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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/Bloomsbury USA

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

Speaking in Bones

Speaking in Bones

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/Random House

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ghost Fleet

Ghost Fleet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read in april; review scheduled for June 15.  

NetGalley/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suspense/Tech thriller.  June 30, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Rhyme of the Magpie

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/Random House/Alibi

Cozy Mystery.  June 22, 2015.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Manifesto and a Mystery

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

His philosophy is distilled into very few words:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

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

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

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


Nonfiction.  2008.  Print length:  268 pages.

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

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

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

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

ARC from Minotaur Books.

Crime/Mystery.  2015.  306 pages.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

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

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

After the Fire by Jane Casey

As compelling as her previous novels, I was unable to put After the Fire down and finished it the day I started it.  It is easy to get caught up in Casey's plots and characters. 

Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent  (somewhat to their surprise) are once again partnered by their superior officer and sent to the scene of a fire in which one of the bodies may have political repercussions.

There were three fatalities in the fire that ravaged the 11th floor of a London tower block, but more secrets are involved than just those concerning the individuals who didn't survive.

While one of the fatalities was high profile and mysteriously out of place, two other unidentified victims were locked in a flat, unable to escape.  Among the survivors: a young mother suffering injuries from an attack, an elderly woman who may have information she doesn't consider important, a seven-year-old whose burns are horrifically severe,  and a young boy who can't find his mother.

Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent  (somewhat to their surprise) are once again partnered by their superior officer.  Once the fire is determined to have been arson, the police begin investigating whether or not one of the victims was specifically targeted.  While their boss favors one theory, Derwent has another one that he wants to pursue, and both theories have some twists.  But those two theories are not the only ones that might have an impact on the investigation.

In addition to the arson case, Maeve is still being stalked by Chris Swain.  

My only regret is that I missed book 5, and without realizing it, went ahead and read After the Fire.  To make up for my carelessness, I now have The Kill  (#5 in the series) heading this way.

NetGalley/Random House UK

Police Procedural/Crime.  June 18, 2015.  Print version:  464 pages.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle (trans. by Anna Aitken) is a delightful and heartwarming little gem of a novel.  An ARC that arrived in the mail, Georges's Grand Tour turned out to be one of those books that I will long remember for its touching account of what actually makes up the fullness of life. 

George Nicoleau is 83, widowed, and subject to some health issues, but he and his slightly younger neighbor Charles have planned an exciting journey, driving (not cycling) the route of the Tour de France.  The two have dreamed and planned for months, but just when they are about to set off complications arise when George's granddaughter Adele calls, saying that her mother (George's over-protective daughter, who is incommunicado in Peru) has insisted she check on George frequently.

Since George will not be home, this unlooked for complication could derail the trip.  The problem is resolved with the help of Charles' son-in-law. The calls are diverted from the landline to a cell phone much to the astonishment of both George and Charles, and the two take off as planned.

For both men, this is a trip of a lifetime for many reasons. Neither of them have traveled much, both are elderly, and neither have much familiarity with technology.  George must learn to text in order to communicate with Adele, and his experience in learning "the language" is both funny and endearing.  His fear and frustration echo the same feelings that older people (including myself) often feel when confronted with new technology, but when he finally "gets" it, George is captivated with his new form of communication.

A gentle story that deals with aging, relationships, and the willingness to take risks regardless of one's age, George's Grand Tour is itself a tour de force-- in a very tender and refreshing way.  Vermalle's characters are charming and genuine, and her obvious delight in George and his grand tour is half the fun.  

Winner of the Prix Nouveau Talent and The Prix Chronos

My thanks to Meryl Zegarek and Rachel Hundert for this lovely little book.

Contemporary Fiction.  2009; English trans.  2015.  224 pages.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

From the Studio

All of my fidget quilts have been donated to Brook Dale's Alzheimer's/Dementia unit or to Holy Angels.  Well, the ones to Holy Angels have gone to Amelia, who will deliver them.

fidget quilts help soothe  

Dementia quilts  - "A dementia quilt is a small lap quilt that includes things that might trigger something from a dementia patient's senses. Sometimes they are called "Fidget Quilts" because they inspire the patient to interact and fidget with the quilt."  (excerpt from post)


Above is one I haven't posted here, although it is on my other blog.  

