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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This and That

A friend sent me a link to this New Yorker article  Can Reading Make You Happier?.  Very interesting look at bibliotherapy.

 I've gotten quite a few books in the mail recently.  Some of them I've read and will review...eventually.  A few I doubt I'll read.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Two More Mysteries

Gwen Moffat's series about Melinda Pink is a new one to me.  The series began in the 1970's, and The Lost Girls was first published in 1998.  Miss Melinda Pink is aging, but still fit and sharp of intellect.  She has in the past been a justice of the peace and the director of an adventure center.  She is also a crime writer; her experiences echo that of the author.

The story centers on a  village flooded for a reservoir.  I always find the idea of towns and villages flooded for this purpose interesting.  Entire towns abandoned and then existing under water can't help but inspire the imagination.  In the Lakeland dale, one such village was flooded, but 45 years later, after a prolonged drought, the waters have receded.  

When a young runaway and her dog discover bones, an old mystery and disappearance is revived.  One that many locals would rather not have revisited.  Fortunately, Miss Pink is visiting friends and is able to unravel the decades old mystery of a missing husband and a missing child.  Miss Pink is a formidable force.

Although I received this from NetGalley, it is available free from Kindle Unlimited.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Mystery.  1998 and Oct. 2015.  Print length:  360 pages.

The Point Between by M.A. Demers is an unusual mystery populated by a dead novelist, one of her characters, and a dead detective.  

Lilly Harrington, a well-loved author for her mystery/romance novels, is discovered hanging in what looks like a suicide.  A very confused Lily finds herself at the crime scene unable to communicate with the detective and deputy who are present.  Marcus Mantova, the detective protagonist in her novels suddenly appears and offers his help.  Lily is just trying to make sense of Marcus' appearance when Penelope shows up. Penelope, a real detective murdered on the job, has a lot to say about Marcus--none of it pleasant.

The three ghosts (?) team up to solve Lily's murder.  A dark comedy.

I love the cover, but I'm not altogether sure of the book.  I was very hesitant after the first few pages, then grew intrigued.  It was kind of a see-saw with like and dislike--now, I do; now, I don't.

The idea of ghost detectives appeals to me, though.   

NetGalley/Egghead Books

Mystery/Supernatural.  Nov. 1, 2015.  Print length:  230 pages.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lights Out by Ted Koppel and a Fiction Pairing

Lights Out:  A Cyber Attack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath is a cautionary tale. 

Ted Koppel's intensely researched book presents a scenario that trumps dystopian novels about zombies and plague--because this threat is real.

I've been pondering this review for over a week.  If a cyber attack on the electric grid resulted in widespread, lengthy outages, the consequences  would be catastrophic.  Koppel's interviews with experts in many fields, governmental and private industry, make this clear.  Many believe it is a when, not an if, possibility.

I was impressed at how readable the book is.  The first section gives a lot of technical information that was sometimes a little slow, but related some of the problems in enough detail to make things clear--like the aging transformers, the expense of obtaining new ones and/or backups, how long it takes for an order for a new transformer to be built and delivered, the problems with transporting them. 

A few of the consequences of extended power outages (a week, a month, or more):  communication is difficult, if not impossible, as cell phones run down and can't be recharged; no computers will be working--and what government agency or private business doesn't run on computer today; no running water and the concurrent problem of sanitation; food supplies and pharmacy stock can't be re-supplied; medical machines down; fuel runs out.  Our society depends on this infrastructure. 

More than one review of the book has commented on the lack of solutions to the problem of a lengthy power outages.  True.  For most of us as individuals, there is not a lot that we can do to prepare for a really lengthy black out.  Hopefully, the book will stimulate more thought and more action on the part of governments--local, state, and national.  

I enjoy dystopian novels, but Lights Out is not a novel and is  thoroughly documented.  I found it both interesting and informative.  
Since November is nonfiction month, Lights Out might be a good nonfiction choice.  A lot of blogs have been pairing fiction and nonfiction books.  An interesting fiction pairing for Lights Out is One Second After by  William R. Fortschen.  While the book is about the consequences of an EMP attack and Lights Out is about a cyber attack on the electric grid--the effect is the same, loss of every technology that depends on electricity.  

