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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Broadchurch by Erin Kelly

OK - Broadchurch isn't exactly an Erin Kelly novel, and yet it is.  The series was created by Chris Chibnall for British television, and Kelly then turned it into a novel.  Although I didn't see the television series, I loved the novel that examines a community in the aftermath of the murder of eleven-year-old Danny Latimer.

I was so totally satisfied with Kelly's novelization that I have no desire to see the British drama or the American version titled Gracepoint

Kelly's characters are strong, well-defined, and entirely human--I'm not going to mess with the images I took from the novel.

Detective Ellie Miller is personal friends with Danny's parents, and her son Tom and Danny were best friends.  On returning from a vacation, Ellie discovers that the promotion she thought was a sure thing has instead been given to Alec Hardy, a man whose last case was a disaster.

Ellie is still coping with her disappointment when she realizes that the body found on the beach is Danny's, and then the gut-wrenching discovery that it wasn't an accident.

The small community of Broadchurch is stunned--an eleven-year-old boy murdered and the murderer must be one of them.  As you can imagine, the town will never be the same.  Danny's family is devastated.  Ellie struggles with her own sadness, the close connections to the Latimers, her initial refusal to suspect anyone she knows, and the aloofness of Hardy, who leads the investigation.

Who killed Danny and why?  The suspects--friends and family--have secrets and pasts that are coming to light for the first time.  There are also comments about the press and the way the media can influence an investigation.

The writing is succinct, the setting is vividly depicted, and the characters are treated with a kind of empathy that is touching.  

Excellent.  If you have the chance, do read Broadchurch, you won't regret it.

Library copy.

Crime/Police Procedural.  2014.  448 pages.

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian

The Accidental Alchemist is a light-hearted romp about an alchemist who survives the Salem witch trials and inadvertently makes herself immortal with her alchemical experiments.

After years of traveling, never staying long in one place lest someone realize she doesn't age, Zoe Faust arrives in Portland, Oregon where she has bought a house and hopes to make a home for the first time in years (and years).  

To her chagrin, one of the first things she discovers when unpacking is...a gargoyle.  And not just any gargoyle, but a living, talking gargoyle with the skills of a great chef.

Dorian Robert-Houdin desperately needs Zoe's help to translate an ancient text that will not only explain how he came into existence, but will help him continue to live, and there is an ever lessening time frame to save him.

Well, OK, Dorian is the reason to continue the book.  He is the star, the most interesting character, and is quite most charming gargoyle-chef I've ever encountered.  

But, of course, there is a murder, an attempted murder, some underground tunnels, a couple of kids (well, three), a handsome cop, and some delicious sounding recipes.

The book is a fluffy concoction, but between Dorian and the descriptions of food, I wouldn't have missed it.  A souffle of a novel, all air and kitchen aroma and savoriness.  The plot?  I don't care, I love Dorian and would welcome him in my kitchen.

Read in Aug.; blog post scheduled for Dec. 17, 2014.

NetGalley/Midnight Ink

Paranormal/Mystery.  Jan. 8, 2015.  Print length:  360 pages.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

This Shattered World  

I read These Broken Stars, the first in this YA trilogy in December of last year and enjoyed it.  

You don't have to read the books in order, however, because the stories are different.  These Broken Stars features Tarver Merendson and Lilac Laroux;  This Shattered World has Captain Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac as protagonists on a planet on the verge of war.  There are connections, to be sure, and Tarver and Lilac make brief appearances, but TSW belongs to Jubilee and Cormac.

Avon is a planet that is stalled in a number of ways:  the terraforming projections just never seem to happen; the military presence is oppressive; a mindless rage called The Fury eventually affects new recruits--and as quickly as the condition is discovered (often too late) those who are affected are shipped out--this means military personnel is in constant flux;  the rebels are divided between wanting to be treated fairly and wanting to wage war.

For some reason, only Captain Jubilee Chase seems to have a resistance to The Fury, and has therefore, been able to remain on the planet much longer than is commonly the case.  Flynn Cormac is a rebel, but his goal is to avoid war and regain schools and hospitals for his people.

I can make pretty much the same comments about TSW as I did about TBS:  the pov shifts from Jubilee to Flynn and back again; present tense; more telling than dialogue; interruptions in the story to insert dream sequences (in TBS, it was interrupted by an interrogation); likable characters; and plenty of action.

