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Saturday, February 06, 2016

A Fire Beneath the Skin Trilogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fantasy.  2013.  Print length:  402 pages.

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

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


Fantasy.  2015.  Print length:  370 pages.

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

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


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

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A Mixture of Reviews

The Tracker by Chad Zunker. Remember the 6 word review?  

Political tracker, murder witness, flashbacks, predictable.  

This is supposed to be the first in a series featuring Sam Callahan.  Of most interest to me was the role of a political tracker.


Political Mystery.  2015.  Print length:  406 pages.

Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman.  6 word review:  Psychotic, but loving mother; missing child

The two most recent offerings by Kellerman have appealed to me.  I really enjoyed The Murderer's Daughter, a stand-alone  in which child psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware made only a cameo appearance.  Breakdown has Alex and Milo Sturgis back in play.  

A disturbed mother's psychosis becomes so severe that she ends up living on the streets.   What has happened to the son she adored?   Alex treated the boy only briefly a few years previously, as a favor to the doctor who was treating the mother.

The plot has several twists and a slow build up that I liked.  The conclusion of the mystery, as well as the root cause left me a little cold, but I liked the majority of this novel enough to overlook that.  

Alex and Milo have to look into the past for clues as they search for Ovid, the missing boy.  

I've followed Kellerman for years and, at one point, sort of lost interest.  The last two novels have made me re-evaluate my desertion of the series.  And I've always like Milo Sturgis. Strange how important the sidekick can become to a series. 

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery/Suspense/Psychological. February, 2016.  Print length:  369 pages. 

The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain.  I loved Laurain's The President's Hat, and I enjoyed this one as well.  A woman is injured during a purse snatching; a bookseller finds the purse and, in trying to find the owner, becomes a little obsessed by the contents of the purse--especially the red notebook.  

More a novella than a novel, TRN is a little bit mystery, a little bit romance, and a little bit....  Well, it is a fast and fun read, even if a detail or two might give you a niggle here, a quibble there.  Lots of literary allusions, a light touch, likable characters.

The President's Hat also took an inanimate object and used it as a method of amplifying an idea, but The President's Hat was cleverer, offering a little more under the surface, and a wry and witty atmosphere.  Mitterand's hat had...influence.  

NetGalley/Gallic Books

Novella.  2014.  Print length:  159 pages.

The Deathsniffer's Assistant by Kate McIntyre.  

Olivia Faraday is a deathsniffer--a truthsniffer who investigates murder.  Most members of society avoid those who practice the profession, treating them with disdain and superstition.  Unless they need them.

Christopher Buckley is nineteen and has been responsible for protecting his sister Rosemary since the death of their parents six years earlier.  Christopher, a wordweaver, finds that the family fortune has diminished and takes a job with O. Faraday to support himself and his sister. 

Olivia Faraday is brusque, eccentric, and unconcerned about the basic rules of society.  Christopher, on the other hand, is almost annoyingly preoccupied with appearances.

Set in a Victorian world with elements of steampunk that do not override the story, the novel has plenty of mystery and magic to entertain the reader.  The characters are well-developed and the  plot kept me guessing.  The elaborate magical hierarchy is also interesting--there are wordweavers, deathsniffers, spiritbinders, and timeseers, each with specific places in society.  

I enjoyed this one, and I look forward to the next in The Faraday Files.

I was offered this by NetGalley, but could not get it to download.  Later it was on offer at Kindle Unlimited, and I snapped it up.

Mystery/Fantasy/Steampunk.  2015.  Print length:  424 pages.  

I'm continuing to play with Mail Art and am taking part in A Month of Letters which is keeping me busy right now.  By busy, I mean playing with paint and faux postage, making envelopes and postcards, and generally having a fine time.  

Today is National Mail Carriers Appreciation Day.  

 I copied the mail carrier from a card,
but it doesn't do the original justice.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Mystery, Fantasy, Suspense

I'm still reading, but haven't been reviewing. I have books from last year that I've still not reviewed!  I'm so behind on visiting and commenting on blogs that I will never catch up. 