 I read it in 2013, and it gave me a lot to think about.  Here is an excerpt from the book description of One Second After:  

"Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read, a book already being discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a truly realistic look at a weapon and its awesome power to destroy the entire United States, literally within one second. It is a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. In the tradition of On the BeachFail Safe and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future...and our end."

If One Second After was "cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read,"  maybe Lights Out will result in some action.

Sidebar:  One of the consequences of a lengthy outage in a city like New York is that there is no way to evacuate that many people.  Yet there will be movement of millions of people, refugees leaving heavily populated areas.  To get an idea of what that might be like, think of the Syrian refugees flooding small European towns and the challenges of caring for them.

Links to Interviews/Articles about Lights Out:

Chicago Tonight    The Washington Post   PBS    CBS News

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Nonfiction.  Oct. 2015.  Print length:  290 pages.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ashes to Ashes and Family Ties

Ashes to Ashes by Mel Starr is the latest in a series about medieval surgeon Hugh de Singleton.  I have not read any of the previous books in the series, but enjoyed this one.

Set in the 14th century, Hugh studied at Oxford and in Paris; for his time, Hugh has a most advanced medical education. 

In 1349 and again in the 1360's outbreaks of the Black Death devastated the population, creating a shortage of labor and social upheaval.  This post-plague setting adds to the interest of the novel.  

Labor is now a valuable commodity and there is more mobility as peasants/serfs/villeins move to find work, leaving behind land they had been bound to for generations. Feudal tradition is still strong, the hierarchy is still firm and powerful, but great changes are in progress.

 Some of the previous books cover how Hugh came to settle in the village of Bampton, which is a real village not far from Oxford.  Surgeon and bailiff to Lord Gilbert of Bampton Castle, Hugh is an intelligent and mild-mannered man with a young family.

When charred bones are found in the remains of a bonfire, Hugh must discover the identity of the body and whether or not murder was done.  The book gives wonderful historic detail about medieval law and justice, the social hierarchy, the way the church and religion affected people's lives, details of "croft and toft," and medical treatment in the late 1300's.  The details are woven in to give the reader a feeling of the dynamics of the time.

Just a sidebar--Hugh uses lettuce seed to induce sleep.  So did real medieval surgeons.    

Character development could be better--especially as there are some interesting minor characters who deserved more depth--but an engaging mystery with great historical detail.

(The title brings to mind the nursery rhyme associated (though inaccurately) with the plague and the bonfire (bone fire) to create allusive references to the effects of the plague.)

NetGalley/Lion Fiction

Medieval Mystery.  2015.  Print version:  256 pages.

Family Ties by Nicholas Rhea, originally published in 1994, had a new release in October.   

Hmmm.  I found Detective Mark Pembleton a little annoying.  A nice guy, dedicated, etc., but at times he got on my nerves.

An American Vice President is to visit England in search of his ancestors, and Pembleton is in charge of the British security detail.  Doing a little advanced research, Pembleton discovers that one of the VP's ancestors was murdered in 1916.  

That part of the mystery was intriguing, and I enjoyed the untangling of the details.

Nicholas Rhea is best known for his Constable book series which led to the Heartbeat British television series that ran from 1992-2010.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Police Procedural.  1994/Oct. 2015.  Print length:  201 pages.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

Splinter the Silence

Val McDermid's series featuring psychological profiler Tony Hill and Carol Jordan is one of my favorites.  The last couple of novels in this series have been setting up the situation for this one.

Carol's drinking has been a part of previous novels, but she has always been able to function.  Now that she is no longer part of the police force and has become more isolated, her drinking will have a devastating effect.

As Carol has continued to seclude herself, Tony feels her loss more than anyone and attempts to re-establish Carol's connections with the old team and to force Carol to realize the consequences of her drinking.  

When Tony sees a pattern among some high profile suicides of outspoken women, he tries to involve Carol in his investigation.  Despite herself, Carol's curiosity begins to get the better of her as the possibility that the deaths of three women were not suicides, but cleverly disguised murders, becomes clear.  

Even as she must confront the results of her own destructive behavior, she finds circumstances offer a way back up.  Despite the enemies who delight in her difficulties, Carol has some enthusiastic supporters, not only within her former team, but among some powerful individuals. Yea, John Brandon!