Another similarity, the characters in both novels are 16-18, but the personas seem much older and more experienced.  

I like the characters, the action, and the fact that, although part of a trilogy, the plot begins and ends within the novel.  The connections to the first novel are present, but This Shattered World  functions completely independently and has a conclusion.  (I do get tired of cliff hangers, so Yay for Kaufman and Spooner intertwining the novels without resorting to the frustrating cliff hanger.)

I'm assuming next December will bring the final book, and I will be looking for it!


Science Fiction/YA.  Dec. 23, 2014.  Print length:  400 pages.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

The Magician's Lie 

I must admit this novel came as a surprise.  I'm not sure just what I was expecting, but as I read, I felt as if I were listening to Scheherazade.  I was as intent on the story as was the young policeman.

Set in 1905 in Waterloo, Iowa, the beginning didn't really grab me.  Not the style and not the content: Virgil Holt, a young, small town policeman attends a magic show and when the Amazing Arden takes an ax and cuts a man in half, the audience is horrified.  Even after the man emerges, healed and whole, the audience, including Virgil, is still shaken.

When the body of the Amazing Arden's husband is found after the show, it appears that perhaps the illusion was actually a murder.

When Virgil inadvertently runs into the illusionist, he takes her into custody, and using several sets of handcuffs (he fears she may be an escape artist like Houdini), secures her in the jail.  He asks her to tell him of the murder.

Arden asks who was murdered, then denies responsibility.  Each time Virgil presses her to confess and tell him about what happened, Arden resorts to the story of her life.

And this is where I got caught up; not only does the style change drastically, but so does the complexity of the plot.  As Arden tells her story, trying to convince Virgil of her innocence and to persuade him to let her go, the reader is pulled in to a fascinating tale that begins early in Arden's childhood.

Parts are chilling (when Arden speaks of Ray), but all of it is fascinating as Arden explains the remarkable circumstances of her life.  From wealth to struggling to get by, from home to the Biltmore mansion, to New York as a chorus girl, to Vaudeville as a magician's assistant....

There are occasional breaks in which the story returns to the jail and Arden's attempts to convince Virgil, then back to the enthralling story of her life.

All the time, the reader is as unsure as Virgil, wanting to believe in Arden, but uncertain about how much of what she says in true.

Recommended if you want a book with complex characters and a suspenseful plot.  Magic or illusion; truth or lie.

Read in June; blog post scheduled for Dec.  

NetGalley/SOURCEBOOKS, Landmark

Lit. Fiction.  Jan. 1, 2015.  Print length:  320 pages.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Life or Death by Michael Robotham

Life or Death 

Australian author Michael Robotham has a new stand alone! My first book by Robotham was Watching You, released early in 2014, and I was hooked.  I've now read five of the ten novels he's written.  

Although he has been a journalist and a ghost writer, it is his psychological thrillers that have garnered him so many fans. Some of the Awards he has received:
  •  3 Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Writing (Best Novel in 2005, 2007, 2008) 
  • 2 Crime Writer's Assoc. (UK) Steel Daggers (2007, 2008) 
  • 1 Crime Writer's Assoc. Gold Dagger (2013)
In the ten years Robotham has been writing psychological thrillers, he has achieved some impressive stats.  Perhaps I was late to the game because he is better known in the UK and Australia, but better late than never.

Life or Death, his latest release, is a stand alone novel and not part of the O'Loughlin/DI Ruiz series.  It is set in Texas, not London, and is the result of a news article that he'd been thinking of for nearly twenty years.
 In 1995, Tony Lanigan escaped from prison only a few days before he was due to be released on parole.  Why would a man escape from prison days before release?  Robotham says that he had to "find the answer--even [he] had to make it up."
Thus was born Audie Palmer, a man sentenced to ten years in prison for a robbery in which four people died and seven million dollars went missing.  Slowly, slowly we fall for Audie, who has achieved a sort of mythic regard in prison, surviving numerous attempts to murder him.  Then, the day before his scheduled release, he stages a daring escape from prison.

Why would a man escape the day before release?

The forces that paid for attempts on his life in prison are still determined to see Audie dead.  The reader wonders how this man with an IQ of 136 and a nature both noble and sorrowful wound up in prison in the first place.