I'm not even sure when I read some of these books--they are a mix of November, December, and January.  

My first experience with McPherson was The Child Garden, which I really enjoyed and reviewed here.  I was excited about this new one and snapped up the NetGalley offer (maybe in November?).  I planned to schedule a review closer to the publication date, but Quiet Neighbors is available for pre-order so I'm going to go ahead knock it off my list. 

Jude is running from something and finds herself in the small village of Wigtown, Scotland.  (Wigtown was officially designated as Scotland's National Book Town in 1998 and is now home to over 20 book-related businesses. A book lovers haven – and with over quarter of a million books to choose from, old and new … it is impossible to escape empty-handed.  Source.)

  That was enough to insure my interest.  A book town, an absent-minded owner of a chaotic book shop, a job offer as an assistant to help organize books, a cottage in a graveyard, mysterious notes in books, a village secret....  Yep.  I was all in.  And I enjoyed my foray into the little Scottish town and the curious characters who live there.

NetGalley/Midnight Ink

Mystery.  April 8, 2016.  Print length:  360 pages.  

Night Study  by Maria V. Snyder is the fifth installment in this series.  It took me a little while to re-orient myself, but once I did, the adventures of Yelena and Valek kept me as engrossed as I was in Shadow Study.

Snyder doesn't make much concession to new readers, so it would be much better to start this series at the beginning.  I had the same problem trying to puzzle out characters and past events with Shadow Study, but once involved, I couldn't put it down.

If you are interested in a new fantasy series, this might be one you can really savor by starting with Poison Study and reading the available books in order.  

Night Study was a guilty pleasure--magic and mayhem and and suspense!


Fantasy.  Jan. 26, 2016. Print length:  448 pages.

The Dead Place is a Cooper and Fry mystery by Stephen Booth.  I liked the first two books in this series, but have missed several.  

Creepy anonymous phone calls to the police, a morbid fascination with death, a funeral home full of suspects, a professor specializing in death rituals, plenty of detail about what happens to the body following death, more than enough about preparing a body for viewing at a funeral home.  I'm glad, my husband and I have chosen cremation.  (Although, I despise the term "cremains.")

Favorite parts:   nods to Cold Comfort Farm, Inspector Morse, and Midsommer Murders; Gavin Murfin's character.

Overall, the book didn't work as well for me as did Black Dog and Dancing with the Virgins.  Fortunately, Booth let Cooper take the lead in this one, because Fry comes off so flat and snarky.  She isn't a likable character to begin with (and deliberately so), but at least in the first two books she was interesting.  Booth does seem to be preparing for some changes in Fry, but she remains an annoying cipher in this book.

The first two books in this series were quite good, and I have missed books 3, 4, and 5--so I am not going to let my disappointment in this one deter me from reading more Cooper & Fry.

Harper/Collins  (purchased ebook)

Mystery, police procedural.  2014.  Print length:  608 pages.

The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons was a Kindle Unlimited offer and turned out to be a compelling read.  

brief description:  A decade ago, fourteen-year-old Suzanne Lombard, the daughter of Benjamin Lombard—then a senator, now a powerful vice president running for the presidency—disappeared in the most sensational missing-person case in the nation’s history. Still unsolved, the mystery remains a national obsession.

Gibson Vaughn, former legendary hacker, was like an older brother to Suzanne and when approached to try to discover what really happened to Suzanne, he devotes himself to the task.  But someone doesn't want the mystery unraveled and Gibson and his fellow investigators find themselves in danger.  

Fast-paced and compelling, the novel kept me up late, unable to find a place to stop.  This was Fitzsimmons' first novel, but there is to be another novel featuring Gibson Vaughn, and I want it! 

Suspense.  2015.  Print length: 398 pages.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Unreasonable Doubt and Land of Shadows

Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany.