McDermid proves once again that she can keep a reader enthralled with her characters and their situations, book after book.  I have to admit that my images of Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are based on the British series Wire in the Blood--those are the faces I see when I read the books.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Crime/Police Procedural.  Dec. 1, 2015.  Print version:  416 pages.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

I'm finally going to discuss How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  This one was mentioned in Failing Our Brightest Kids which I reviewed a while back; then my friend Teresa mentioned she was reading it.  

From the book description:  "Drawing on groundbreaking research in neuroscience, economics, and psychology, Tough shows that the qualities that matter most have less to do with IQ and more to do with character: skills like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism."

We have relied extensively on standardized testing to determine which children have the best chance at academic success.  All of the testing from elementary school through high school and scores on the ACT or SAT exams are hugely important in the evaluation of kids.  But we all know individuals who have not performed particularly well, and in some cases performed abysmally, on standardized tests and yet have been quite successful in college and in life.

Most people have a common sense realization that hard work pays off and that certain character traits are more important than IQ when it comes to achievement.  The question is how are character traits  like grit, curiosity, self-control, and optimism instilled?  What can schools and teachers do to reinforce them?

Tough's research focuses on children who are disadvantaged by poverty, violence, and/or abuse.  Why and how do some of these kids overcome these circumstances?  The most important element (again, common sense) is that the kids who succeed have at least one person truly invested in their care.  Despite poverty and violence, if a child has one person who values and nurtures him, the chance of  success in school and in life increases exponentially.  

Tough interviews students and educators and provides some interesting glimpses at some ways of intervening by innovative educators, methods that have helped trump the inauspicious beginnings many of our children experience.  Those children who have been nurtured have more self-control and can better utilize other positive traits.  

What I took away from this on the simplest level is that, especially among the disadvantaged children of this country, the emphasis put on cognitive development before they attend school is less important than learning self-control and persistence and developing an optimistic approach to circumstances.  

In other words--yes, children from disadvantaged backgrounds may have smaller vocabularies and fewer learning opportunities at home, but what enables them to increase vocabulary, learn to read, learn to problem-solve, and ultimately improve their overall skills is largely dependent on developing self-control, being willing to work hard, and believing that they can succeed.  And for that, they need at least one person who values them.  Nurture allows Nature?

This is really not much of a book review, more of a disentangling of my thoughts about it.  I think the following is a good summary of why you might want to read it.

When asked how writing the book influenced his behavior as a parent, Tough replied:

"In the end, though, this research had a surprising effect: it made me more relaxed as a parent. When Ellington was born, I was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race--the faster a child develops skills, the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life. Having done this reporting, I’m less concerned about my son’s reading and counting ability. Don’t get me wrong, I still want him to know that stuff. But I think he’ll get there in time. What I’m more concerned about is his character--or whatever the right synonym is for character when you’re talking about a three-year-old. I want him to be able to get over disappointments, to calm himself down, to keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating, to be good at sharing, to feel loved and confident and full of a sense of belonging. Most important, I want him to be able to deal with failure." (the highlighting is mine)

Digression:  another one of those synchronicitous events occurred after reading the book, when I found a couple of related articles.  

The first one is about researchers studying kindergarten kids and giving them a Social Competency Test.  One important factor mentioned was self-control; the study was over a period of nineteen years.

The second one, and more visually dramatic than words, compares the brain scans of children.  The brain of a three-year-old child who has been neglected and/or abused is so shrunken, so visibly different from the brain of a three-year-old who received love and care.

 This really isn't anything new, when we remember what happened to children in orphanages during WWII and again later, with dramatic accounts of Romanian children in institutions.  Somehow, though seeing these images has an even more chilling effect.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Proud Grandmother

Ellie was the top reader in the entire second grade, and Bryce Eleanor was second!  

And I am a proud grandma!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2015


One of those strange happenstances (I hesitate to call this one serendipity--maybe synchronicity is a better choice) occurred when I saw this letter on Letters of Note.   Fair warning:  the letter is a both very positive and immeasurably sad.  After posting my review Monday about The Drowning Ground (and the hints at DCI Downes' background), having this letter show up on Letters of Note the next day was a bit strange.