Robotham unwinds the story slowly, but with escalating tension.  Audie Palmer feels Job-like as he endures and survives despite the odds.  Robotham keeps the reader on the edge, unsure about what will happen next and praying for Audie and Moss.

This novel is different from (and even better than) the O'Loughlin/DI Ruiz series which I've so enjoyed.  Written in spare, but evocative prose, the novel has a wrenching humanity.   Life or Death is a compelling psychological suspense tale about a protagonist who has a promise to keep and a reason to survive.

Highly recommended!

NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Psychological Suspense/Crime.  (Amazon has this available for Jan. 1 ??); NetGalley lists publ. date as March 10, 2015.  Print Length:  448 pages.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of Tearling  

I have to admit that I enjoyed this book, but opinions voiced by readers run the full gamut.  Loved it!  Hated it!  The reviews on Goodreads are more outspoken than those on Amazon, but both sites have the same dichotomy.  

On the positive side:  I mostly liked the characters and found it an engaging read with plenty of excitement.  These are pretty important positives for me.

On the negative side:  The world building was insufficient--all kinds of vague hints about the history, but they remain vague; there are parts of the book that feel didactic, a bit preachy, and a little politically inclined; the unanswered questions are tedious: "I'm not gonna' tell you what you need to know about how to save your life, how to save the kingdom, who your father is, etc.  I promised I wouldn't tell";  the "historic" connections to real places like America and Europe--especially as they are left vague--I would have preferred a new fantasy world or at least one with a more developed past; and the Red Queen is...over the top in all kinds of unpleasant ways.

Some elements place the book in the YA fantasy category, but other elements are a bit raw for YA.  Don't look at the comparisons to others in the fantasy genre--especially the Game of Thrones series.  It isn't The Hunger Games, either.  Johansen is a debut author who can tell a story, but still has time to learn a lot about the best ways to do so.

Although I had a some problems with this book, I found it engaged my interest and, I sped through it.  I nitpicked (frequently) along the way, but that doesn't mean I won't be eager to see if the next book in the trilogy eliminates some of the problems that occur in this one.

Emma Watson is set to play Kelsea in the film version; some books make better movies than books and that may be the case with The Queen of Tearling.  

Library copy.

Fantasy.  2014.  448 pages.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Last Week's Reading

Head in the Sand by Damien Boyd.

This is the second in a series of police procedurals featuring DI Nick Dixon.  After the brutal murder of an elderly woman, Dixon and his partner Jane Winters discover a parallel case from 30 years earlier.  Could it be the same killer?  If so, why such a long gap?  Is it a copy cat?

Two murders, thirty years apart, and then a third with the same brutal elements.  

Dixon and Winter must discover all the connections because this killer isn't finished yet. The pace is fast and the investigation is full of interviews, checking facts, making connections, reading files--old-fashioned police work.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Police Procedural.  2013; Jan. 20, 2015.  Print length:  228 pages.

End of Secrets by Ryan Quin.  

An interesting premise involving the loss of privacy that has evolved through social media, CDC cameras, and cyber spying.  Our personal information is out there.  And there are ways to access it, both legal and illegal, for purposes we may or may not approve of.

Kera Michaels is a CIA agent on a special assignment away from the "Company."  Her task is to discover what has happened to a number of individuals, mostly artists, that have disappeared--leaving no digital footprint.  

Entertaining enough, the book does cover some of the risks of living in the digital age.  (I read recently that anyone born after 1985 is a "digital immigrant," an interesting concept, and when one looks at children under six playing on their iPads--one that is easy to accept.)

Somehow the book fails to become anything more than mildly entertaining.  The concept deserves a more complex and detailed investigation, but the book falls short in that regard and remains a pretty typical suspense/mystery with fairly stereotypical characters.

NetGalley/Amazon Publishing

Mystery/Suspense.  Dec. 1, 2014.  Print length:  400 pages.

Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes

Literary hoaxes have always intrigued me, especially the case of Thomas Chatterton, and I suppose that is what I was looking for in this novel.    This, however, is a hoax of a different nature, one involving the supernatural or science fiction.  

The novel is a wild concoction that has the mysterious Cannonbridge visiting Byron and the Shelley's on a stormy (!) night as they are recounting their ghost tales, rescuing Polidori from thugs, rescuing Maria Monk (was Maria the book that Maria wrote another literary hoax?), a brief interlude with the Brontes; oh, and Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Oscar Wilde get thrown in, too.  But did Cannonbridge ever really exist or is he a hoax?

