.  Enough that after reading Ink Mage, I requested the following two books in the trilogy.

What surprised me a few minutes ago when I checked the reviews was that the reviews of Ink Mage ran the gamut from 1 star to 5 stars. Those who didn't like it, really, really didn't like it.  Plenty more reviewers liked it a great deal with 4-5 stars.

Reasons for low ratings ranged from the cursing, the sex, and the predictability.  But...Ink Mage isn't listed as a YA novel (and I've read plenty of YA novels that contained much more of all 3 critical areas) and while I felt the cursing was maybe a little modern and I noticed it, it didn't seem over-the-top.  The sex...well, there is a brothel in the city that plays an important role.  As for predictability, yes.  Hard to find a fantasy that doesn't have elements that are predictable, and fantasy tropes are always going to be present in some degree.  

Think of Jung and Joseph Campbell, archetypes, collective unconscious, etc.  Stories repeat themselves, but certain elements will always be included.  I found enough original approaches to satisfy me, and I like fantasy tropes.   

Heroes are constructions; they are not real. All societies have similar hero stories not because they coincidentally made them up on their own, but because heroes express a deep psychological aspect of human existence. They can be seen as a metaphor for the human search of self-knowledge. In other words, the hero shows us the path to our own consciousness through his actions.    Source

 Rina, the main character, is both human and heroic.  Her rather pampered life is interrupted when her city is conquered by invaders and betrayal, but she rises to the occasion.  The minor characters are also well-developed, flawed, and capable of growth.

I liked that all of the women were strong and competent-- contributing instead of being shunted to the side.  They aren't perfect, each one has flaws, but neither are they placeholders or dependent on men.  When given the opportunity, even the women of the brothel prove their worth over and over; given their minor roles, I especially liked seeing this. (just realized I'm skipping ahead with the "over and over" phrase, but these former prostitutes carry into the next books).

I liked that Gischler wrapped things up; there is no real cliffhanger, even though you know the stories and the characters have two more books to go.

The novels are not epic fantasy in the way of Kate Elliot, Robin Hobb, Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, but the series does have some interesting characters, some moral dilemmas, and has some unique touches.

NetGalley

Fantasy.  2013.  Print length:  402 pages.

The Tattooed Duchess presents new problems.  The threat of a renewed invasion still exists and a new and even more malevolent menace is arising.  A conflict is arising among the gods, and Rina must seek more tattoos of power to be able to combat the coming perils.  

The story expands, and the original "team" begins to split up to take care of specific problems.

NetGalley

Fantasy.  2015.  Print length:  370 pages.






A Painted Goddess brings the trilogy to a conclusion.  I have to admit to liking the first one the most, but there was no way I would have abandoned the series before finding out what happened to all of the characters...and it wasn't at all what I would have expected from the first book alone.

I liked the focus of the first book and felt the multiple perspectives and separate missions had a diffuse effect on the last two.


NetGalley

Fantasy.  Jan. 19, 2016.  Print length: 402 pages.