Yet, not really.  One of the pleasures of reading is discovering how frequently something you read about in a novel connects to the next novel, or an event in the news, or even how a specific location or name will occur in three novels in a row.

 Often for me, it will be because I'm drawn to a particular time period, and logically, there will be repeated references to real persons or events.  

But sometimes, this synchronicity will occur in unusual ways like checking out ten books from the library and three of them mention Nova Scotia when there is no outward indication that would occur.  Or within a week or two, reading several books that use the same quote--in dialogue or as a chapter heading.  

Or in this case, I read a book that mentions something that interests me, and the next day find a letter from an Argentinian grandfather to a missing granddaughter and discover that, against great odds, they have been reunited.  Every reader has experienced these coincidences and appreciates them--even knowing that the more you read, the more likely you are to encounter this kind of coincidence.  

What I'm reading: 

 Lights Out:  A Cyber Attack, A Nation Unprepared,  Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel--a truly frightening, well-researched, and (mostly) easily understood book for the layperson about the vulnerability of the electric grid. Interesting interview with Ted Koppel.  Another interview here.  I'm 37% through with the book and am impressed with its readability.  This was (still is?) a NetGalley offering.

Learned Optimism -- Another nonfiction work that I've been reading (I read nonfiction at a much slower rate and with more frequent breaks) is Martin Seligman's book about how influential our personal narratives are in influencing our behavior.  His initial research into depression led to the discovery of learned helplessness, and eventually, to how to make changes with positive results. 

While I knew I would be interested in this book based on the books about educating our children that mention it, what has surprised and to large degree resulted in denial, then pondering, then accepting --elements concerning my own behavior.  The breaks I'm taking with this book are even longer than the breaks I normally take from nonfiction because digesting the personal elements I confront keep me busy thinking and rethinking. 

My first response was "I love how this clarifies and makes real what is actually common sense."  However, when the book began producing some personal revelations, I have to admit that sometimes  often, I apply common sense much more easily in relation to others than to myself.  

I was reading the book to gain further understanding about why some children succeed and others don't (in relation to the books about education and learning), I did not expect to discover anything really new about myself.  I'm glad I purchased this one and that I can actually turn the pages, and eventually, add it to my nonfiction shelf for future reference.

Anyway, both of these books have required me to put them down and read escapism or work on Halloween Eccentrics while letting information ferment.

You can see some of my Halloween creations over at my other blog.  :) I love Halloween!

Sadie Shadowmend, sits in the classroom learning spells.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Circle by Bernard Minier

The Circle 

Last year, I read Bernard Minier's The Frozen Dead and enjoyed the creepiness of the asylum in the Pyrenees and the grotesque crime that Commandant Martin Servaz must investigate--the murder of a valuable horse belonging to a French billionaire.  Initially, Servaz is put out at having to investigate the death of a horse, but soon the killer escalates, the horse was a preface--a warning, a symbol.  People die, the suspense increases, and disturbing elements of revenge keep the tension high.

Last week, an ARC of  The Circle, Minier's next in the series, arrived in the mail, and I found myself again immersed in a taut thriller as Servaz investigates a murder in the small academic town where his daughter is enrolled at an elite institution.

Complications:  the suspected murderer is the son of the woman Servaz loved in his youth and never quite gotten over; the escaped killer Julius Hirtman from the previous novel may have played a role in the death of the young teacher; a mysterious "circle" among students may put Servaz's daughter in danger....

Interspersed with the narrative of the current investigation are sections from the pov of a woman held prisoner by a twisted individual.  

The characters are well-developed (I liked the inclusion of Elias and Servaz's daughter Margot and of characters from the previous novel, even if mentioned only by name); the plot moves at breakneck speed, even with the diversions of different strands; and the psychological suspense is intense.  Tangled situations kept me guessing!

As in the first novel, the translator is Alison Anderson, and again, she does a great job.

ARC from Minotaur Books.

Crime/Police Procedural/Suspense.  Oct. 27, 2015.  470 pages.   

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Drowning Ground by James Marrison

The Drowning Ground came as an ARC in the mail, and one that I really appreciated, although I let it sit around a while before actually getting around to reading it and then left it on my bedside table before getting around to reviewing it.