The story moves back and forth from present to past--from Oxford don Toby Judd, who finds himself believing that Cannonbridge never existed (and in great danger because "someone" doesn't want the hoax exposed), to Cannonbridge and his various appearances through the ages.

Huh?  I kept reading, not because the work is really compelling, but because I wanted to find out what the heck was going on.  My initial pleasure at having literary giants included in the plot diminished rapidly.  The conclusion, unsatisfactory.


Mystery?  Feb. 10, 2015.  Print length:  272 pages.

Bonfire Night by Deanna Rayburn.

This is the second offering from Rayburn through NetGalley that turned out to be a short story or a novella.  The NetGalley description doesn't indicate that it is a novella, but.... 

I'm not a fan of short stories or novellas, but I may also just be tired of Lady Julia and Brisbane.  I loved Silent in the Grave, the first book about Lady Julia Grey, but haven't loved anything since in this series.  Doesn't mean that I hated them, just that the what followed didn't live up to my expectations.

I mean, who would not be curious about  a novel that began with this statement: 
 "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor."   
--from Silent in the Grave
If you like short stories/novellas, you might be happy with this latest work featuring Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane.  


Novella.  Nov. 3, 2014.  Print length:  56 pages.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Two Books for Young Readers

Years ago, when my children were young, I read two mystery books with them that I loved as much or more than they did.  I've thought of both books fondly many time over the years.

Finally, I decided to follow through my frequent intentions to reread both books and actually get new copies that I could give to the grandchildren--after rereading them myself, of course!

One held up beautifully, making me appreciate again the skill of Zilpha Keatley Snyder and the creative imagination of children.  First published in 1967, The Egypt Game  won a Newberry Honors Award and is included in NPR's 100 Must Reads for Kids 9-14.  We read it in the mid-1980's, and on rereading it this year, the only thing that dates the book is that children today are not allowed the same freedom to roam away from parental oversight as they were in the past.

The Egypt Game  

There are books written for children that may be loved at the time, but that are soon outgrown.  Then there are the books written for children that remain as enthralling at 60 as at six, or nine, or 12.

The Egypt Game deserves its role as a classic.  Z.K.S. has created kids that jump off the page and into your imagination and heart, and you find yourself wishing you could play with them, be a part of their games and, like Peter Pan, never grow up.

It is interesting to see the ethnic diversity Snyder includes in a book that is nearly 50 years old.  She explains the various "roots" of her ideas in the introduction, and  one of the roots of her story involves  children she taught in Berkely, CA--a mix of "American kids of all races, as well as a few whose parents were graduate students from other countries."  

While her idea for the Egypt game played by the characters in the story had roots both in her own childhood and that of her daughter, the characters in the book, she admits freely (and with pleasure) are loosely based on students she taught.

Book Description:  "The first time Melanie Ross meets April Hall, she's not sure they'll have anything in common. But she soon discovers that they both love anything to do with ancient Egypt. When they stumble upon a deserted storage yard behind the A-Z Antiques and Curio Shop, Melanie and April decide it's the perfect spot for Egypt Game.

Before long there are six Egyptians instead of two. After school and on weekends they all meet to wear costumes, hold ceremonies, and work on their secret code.

Everyone thinks it's just a game, until strange things begin happening to the players. Has the Egypt Game gone too far?"

The book is beautifully illustrated by Alton Raible with just the right amount of detail.

It is a pleasure to read, whether you are a child or an adult, and I recommend it highly!

The Westing Game which we also read at some point during that period, didn't hold up as well for me.  It is also a Newbery book and one still beloved by many.  

Book Description:  A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

The mysterious game, the clues, the reasons these particular sixteen people were chosen as heirs--I still like the idea.

However, in rereading, I found the most of the characters to be thinly drawn  and the writing  lackluster and overly complicated--this opinion is based on my second reading because all I remember about reading it the first time with my kids --is that I loved it.  

Because the book remained such a fond memory for so many years, I recommend that you read it for yourself, especially if you have kids.  The number of people who have read and loved it (and even reread, and loved it) far outweighs my opinion on this one.  