I do have one more in progress, but my attention has been elsewhere lately.  Everything goes in cycles, and this cycle has run its course for a while.  I will finish the one I'm working on knowing the compulsion to make these little lap quilts will return later.  

Right now, however, I'm feeling the urge to work on my Eccentrics--the strange little figures that have their own cycle of compulsion.  

About 10 of the Eccentrics have made their ways to new homes in the last month.  That leaves room for more to take their places.  Also, this is the time of year that Halloween figures begin haunting me.  Some of my favorites little figures to make are ghosts, goblins, black cats, pumpkin folk, and witches, and I'm jotting down ideas for these October babies.

At the moment, I want to complete a few stick figures.  Yard debris and trimmings are fodder for my twig and branch collection.  Below is my first completed Twiggy:

Deer Diva
Practices Her Arabesque

 I used the eco dyed fabrics 
from a few years ago to dress her.
(raw silk, muslin, and cheese cloth--
all eco dyed and embroidered)

Deer Diva isn't camera shy.
In fact, she was so busy practicing,
she hardly noticed me.

Chilling Effect by Melissa F. Miller

The first in this series featuring Aroostine Higgins is Critical Vulnerability, but I haven't read it.  Aroostine, a native American,  is an assistant U.S. Attorney, who has made appearances in another series by Miller.  Chilling Effect is the second book in which Aroostine is the protagonist.

Aroostine and her husband Joe are supposed to be on a romantic get-away, but her boss calls and wants her to interview a witness about an embezzlement scheme at an Indian casino.  When Aroostine arrives at the informant's home, she finds him murdered.

I'm afraid this is one of the books that I found just OK; neither characters nor plot intrigued me, but neither did I feel the urge to add it to the DNF pile.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery/Crime.  June 16, 2015.  Print length:  258 pages.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wayward Pines, Agent ZigZag, and Other Stuff

I've read and reviewed all 3 of the Wayward Pines novels ( my reviews here and here). The novels are weird and fascinating, although I prefer the first one.  I watched the first episode of the Wayward Pines new series and was surprised at how much the town and certain scenes matched my imagination from the book.  The characters don't fit my images, but the town is uncannily like my imagination.  The first episode is was the book which trickled out the information a little at a time.  You are curious and confused as the story slowly clarifies, bit by agonizing bit.  Before watching any more episodes, I want to wait until several more are released.  Has anyone else watched them?

While working on my various projects, I love watching K-dramas and series like The Black list, Grimm (waiting on new season), and Granite Flats.  During the day, I usually do the work that takes more thought, then at night I play with details.  I can embroider or hand quilt and watch my shows, but am unable to do anything like work on my clay figures or figuring out what to do next on my improvisational quilts-- so a little planning is required to have simple projects at night that I can do while watching my shows.  The quilted beads are mounting up.

Because I am unable to watch television (read Netflix and Drama Fever) without having something to do with my hands

I finished Agent ZigZag:  A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre, an  account of British triple agent Eddie Chapman during  WWII.  While I did not like it as much as MacInyre's Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory (reviewed here; gotta' love the titles), Agent ZigZag is a fascinating look at Britain's utilization of a handsome, brazen young criminal who was finally arrested and jailed on occupied Jersey, ironically, for one crime that he didn't commit.  Later transferred by the Nazis to a Paris prison, Chapman agreed to work for the Germans.  He was trained and eventually parachuted back into England where he immediately went to British authorities, told them what he'd learned, and offered to spy on the Germans.  Fearless and feckless, Chapman provided disinformation to the Nazi Abwehr, and the Germans so trusted this thief and con man that they awarded him the Iron Cross--now that is irony, indeed.

Certainly not an admirable man in many ways, Chapman nevertheless risked his life for his country and served it well during the war years.  The information MacIntyre reveals about some of the difficulties of running spies, double agents, and the outlandish triple agent named ZigZag is truly fascinating

MacIntyre's research is impeccable and his list of sources impressive.  