The Drowning Ground is a debut novel with an unusual protagonist in Detective Chief Inspector Guillermo Downes and hopefully, it is the first in a new series.  Set in the picturesque Cotswolds, this police procedural intrigued me from the first.  DCI Downes (English father; Argentine mother) is a transplant from Buenos Aires and has been settled in the Cotswolds for several decades and who has a past that is hinted at through his homesickness for his home country of Argentina.

The brutal murder of Frank Hurst, a local farmer, leads not only Downes, but the entire community, to remember the death of Hurst's second wife ten years earlier and the disappearance of of two young girls.  

In addition to these mysterious deaths and disappearances, Downes has a new sergeant who has been warned that Downes has successfully gotten rid of a number of his predecessors. Will the newly arrived Sgt. Graves work out?  

The investigation into Hurst's death takes some unusual turns.  His house has been turned into a fortress and then, mysteriously, burns to the ground.  A long hidden body is discovered.  Downes' sections are written in first person; Graves' sections are third person--giving a wider view of various situations.  Some of the past of both Downes and Graves is hinted at and will, I expect, be enlarged on in future installments.

I was impressed with Marrison's first novel and hope for a sequel!

Crime/Police Procedural.  Aug., 2015.  371 pages.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Medium and the Magician

Sometimes you hear about a new book from a respected source (in this case, NPR) and the content deals with both historic individuals that interest you and a topic that fascinates.  This was the case with The Witch of Lime Street:  Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World.  I mean Conan Doyle, Houdini, The Scientific American, and spiritualism...I was sure this one would be engrossing.

Sometimes, however, you are disappointed.  After reading 39% of this one, I said to myself...well, you don't need to know what I said.  

What I did, though, was look the incident up and skip the rest of this tedious work of nonfiction that believes withholding information and padding pages with interesting historical tidbits that have little, or in some cases, no connection to the book's premise-- somehow strengthens the effect. 

Not so.  For me, at least, and that is really all I can have any judgment on.  Looking into Mina Crandon (the witch) I found these links which give an account in a shorter, more efficient, and more interesting manner:  

Mina Crandon and Harry Houdini:  The Medium and the Magician


Mina Crandon was certainly fascinating--nude performances and affairs with investigators aside.  Ectoplasm--eew!--often comes from orifices better left unnamed.  Conan Doyle was a sad and gullible man.  Houdini was an egotist, but sincere in hoping for communication with the "disincarnate," even as he debunked fake mediums.

The e-book is offered through NetGalley, if you want to read it, but in case you get as tired of wading through the disjointed and overly detailed account in the book.  Try the above links.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Home by Nightfall by Charles Finch

I've missed about five novels in this series, so there have been quite a few changes in Charles Lenox's situation, but the author is skillful enough for this novel to stand alone without having read the previous entries.  And I truly appreciate the way Lenox's character has developed.  

I really liked the first novel in this series (A Beautiful Blue Death), but didn't care for the second one as much (The September Society).  Now that I've read Home by Nightfall, I want to catch up on the books I've missed.

In 1876, Lenox and his new detective agency are (along with all of London) captivated by the disappearance of a famous pianist.  It appears to be a locked room mystery.  

At the same time, however, Lenox is worried about his brother Edmund whose wife has recently died.   Worried enough that he believes it is more important to return to his childhood home for a while to spend time with Edmund-- even though his business partners are reluctant for him to be absent.   Lenox's love for his brother and his childhood reminiscences illustrate such a change from the first two novels I read.  Lenox has become a more interesting character with greater depth--which is why I would like to read the novels I've missed that will detail more of Lenox's growth as a character.

While Lenox is staying with Edmund, a village mystery crops up.  Edmund becomes intrigued and accompanies Lenox in his investigation; the only times Edmund surfaces from his grief is when attempting to solve the puzzle.

Back in London, the missing German pianist is still all the news, and Lenox's detective agency becomes involved.  

As in previous books, Charles Finch evokes a fine image of the time period, both in the country village and in London.  Even his minor characters have details that bring them to life.  I'm glad to have rediscovered this series!