Have any of you read either of these books?  What do you think?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Burning Room and The Night Ferry

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

It has been several years since I've read a Harry Bosch novel, and I'm not sure why because I've always enjoyed them.  The Burning Room did not disappoint.

Detective Harry Bosch is with the LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit now and nearing retirement.  When a man who was shot nine years earlier dies from complications of the bullet that lodged in his spine, the case is determined a homicide.

Harry and his partner Lucia Soto, a rookie detective are assigned to the case.  The shooter was never caught, but the case was sensational for several reasons, and although the victim survived for years, the Open-Unsolved case in now considered an open homicide investigation.  Harry and Lucia are faced with a case that is nearly ten years old and that continues to be of high media interest.

Harry and Lucy do their best with the twists and turns that develop in their investigation, but they also, in their spare time, work on another cold case, a fire that resulted in the death of several children at a daycare facility.  Lucy is one of the survivors of that fire, and she is determined to see if she can find the culprit responsible for the deaths of her friends.

Two cold cases keep the book moving.  Two great characters keep the reader emotionally involved.  Connelly remains at the top of his game.

read in Nov.

NetGalley/Little, Brown, and Co.

Police Procedural/Mystery.  Nov. 3, 2014.  Print length:  401 pages.

The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham

I read my first book by Michael Robotham as a NetGalley selection this year, and I was suitably impressed!  When NetGalley generously offered Suspect and Lost, the first two in the series, I was all over them.

Robotham has a unique method in his series that features the psychologist Joe O'Loughlin and/or D.I. Vincent Ruiz. Both characters may appear or only one, but in most cases, neither will be main protagonist.  There is always another character, the character whose story the novel presents.

In The Night Ferry, the third in the series, the story belongs to Alisha Barber, a detective with the Metropolitan London Police.  D.I. Ruiz has a small role and is the link that continues to connect the novels in the series, but Ali is the protagonist.

Ali receives a note from her best friend Cate, from whom she has been estranged for a number of years.  The note says that Cate is in trouble and that she wants Ali to come to their high school reunion.  At the reunion, Cate tells Ali that she needs her help, but the two are interrupted, and Ali is not able to get the details.  Before Ali can talk to Cate alone, Cate and her husband are hit by a car--the husband is killed and Cate never regains consciousness.  

The plot involves illegal immigrants, human trafficking, forced pregnancies, and illegal adoptions.  Ali is an intriguing character: a modern Sikh with a relatively conservative family, a dedicated friend, a dogged detective, and often, too impetuous.

Not without its flaws, I nevertheless was immersed in The Night Ferry from beginning to end.   I did find the conclusion a bit too ambiguous, but it was a great ride.

Library copy.  

Crime/Mystery.  2007.  384 pages.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Out of the Deep I Cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming

  Out of the Deep I Cry

 From Booklist
In Millers Kill, New York, Episcopal priest and former army helicopter pilot Clare Fergusson has a problem. The roof of St. Alban's Episcopal Church is leaking badly, and the budget can't cover the extensive repairs necessary. Clare is relieved when vestry member Mrs. Marshall offers to liquidate the Ketchem Trust to pay for the repairs, but it turns out that interest earned from the trust must goes to the local free clinic for the working poor. Then the clinic's doctor disappears, and Clare investigates, along with Millers Kill's married police chief Russ Van Alstyne, with whom Clare shares a strong mutual attraction. Early spring in the Adirondacks is vividly described in this third installment in the series, and both the main and secondary characters are well developed. Church practice, police procedures, army tactics, and the vaccination of children frame the central mystery as the plot jumps from past to present. A comfortable mix of police procedural and village cozy. Sue O'Brien

The library did not have the second in the series, so I went with the third.  I'm afraid this one didn't work as well for me as the first one did.  The attraction of the two main characters (Clare, an Episcopal priest and Russ, a married man) makes me uneasy.  Clare is committed to her calling and Russ is committed to his marriage--so unless something drastic happens the star-crossed lovers are just going to be miserable.  
The mystery, moving back and forth from past to present, wasn't as involving either. Although I liked the first book, I'm not sure if I will continue this series.
Library copy.  Minotaur Books
Mystery.  2007.  336 pages.   

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Red Queen's Run

The Red Queen's Run by Bourne Morris begins with a faculty meeting in the school of journalism.  The protagonist Meredith "Red" Solaris is concerned about the animosity displayed by a few of the faculty members,  and her thoughts go to the Amy Bishop shooting in Alabama.