New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Washington Post Best Book of 2007
One of the Top 10 Best Books of 2007 (Entertainment Weekly)
New York Times Best of the Year Round-Up
New York Times Editors’ Choice

Purchased on Kindle.

WWII, Espionage.  2007.  Print version: 384 pages.

In the synchronicitous way of things, I've read two fiction books concerning WWII espionage in the last week.  

The Haigerloch Project is more interesting for its factual references than for the fictional characters and plot.  The information about the Manhatten Project, the attempts to discover how close the Germans were to producing their own atomic bomb, and the search for ways to derail its completion is a fictional plot informed by fact. 

I.B. Melchior, novelist, screenwriter, and film producer, served with the U.S. Counterintelligence Corps during WWII.  A decorated war hero, Melchior participated in the liberation of the Flossenburg concentration camp and the capture of a Werwolf unit in 1945, as well as other important missions.

I found the mention of individuals in the nonfiction Agent ZigZag and the fictional Haigerloch Project, even if they received little more than a few lines, especially interesting.  Most fascinating was Moe Berg, an American professional baseball player who graduated from Princeton and Columbia, spoke seven languages, and during the war, worked for the OSS special intelligence branch.  Parachuting behind enemy lines, he evaluated resistance groups and worked on Project AZUSA, moving across Europe interviewing European physicists and trying to determine how close the Germans were to achieving a bomb... among other things.  Berg is mentioned in both Agent ZigZag an in The Haigerloch Project.

I researched a number of things I wasn't familiar with:  ALSOS, Project Larson, Haigerloch and the German reactor, and more.  Melchior's bibliographic material contained, perhaps not surprisingly, many of the same sources as Ben MacIntyre's bibliography.  John Masterson's and William Pasher's WWII records also intrigue me.

NetGalley/Open Road Media

WWII/Espionage.  1978 and 2014.  Print version:  289 pages.

I'll get to my reviews of The Scent of Secrets and A Kind of Grief which are also connected with the theme of espionage.  And I was surprised that Granite Flats, the Netflix series, moved from what initially seemed like the adventures of three kids in a small Colorado town during the Cold War to a much darker theme of espionage during and after the war.  It includes elements of the Red Scare, blacklisting, and MK-Ultra.  From light-hearted to some shameful episodes in American history, the series is an odd one in both style and content--but fascinating.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Catching Up on a Few Reviews

Before It's Too Late by Jane Isaac.  DI Will Jackman has problems of his own.  His wife suffers from locked-in syndrome (what a horror!) after a car accident; the outlook is grim, despite their daughter's optimism.  His superior is greedy for publicity, more concerned about political advancement than doing the right thing.  And Jackman suffers from guilt and grief concerning his wife's condition.  The job, however, helps keep him on an even keel.

A missing person's case involving university student Min Li, a Chinese National, quickly turns into a kidnapping case when the ransom demand is made.  Alternating chapters deal with the investigation and its difficulties and Min Li's attempts to cope with what is happening to her.

Jackman is an engaging character--strangely, he is the second character in a book recently with that last name; and what an excellent choice in this case, because whose image is immediately conjured up? Oh, yes, that other Jackman.  :)  Min Li's character is also a large part of the novel's appeal.  

You will figure some things out, but it won't detract from the novel.  Isaacs has another series that I intend to look into.

NetGalley/Legend Press

Police Procedural.  June 1, 2012.  Print length:  256 pages.

Alien Child by Pam Sargent.  A YA book originally published in 1988.  Book Description:
"A girl growing up in an insulated though pleasant environment, with a furry guardian for company, comes to realize that she must be the last human left on earth."

Interesting, but not compelling, the novel encourages an examination of what the human condition really entails:  trust, love, and humanity's history of violence and war.  Might be a good choice for younger readers, giving them a lot to ponder.

NetGalley/Open Road Integrated Media

Dystopian.  1988; 2015.  Print version:  246 pages.  