Review scheduled for Oct. 21

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Historical Mystery.  Nov. 10.  Print length:  304 pages.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Man with the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming's Bond Letters

The Man with the Golden Typewriter:  Ian Fleming's James Bond Letters edited by Fergus Fleming

I've been interested in Ian Fleming since reading about his role in Naval Intelligence during WWII.  When NetGalley offered this collection of letters, I was interested, but certainly didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.  

Nor did I expect to find Fleming, the man, so likable and charming, so generous, and so appreciative and kind to his fans.  The man who wrote thrillers was friends with Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, and Raymond Chandler.   

Fleming biographical info.

I had never heard of the Studillac before reading the letters, so I had to Google to discover that the Studillac was a studebaker with a cadillac engine.

Although I had never been previously much interested in James Bond (books or films), I thoroughly enjoyed these letters and fell half in love with Ian Fleming.  Highly Recommended.  Yes, I mentioned the book in previous posts on this blog and on my other blog while reading because it was so fascinating.

Read in August.   A Garden Carried in the Pocket review scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015.


Letters/Memoir.  Nov. 3, 2015.  Print version:  400 pages.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

One Thing Always Leads to Another

Last night, my husband was watching The Magnificent Seven, and when I walked through to make a cup of tea, I stopped and watched a little.  Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson--they continue to be as memorable in their roles as they were in 1960.  (A remake of TM7 is scheduled for 2016.)

Watching the scenes from this classic reminded me of how much I enjoyed Into the Beautiful North, which I reviewed in May.  Partly because of the way the movie inspired Nayeli to take her band of friends north to search for seven warriors to help reclaim their little village from banditos, partly because of the unusual nature of this immigrant story, and partly because of the situation in Europe and the influx of immigrants from Syria--my mind made consistently wider connections and kept me thinking for a while before I could return to the book I was reading.    

I want to read more by Luis Alberto Urrea the author of Into the Beautiful North, and I want to watch The Seven Samurai, the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven.   
After reading Failing Our Brightest Kids in September, I took Teresa's recommendation for How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character  by Paul Tough (not yet reviewed) which was mentioned in Failing Our Brightest Kids .  

HCS was also an excellent look at education and learning, and I ordered a book that it mentioned (I think it was mentioned FOBK as well)--Learned Optimism:  How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman, who with Stephen Maier, made the first steps to challenging Skinner's behaviorism theory (in which the learner is essentially passive, responding to either positive or negative reinforcement).  Seligman and Maier made huge dents in this theory that had predominated in learning psychology.  

One thing always leads to another....
I love these guys.

Determined, Courageous Women

Letters of Note always gives insight into both individuals and events.  

from Letters of Note

(written in 1913)

Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 
1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote.  
Yours truly,Bertha Brewster

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Some Studio Work and Reviews

I've been spending a lot of time in the studio playing with my Eccentrics.  More La Calavera Catrinas, gourds in progress, a sock doll and a witch in progress.  A burst of creative energy that has kept me occupied for hours on end.  I'm covered in dried clay, paint, and fabric threads most of the time now.
one of the La Calavera Catrinas I've been making

It is still warm here.  Today's high is predicted to be 96, but tomorrow!  Tomorrow will be in the 80's--Yea!  I've been thinking about global warming/climate change a lot, lately.  The effects on future generations are frightening, but there is still money to be made on some of the destructive practices to which we've become so accustomed.  I love the way some small countries, no larger than one of our states, have been able to implement changes.  It must be so much easier to make those changes on a smaller scale.  Fewer politicians with fewer agendas and fewer lobbyists make for more direct action.  I mean, 96 degrees in the middle of October is just wrong.  

When I feel like it, I try to catch up on reviews.  They are never-ending.

Briefly, I found this really slow, although the book was quite short.  Didn't care for the protagonist much--he did a lot of whining about the past.  A little would have set the stage adequately, but too much and it felt like filler.  Especially annoying - the protagonist finds out things, tells you he has found out, but doesn't tell you what he found out.  OK once, but not 2 0r 3 times.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Historic mystery.  Oct. 9, 2015.  Print length:  196 pages.

 There were some interesting parts of this "spy" novel, and I kind of liked the characters, but it didn't seem logical or believable.  I just discovered that it was originally published in 1987, which answered a couple of questions.