 (OK--first page, and I'm wondering...fact or fiction?  Somehow those lines didn't feel like fiction; the name didn't exactly jog my memory, but I stopped right there and Googled Amy Bishop.  Indeed, when Bishop failed to be granted tenure at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, she went to a faculty meeting and shot and killed three professors, wounding three others.)

As Red Solaris regrets that the ivory tower is not all sweetness and light, intelligent discussion, and academic camaraderie, the reader knows to expect violence as well.  An interesting way to introduce the darker side of university politics.   

When the Dean of the Journalism School is found dead from an apparent heart-attack and/or a fall down the stairs, Red is appointed interim Dean and begins to wonder if the death of her friend and mentor was an accident or murder.

Several issues are tackled in the novel:  faculty in-fighting, student/professor sexual relationships, curriculum, and cheating and plagiarism.  There is also a romance developing between Red Solaris and the detective assigned to the case.

I didn't find the detective's willingness to share information with Red too believable, but otherwise, I was all in and eager to discover who had actually murdered the dean.

Read in Sept.; blog post scheduled for Nov. 20

NetGalley/Henery Press

Mystery.  Dec. 9, 2015.  Print length:  280 pages.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Monkeewrench Novels by P.J. Tracy

Shoot t0 Thrill 

I started reading the Monkeewrench series by the mother/daughter team known as P.J. Tracy in 2003 before I started my reading blog.  Since then, I've read everything the library has to offer.  Shoot to Thrill is the fifth in the series.

The computer software team of Grace McBride, Fat Annie, Harley, and Roadrunner have used their skills to break the law in the past, but only in the interest of justice.  This time the team is working with John Smith, an FBI agent on his last case, trying to discover who has committed five murders in different states and not only filmed the murders and posted them on the web, but advertised them in advance, giving  a hint about the next victim and location.

When the next clue is posted, there is a chance of saving a life and possibly ending the killing spree--but the clues are vague and the setting can't even be narrowed down to a single state.  One of the murders, however, is local, and Minneapolis detectives Margozzi and Rosbeth get involved.

I really like this series.  Initially, the mother and daughter team of P.J. Tracy were publishing a book a year, but the last couple of novels in the series have been about 3-4 years apart.  The next in the series is Off the Grid, and I checked it out as well and dived into it as soon as I finished Shoot to Kill.

Library copy.  Penguin Group

Crime Fiction/Suspense.  2010.  308 pages.

Off the Grid 

At the end of Shoot to Thrill, Grace McBride sails off with John Smith, the now retired FBI agent who has the same sense of "aloneness" that Grace does.  They are friends, not lovers; but Leo Magozzi has been in love with Grace for a long time and is a tad upset.  The journey is good for Grace, and she abandons some of her paranoid fear (Grace's paranoia has been in place since the first book in the series.)  When, ten miles off the coast of Florida, two men board the sailboat and attempt to kill John Smith, Grace doesn't sink back into the same paranoia that has accompanied her throughout the series.

Although the reviews have been seriously mixed on this novel, I found it extremely interesting because, although the book was published in 2012, it focuses on a couple of things that are prominent in the news today. 

First, there is a segment on the sex trade; kidnapping young women and selling them or forcing them into marriage.  The Islamic State in Iraq,  the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, the women from Russia and the Baltic states, and gangs in the U.S.  have all been in the news recently for this horrific abuse.

Second, the recent calls for jihad that involve individuals spontaneously attacking police or service men, as in the recent attacks in Canada and New York, for example, and the tragic attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem.  Murders carried out by individuals in response to a general call.  

Third, the organized and well-planned terrorist actions that we all fear.

Fans of the series have given this book such disparate reviews--almost polar opposites--but I liked it a lot.  There is a lot of violence and the complexity of (at least in my case) rooting for a vigilante.   Rooting for a vigilante is always a tricky slope, but when battling evil, we all want the bad guys to disappear.  In how many books and films do we cheer on the hero who kills the bad guys without benefit of trial and without compunction?  

Such a conundrum. We want to believe in the legal system, but at least in our imaginations--in books or movies--we often condone vigilante violence.  Even when we know the dangers and moral questions of this behavior.