Scheduled to Die by Adam Cupp.   I've not read anything else by Cupp, but the book is the second in the Carter Mays series.  Carter's new client tells him that while on a business trip she met a charming man--who later explained to her that she had a year to live. She should make the most of it, do everything she has dreamed of, because in a year's time they would meet again...and she would die.  If she contacted the police, the end would come much sooner.  An interesting premise and a quick read, but not particularly memorable.  

Read in February.  Blog post scheduled for May, closer to publication.

NetGalley/Henery Press

Mystery/Detective Fiction.  June 2, 2015.  Print version:  252 pages. 

The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo

The Wild Inside

When Ted Systead was fourteen, he and his father went camping in Glacier National Park.  What happened that night as a grizzly dragged his father from the tent they shared has haunted Ted ever since.

Years later as an Agent for the Department of the Interior, Ted is forced to confront a crime in Glacier National Park that involves a body mangled by a grizzly.  

Since Ted has never really gotten over his father's death in the park, he wonders if he should even have accepted the assignment.  He doesn't trust the park superintendent who is more concerned with bad publicity than with the victim. The victim was tied to a tree--so should the grizzly that found him be put down?  And who tied the victim to the tree and left him for predators?

An interesting mystery with several twists.  Carbo skillfully communicates the attractions and the dangers of the wilderness and the natural beauty of Glacier National Park.  The predators are sometimes on two legs.

Read in March.  Blog post scheduled for May.
NetGalley/Atria Books

Mystery.  June 16, 2015.  Print length:  416 pages.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trish's Inspiration on Monday

From Trish's Blog:   Inspiration on Monday is a forum to share things that we’ve created and things that we are doing to help inspire others. Posts about projects in progress, finished projects, tutorials, and how-tos are all welcome. Feel free to share recipes, crafts, lifestyle, organizing, and DIY tips, and any other idea that can spark inspiration.

link-up rules:

1. Link up your post(s) below. This can be a recent post or an old post, but please do not re-submit a post you’ve already submitted for Inspiration on Monday.
2. Please link back to Inspiration on Monday or my blog somewhere in the post you are submitting
3. If applicable, please share the source that inspired you in your post. Credit where credit is due.
4. Try to comment on at least one other participant’s post. Encouragement can be so inspiring!

Another fidget quilt.

Birds are raw-edge applique a la'
Syko style machine embroidery.
The quilted beads (I used sillyboodilly's pattern) and buttons
can be moved along the ribbon.
Buttons can be unbuttoned and re-buttoned.
Although I used machine embroidery for the applique,
the rest of the quilt is hand quilted.

I wash the quilts for two reasons:
the wrinkled look pleases me and
washing lets me know what items will survive the washing machine.

Because not everyone knows what "fidget quilts" are,
here is an excerpt from a previous post:
Several of you have asked about what fidget quilts are--so I'm including a couple of links, but the idea works for anyone that needs sensory or manipulative activities--toddlers, disabled, autistic disorders, kinesthetic learners, anyone who needs sensory integration, not just those who suffer from AD or dementia. 

fidget quilts help soothe  
Dementia quilts  - "A dementia quilt is a small lap quilt that includes things that might trigger something from a dementia patient's senses. Sometimes they are called "Fidget Quilts" because they inspire the patient to interact and fidget with the quilt."  (excerpt from post)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Re Jane by Patricia Park

Re Jane 

Although much has been made of Re Jane being a Jane Eyre retelling, there is no red room and no mad woman in the attic.  There is an orphan who becomes a nanny and there is a "sort of" attic room, but it is actually an office.

The novel is about a young woman of mixed heritage who doesn't feel that she quite fits anywhere.  She is stymied and sometimes rebellious because of the restrictions imposed by her Korean heritage, and she is also entirely conscious of American culture, having grown up in Queens.  The problem is that she does not feel at home with either culture and is frustrated with the lack of details concerning her Korean mother and American GI father.