What bothered me even more than the strange premise (I'm still not sure I ever understood how Patrick Gillyard became a target), were the sentences and paragraphs that felt like non sequiturs.  I'd go back and reread, then decide it was a bit like not getting a joke.  You just accept it and read on.

And yet, I think the characters had promise , but the plot was so convoluted.  It was the first in a long series, and I would give it another try.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Spy/Mystery.  1987; Oct. 9, 2015.  Print length:  247 pages.

This one started out with an interesting premise.  Detective Harriet Marten's has been poisoned while sun bathing by a pool.  Someone slipped wolfsbane (nearly always fatal) into her drink as she lay dozing.  Her husband returns and recognizes the symptoms because he has been reading an Agatha Christie novel in which "twisted wolfsbane" was the murder weapon.

The first section has poor Harriet hospitalized having undergone numerous procedures.  The poison has had an effect on her memory and thinking processes, and she struggles to understand and to communicate.  That portion was interesting, but Harriet disregards advice to remain in the hospital and pays no attention when informed that it will take months for her to fully recover.  For me, the book began to be a little repetitious as Harriet repeated things and exerted effort to think clearly while neglecting common sense.

The poisoner has no specific target and as he or she continues to murder almost randomly by slipping poison into untended drinks, Harriet wants/needs to be part of the investigation.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Detective fiction/Mystery.  2005; 2015.  Print length:  272 pages.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Crimson Shore by Preston & Child

Crimson Shore by Preston & Child     

There is a kind of cultish element involved with following these books.  They can become an addiction that you laugh to yourself about because the books are so absurd, but that fact doesn't deter me you in the least.  OK--yes, I'm speaking for myself.  I would no more deny myself an Agent Pendergast book than I would refuse popcorn.   

Crimson Shore has Pendergast and his ward Constance Greene taking a case about a missing wine collection because the victim of the theft is a sculptor whose work Pendergast admires and the wine is a case of Haut-Braquilanges '04.  Pendergast will exchange his services for one bottle of the rare vintage wine.

 Once they arrive in Exmouth, Mass., they discover a secret room in the cellar, a connection to The Cask of Amontillado, a murder or two or more, a centuries old shipwreck, a coterie of witches....  Well, you get the picture.  

Constance's role has increased in the last few books and continues to develop in this one, but none of the other familiar characters make an appearance.  Crimson Shore has Pendergast and Constance working as a duo on this case.

The books are preposterous and, if you like this kind of thing, great fun.  I started reading them in the 90's when a student recommended Relic and have continued to enjoy them ever since.  Great choice for the R.I.P. Challenge.

Read in August; blog review scheduled for Oct. 12, 2015.

NetGalley/Grand Central Publishing.

Mystery/Paranormal/Horror.  Nov. 10, 2015.  Print length:  352 pages.  

Friday, October 09, 2015

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

These Shallow Graves

The cover is a misfit for this YA novel, set in the Gilded Age among New York's sumptuous, opulent, and restrictive society.  

 Jo Montfort has a dream that doesn't coincide with her family's social status.  She wants to be a journalist, and her role model is Nellie Bly, the intrepid reporter.  Her enthusiasm for writing about anything of social significance is not encouraged.  

When Jo's father dies, Jo is summoned from her finishing school and returns home.  Stunned with grief, she puzzles over how her careful father could have accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun.  

Struggling between being a dutiful daughter and her desire for a more meaningful life, Jo is unable to accept the circumstances of her father's death.  With the help of a young reporter, she begins to question a great many things about her father, the society in which she moves, and the lives of those individuals who have none of the benefits her own life has provided.  Her investigation results in a confrontation with the darker aspects that lie beneath the surface of the gilded atmosphere of New York, to family secrets, to betrayals she could never have suspected.

Liked:  Jo, a plucky protagonist, Eddie, Oscar, and Fay.  Oscar deserves a larger role and would make a great character for another novel.

An entertaining YA novel.  Read in June; blog post scheduled for Oct. 9, 2015.

NetGalley/Random House Children's

YA/Mystery.  Oct. 27, 2015.  Print length:  496 pages.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Death Wears a Mask by Ashley Weaver

Death Wears a Mask

Last year I read Weaver's debut novel Murder at the Brightwell and enjoyed the 1930's setting and the style of writing.  Amory Ames is married to the handsome, but insouciant Milo.  