OK, digression complete.  The Monkeewrench books are also full of witty comments and apt descriptions about Minnesota weather.  A few examples:

* "The sun was shining, but the sky was that scary dark blue that looked like a theater curtain hiding winter behind it."
* "This is bullshit, Leo, you know that?  I had to scrape my windshield this morning.  Nobody told me Armageddon on Ice was coming to a theater near me, and I've got a four-year-old bawling into his board shorts right now because he wanted to be a surfer dude for Halloween."
          * "...his hands were shaking like a Chihuahua in a snow bank."

Each book can stand on its own, but the series is much more fun if you begin with the first in the series.  You can find a list here.

Library copy.  Penguin Group.

Thriller/Suspense.  2012.  305 pages.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Die for You by Lisa Unger

Die for You 

I read Unger's latest novel In the Blood, in January of this year, so when I found this one at the library, I grabbed it.  Unger has several series that I may look into, but Die for You is one of her earlier stand-alones.

Isabelle Raine is an author and considers herself a close observer of human behavior, but she is stunned when her husband Marcus kisses her goodbye one morning and disappears--not only disappears, but leaves devastation in his wake.  Is he a victim?  Is he still alive?  Or did the man Isabelle married ever exist?

I really liked the idea of this novel, but unfortunately,  I didn't care much for the characters, the switches from past to present (I have nothing against switching from past to present and back again in general, but the technique didn't work for me in this novel), the switches in POV, or the plot that seemed a bit hollow at the core.

Overall, the book felt jumbled, lacked a truly sympathetic protagonist or secondary characters, and failed to overcome its complications.  

Nevertheless, I really liked In the Blood, so I'm not giving up on this author.  Has anyone else read Lisa Unger and have recommendations?

Library copy.

Mystery.  2009.  347 pages.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mostly Mystery

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Book Description:     It's a cold, snowy December in the upstate New York town of Millers Kill, and newly ordained Clare Fergusson is on thin ice as the first female priest of its small Episcopal church. The ancient regime running the parish covertly demands that she prove herself as a leader. However, her blunt manner, honed by years as an army pilot, is meeting with a chilly reception from some members of her congregation and Chief of Police Russ Van Alystyne, in particular, doesn't know what to make of her, or how to address "a lady priest" for that matter. 

I enjoyed this novel and plan to read more in the series.

Purchased.  Minotaur Books

Mystery.  Reprint 2012.  Print length:  308 pages.

Chambers of Death by Priscilla Royal

I've enjoyed all of the previous books in this series, so when I was having a difficult time finding books I wanted from NetGalley, it was time to return to another medieval mystery.

Book Description:  When one of her company falls ill on a return journey to Tyndal, Prioress Eleanor accepts lodging at a nearby manor. The hospitality may be warm but the underlying passions among the steward's family are scorching. Master Stevyn's wife is having an affair with the groom while a local widow acts more like the lady of the manor than the lady herself. Stevyn's eldest son and spouse are obsessed with sin and heaven, while his youngest son, bound for the Church, unexpectedly returns with more interest in lute playing than the priesthood.

Murder, of course, can be expected.  The problem is that I didn't much care for this sixth book in the series.  Any series can vary in quality, but I'm not sure if that was the reason I didn't like it as much or if I'm growing a bit tired of the tension between Eleanor and her favorite monk. 

Purchased.  Poisoned Pen Press

Medieval Mystery.  2009, 2011. Print length:  261 pages.

Valley of Dry Bones by Priscilla Royal

Book Description: In the late summer of 1274, King Edward has finally been anointed England’s ruler, and his queen contemplates a pilgrimage in gratitude for their safe return from Outremer, a journey that will include a stay at Tyndal Priory.

I liked this one better than Chamber's of Death, but still wonder if by the 7th book, my interest in the characters is waning.  Maybe it is time for Ralf to have a story entirely to himself.  Or Sister Ann.  Or for the plots to have less to do with Eleanor's troubling attraction to Thomas.

I still love the history included in the books, especially Royal's Author's Notes and Bibliographic source material.

Purchased.  Poisoned Pen Press

Medieval Mystery.  2011.  Print length:  245 pages.