In spite of her feeling of being "alien," Re Jane's personality is nothing like Jane Eyre's, and although her aunt and uncle may seem harsh at times, it is more a cultural thing than the callousness of Jane Eyre's aunt.  In so many ways,  the intention of the novel seems to be turning the original on its head.  

I like the way the title offers so many possibilities:  Korean names are last names first, so Re Jane is her last, then first name, a kind of reversal; although pronounced 'ee, Re has a similar appearance to Eyre; and re means "in reference to" in Latin; while re-  is a prefix that means "again" to indicate repetition, as in revise  or "back" to indicate withdrawal as in retreat.   It was thinking about the title that made the connection (for me) with the original novel.  The title kind of encompasses everything and in a way lets you know that while Park may have had the original in mind, the characters and narrative were going their own way.

It is a very modern novel about a young woman trying to navigate her way in the cross currents of two cultures.  It ridicules elements of both cultures at times, but illuminates the difficulties of different social and traditional mores.  

I enjoyed it, even if I didn't feel it always met its mark.  It is strangely passionless and there is a feeling of distance between the characters that seems more observational than involved. 

The main Jane Eyre connection is in the interpretations of the title; I find it hard to connect any of the characters to their Bronte counterparts.  Love it or hate it, the original has had an impact on generations of readers.  Re Jane, on the other hand, is an interesting and entertaining contemporary novel that can't match those emotions.  As a retelling of the Bronte novel, it didn't work for me; as an intriguing look at the difficulties of growing up in that slippery slope of two cultures, it worked well.

ARC from Viking Penguin

Contemporary Fiction.  May 5, 2015.  352 pages.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Harm None by Will North

Harm None 

A new series introducing CID Detective Sergeant Morgan Davies and Scene of Crime officer Calum West and set in Cornwall.

An archaeological team unearths the remains of a child at the Iron Age site they have been investigating.  The remains are not ancient, however; they are those of a child that has been missing for a year.

Although I liked the main characters Davies and West, the most interesting characters were actually secondary characters:   Tamsin, the village witch (or wise woman); Tegan, her young assistant, and PC Teresa Bates.

The supernatural element is present and important, but doesn't overtake the police procedural elements.  Yet it is the supernatural element that adds the dash of spice,  and if North doesn't include Tamsin and Tegan in future books, he should give them a series of their own.

The prologue, from Tegan's perspective, through me off a bit; it reads as if you are beginning a children's mystery/fantasy.  Although unexpected, I was captivated by Tegan's voice and quite willing to continue.  However, Chapter One is third person, quite different, and follows DS Morgan Davies' arrival at the crime scene at the top of Dewes Tor.  The result is a change in perspective and style with each switch.  

I enjoyed Harm None and allowed myself to set aside a few nit pics, as it is a debut series. There are plenty of back-stories hinted at for several characters that should be developed in future books, but I certainly hope Tamsin and Tegan are not abandoned.
"An ye harm none,
Do what ye will."
(from the Wiccan Rede)


Police Procedural.  2014.  Print length:  262 pages.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North  

How did I let this review slip by.  Into the Beautiful North is an enchanting novel with wonderful characters and the strangest immigrant story I've ever read.  

The men in nineteen-year-old Nayeli's village have, for the most part, gone north to the U.S. to earn money for their families.  Bandits are in the process of gaining control of the village that now consists mostly of women, when Nayeli watches The Magnificent Seven.  She rounds up her crew: Veronica and Yoloxochitl (her school girl friends), and Tacho, the young gay owner of the taco stand and heads north with the blessings of her Tia Irma.  The plan is to recruit 7 Mexican "warriors" to return to their village and help defeat the banditos.

From the beginning there is a kind of inverse story going on and a reversal of how one thinks of immigrants from south of the border.  Full of funny and sad and dangerous and silly escapades, Nayeli and her crew are taken advantage of by their own people, discover  that the poorest of the poor are willing to  share unstintingly, deal  with the terrors of a border crossing, find a knight in the garbage settlement on the border, and more.  The fairy tale quality and the humor mixed with the failures and the danger help you fall in love with all of the characters, and more importantly, provide a completely different perspective of the immigrant experience! Don Quixote-esque.