In the first novel, Amory is fed up with Milo's penchant for frequent trips and beautiful women.  He frequently appears in the gossip columns as a charming playboy, not the loving husband Amory envisioned when they married.

Some reconciliation occurred in the first novel, and Amory is plainly unhappy when Milo appears in the tabloids with a famous French actress, just when Amory is hoping for the best.

Allowing herself the distraction of an investigation for Mrs. Barrington, friend of her mother's, who has had some valuable jewelry stolen, Amory finds the trap they set for the thief turns into something more when Mrs. Barrington's nephew is murdered.

In the meantime, another incident concerning Milo and the actress is publicized, and Amory realizes she must make up her mind about whether or not she wants to remain married.

While Amory is unhappy with the tenor of their marriage, Milo is completely happy married to Amory and has no  wish to alter their circumstances.  As in the first novel, the two work together to solve the crime, even as Amory considers divorce.

I'm quite sure there is something more serious behind Milo's escapades.  I intend to continue reading the novels to find out if what I suspect is true.  The third novel should be the clincher--because the tentative nature of the relationship has gone on long enough.

If you enjoy the kind of mystery/crime novel reminiscent of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, you may enjoy this one.  I did.

An ARC from St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books.  Thank goodness, I had this one when my Kindle died.

Mystery/Detective Fiction.  Oct. 13, 2015.   326 pages.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley

Named of the Dragon 

Likable characters in a wonderfully imagined setting in Wales with a lavish mix of Arthurian legend thrown in. Kearsley's writing flows as she develops the romantic suspense.  

What I liked:  the setting, a small coastal village in Wales, frequent references to myth, legend, and poetry connected to Merlin.  The prose makes much of the narrative very visual.

On the other hand, the  book felt too short--as if the author had compelling ideas and was in a hurry to include everything and finish up.  

Much of the mystery's supernatural aspect felt like an aside by the time I finished, sort of incomplete.  The characters, some of whom offered such potential, never quite became real people.  I liked and disliked them accordingly, but they all had intriguing elements that were left sketchy; they needed more depth and complexity.  

Most elements were predictable, but isn't that what we sometimes want in this kind of fantasy?  The familiar fairy tale with a romantic element and enough suspense to keep an edge?   The kind of books that Mary Stewart, Barbara Michael's, and Victoria Holt wrote -- books that were more about romance than sex, full of atmospheric mystery and tension.

So...a book that was entertaining and visual.  A bon-bon of subtle romance, myth, and mystery.  The very fact that I wanted more from the Named of the Dragon is revealing.  I wanted to be more fully immersed, wanted it to be denser and lengthier.  Nevertheless,  I enjoyed spending a rainy afternoon in Wales.

Read in June; blog post scheduled for Oct. 6


Mystery/Supernatural.  First published 1998; Oct. 6, 2015.  Print length:  295 pages

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Lake House by Kate Morton

I've read and enjoyed The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden by Morton, but The Lake House is my favorite.  

Alice Edevane is 16 when her young and beloved brother disappears; decades later, Alice is a respected author in her eighties.  What happened to Theo was never discovered, but Alice has her own suspicions.

Sadie Sparrow is on disciplinary leave from the police department, visiting her grandfather in Cornwall.  When she stumbles on the deserted Lake House and learns the unsolved story of the missing toddler from the 1930's, Sadie's curiosity is aroused.  She has to fill her time during her enforced leave and the unsolved mystery of Theo's disappearance intrigues her.

The secrets and mysteries are layered like an archaeological dig.  An answer reveals a question, one connection leads to another.  

Morton's writing is often remarkably visual; she excels at creating scenes that are three-dimensional and vivid.   Her characters, both major and minor characters, have depth as well.  Truth and what people believe to be the truth sometimes mesh, but not always.  The version of events that one character believes is not the same as the version another character believes.  Information is withheld for a variety of reasons.

Gradually, Morton braids all of the strands together, keeping the reader's thoughts twisting to accommodate new information.  

Reader, I loved it.  I was immersed in the narrative and the characters from beginning to end.  

Read in August.  Blog review scheduled for Oct. 5, 2015.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Mystery.  Oct. 20, 2015.  Print length:  512 pages.