The Murder at Sissingham Hall by Clara Benson

Book description:  On his return from South Africa, Charles Knox is invited to spend the weekend at the country home of Sir Neville Strickland, whose beautiful wife Rosamund was once Knox's fiancee. But in the dead of night Sir Neville is murdered. Who did it? As suspicion falls on each of the house guests in turn, Knox finds himself faced with deception and betrayal on all sides, and only the enigmatic Angela Marchmont seems to offer a solution to the mystery. This 1920s whodunit will delight all fans of traditional country house murder stories.

Clara Benson wrote during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, but none of her books were published until after her death.  She wrote for her own enjoyment and for her friends; I wonder how famous she would have become had she been published during her life time.  At any rate, I love this genre and enjoyed the novel.

Mystery.  2013.  Print length:  262 pages.

Paradigms Lost  

Bad choice of cover.  The book is a light read about a data miner named Jason, his psychic friend Sylvie, and his new client, a vampire.  But the novel is more science fiction than a typical vampire story.

Some interesting ideas, but not terribly satisfying.  

Read in Oct.


Science Fiction.  Dec. 2, 2014.  print length:  544 pages.  


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor

I am late to this splendid addition to the fantasy genre, and like so many others, I loved the book.  I enjoyed the characters and the political intrigue. 

The main flaw in this lovely tale is that plot and characters are sometimes obscured by the strange multi-syllabic names and created language and by passages referring to a complex political, historical, and cultural system that even a member of the society would be hard put to understand completely.   And yet, I slipped into this world and found myself immersed in the story and unwilling to put it down. 

Maia, half-goblin and half-elf, is thrust into his new role as emperor when the airship that carried his father and half-brothers crashes.  Maia had only met his father once, at his mother's funeral, and had been relegated to an estate far away from the palace in the care of an abusive and bitter cousin.  When the news comes of his father's death, he is whisked to the court with little knowledge of court functions and without anyone he can truly trust.

Maia's father had never shown kindness to Maia or to Maia's mother, so he feels no grief at his father's death. He does know, however, that if he is to be emperor, it will not be in the style that has father has been.  While he has no experience or training in the world of politics,  Maia does have a kind and compassionate heart, and he makes an impression on those few individuals who serve him closely.

Most of the plot concerns the court intrigue and Maia's attempts to discover who was behind the sabotage of the airship that killed his father and half-brothers.  The action scenes and magic that usually accompany high fantasy are not here.  This is a story of young man who has been isolated and ill-treated trying his best to survive the intricate complexities of the court, the disparagement of those who should have supported and guided him, the exploitation of those who would use him, and the loneliness of his position.

Despite the perplexing language and  complicated political system, reading The Goblin Emperor was still a great pleasure.  If I gave stars, it would be 4 1/2 stars because what I liked I liked very much!

Library copy.  Macmillan/Tor Books

High Fantasy.  April, 2014.  447 pages.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

There Was a War

Do letters from the past fascinate you?  They do me, which is why I love Letters of Note.  The letter posted today is a perfect choice for Veteran's Day.  The following quote is from the introduction that precedes the letter.
"On November 11th of 1918, the First World War effectively came to an end with the signing of the armistice—an agreement between Allied and German forces to end, with immediate effect, all hostilies and withdraw troops from the battlefield. Peace, at last, after four years of fighting and more than 37 million deaths. Shortly after the armistice was signed, 26-year-old Lewis Plush—a lieutenant with the American Expeditionary Forces—wrote home to his parents and spoke with great eloquence of his experience. He returned home in February of 1919."  (via Letters of Note)

If you are interested in reading the remarkable letter from Lewis Plush to his parents, click here.  Plush describes his role in the war that opened in 1914, one hundred years ago, with elegant prose and touching memories of his role as a pilot, his friends, his experiences.

Books for the New Year

NetGalley reads to be published in 2015.

The Just City by Jo Walton is due to be released January 13, 2015; blog post scheduled for December 30.   What if Plato's ideas from The Republic were actually carried out?  So many philosophical questions debated.  Loved it!

Monday's Lie by Jamie Mason -- I loved Mason's Three Graves Full and was thrilled to get this latest book from NetGalley.  It doesn't disappoint.  To be released in February; my review is scheduled for January 19, 2015.

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe: An Elizabethan Spy Thriller by Kathy Lynn Emerson is a mystery set in one of my favorite historical periods. Release date March 1, 2015.  Haven't scheduled this review yet.