I couldn't have enjoyed it more and loved both the characters and the tongue-in-cheek attitude I could feel from the author.  (Thanks to  Gin Jenny for piquing my interest in this one.)  OOPs -- had to make a correction of where I read about this one!

Purchased the Kindle Edition.  Read in April.

Contemporary Fiction.  2009.  Print version:  352 pages.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black Eyed Susans  

I had no idea what to expect from this one, but it is probably my favorite so far this year--a psychological thriller that kept me from being able to predict the outcome.  I'd have a suspicion, then conclude I was on the wrong track--then another suspicion.

Book Description: At seventeen, Tessa became famous for being the only surviving victim of a vicious serial killer. Her testimony put him on death row. Decades later, a mother herself, she receives a message from a monster who should be in prison. Now, as the execution date rapidly approaches, Tessa is forced to confront a chilling possibility: Did she help convict the wrong man?  

The writing shifts from 1995 to the present, and although I have read many books that use this technique, I found myself initially a little jarred by the switches.  This may be a deliberate ploy by the author to keep the reader a little off kilter; after all, the story deals with both the teenager who has endured a horrific experience and the adult who still doesn't remember everything about what happened.  Life is out of kilter for Tessa in many ways, but something in her psyche prevents the experience and its aftermath from destroying her.  

What I find particularly admirable about the book is that there are no graphic details.  It is a little like reading a really good Hitchcock film--all the suspense, but without relying on gore or torture.  Julia Heaberlin, in the midst of the suspense and tension, creates a strong protagonist with a healthy approach to life.  It is often bewildering: the events that are missing from Tessa's memory and her attempts to unravel the past as well as some of the events in occurring in the present keeps the reader in the same disconcerting situation.

Although there is a mystery and solving the events of the past will explain some of the perplexing incidents in the present, the novel's strength is its characters-- who are so vivid they seem to breathe.  The women carry this book:  Tessa, Lydia, Charlie, and (my personal favorite) Tessa's neighbor Effie, who is dealing with incipient dementia. 

A psychological novel that kept me enthralled from first to last.  Highly recommended.

NetGalley/Random House/Ballentine

Psychological Mystery.  July 28, 2015.  Print length:  368 pages.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Little Black Lies  

Grief.  Regret.  Secrets.  Bolton explores the effects of these experiences and more in her new stand-alone novel set in the Falkland Islands.  Beautifully written, she immerses the reader in the stark beauty of the island and its sea life; in the tangled relationships of love and friendship that have endured devastating blows; in the atmosphere of a small community that knows everything and nothing about you; and in the dismaying and very human proclivity to rush to judgment.

The novel is compelling in so many ways.  There is a mystery--over a two year period, two children have disappeared.  When a third goes missing, the community must face the possibility that one of their own is responsible.  There are the psychological aspects--the loss of a child, the effects of the Falklands War, the betrayal of a deep friendship, and the way one event damages people in different ways.  There is a sociological examination of an isolated community of people who have family histories going back generations.  And there is the fascinating ecology of the islands with emphasis on marine life which Bolton describes with such eloquent detail.

The narrative is in three parts, giving three perspective of events.  Unlike most mysteries that give you some sign posts about where you are going, Bolton's novel has the curious feeling that sometimes the sign posts have been moved, turned and are pointing in the wrong direction.  You won't know exactly where you are until you get there...and the path is a crooked one with unexpected crossroads that leave the reader in a dilemma about which direction to take.

Little Black Lies is completely different from Bolton's previous books and by far the best.  Highly recommended!
"About 60% of Falklanders are native born, some tracing their ancestry back six or more generations. Today more than 80% of the 3140 Falklanders (sometimes called ‘Kelpers’) live in Stanley, and about 1200 British military live at Mt Pleasant base. The rest of the islanders live in ‘Camp,’ the name given to all of the Falklands outside Stanley."  Read more:
Read in April; blog post scheduled for May 7.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Psychological Mystery.  May 19, 2015.  Print length:  368 pages.