Walter Desmond has been exonerated for the murder of a young woman when it is discovered that evidence was concealed at the time of the trial.  Having spent twenty-five years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Desmond decides to return to Trafalgar City.  He wants to know why the detectives at the time were so determined to have him convicted that they concealed exculpatory evidence.  

The town in not particularly eager to embrace Desmond; many, including the woman's family, continue to believe him guilty.  This sets up a volatile situation for the Trafalgar police department.

But if Walter didn't commit the murder, that means the killer is still free, and a new investigation must take place.

I'm  always happy to return to Trafalgar City and Constable Molly Smith!  This was an especially intriguing installment as the news so frequently covers the release of individuals who have served decades for murders they did not commit.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery/Police Procedural.  Feb. 2, 2016.  

Land of Shadows by Priscilla Royal

Queen Eleanor of Castile has just given birth at Woodstock.  Prioress Eleanor and Brother Thomas are there because Eleanor's father has suffered a stroke.  

A move against the Jews, in part to increase the king's coffers; the murder of a promiscuous noble woman; a case of PTSD for a veteran of the Crusades; an accusation against Eleanor's nephew; and machinations by the sinister priest (one of those dedicated men with a narrow point of view, more dedicated to the Church than to God--whether he knows it or not) are all part of this medieval mystery set in 1279.

As much as I like this series, it has been uneven in its appeal to me.  Some of the books I've loved; some I've cared less for.
Fortunately, Land of Shadows fall into the former category, and I found myself once again immersed in the politics and cultural conventions of the late 13th c. and in Priscilla Royal's vivid characters.  Royal not only explains much about her choices at the end, but includes her extensive bibliographic material.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Medieval Mystery.  Feb. 2, 2016.  Print version:  220 pages.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Catching Up

Worse than Death.  Anna Southwood opens a detective agency; since she has no background for this new business, she depends on her partner Graham because he does have a license.  Graham, however, is an aspiring actor whose auditions interfere with his detecting.

The agency has its first serious case when called upon to find Beth Channing, a missing adolescent.  Beth's mother has been charged with murder, but there is no body.

As the investigation continues, Anna discovers a connection to another missing girl.

Not a bad mystery, but not as good as some.  I did like that it was set in Australia.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Mystery.  1991; 2015.  Print version:  192 pages.

The Inquisitor by Mitchell Hogan is evidently his first foray into science fiction.    He is best known for his fantasy series.

Angel Xia is an Inquisitor whose cases involve hunting down Genevolves.  Her new cases turns her into the hunted when she is betrayed and marked for assassination.  

When she receives a call for help from a young girl, Xia's life becomes even more complicated.

Fast action and interesting view of Artificial Intelligence and genetic manipulation.


SciFi/Crime.  2015.  Print version:  312 pages.

A Deadly Truth is a Victorian suspense novel.  I really liked this description:  When Doyle Flanagan finds two strangers in his library—one dead and the other the beautiful but meddlesome Cady Delafield, his life begins to unravel as all clues point to him for the murder.

If you like Victorian mysteries with a healthy dollop of romance, you might like this one.  I could have done without the cliched romance, but then, my interests rarely lie in this area.  

NetGalley/Champagne Books

Mystery.  2013.  Print version:  272 pages.

The Hidden Legacy was more than satisfying.  The novel opens with a disturbing crime being committed by a young boy.   The trial and the aftermath leave ripples over the surface of many lives.  

Forty years later, Ellen Sutherland receives a letter from a solicitor telling her that she is mentioned in the will of a woman Ellen has never heard of.  At first reluctant to even call to see what is going on, Ellen decides to make the journey to find out more.  Eudora Nash, a complete stranger, has left her home Primrose Cottage to Ellen.  

The property is very valuable, and Ellen's first visit results in her falling in love with the cottage and realizing that a visitor is there under false pretences.  One secret after another is gradually uncovered as the events move back and forth in time.

Sometimes the alternating time sequences were frustrating because I would get so involved in one of the stories and have to abruptly switch to the next--in which I would become utterly involved.  The prologue is particularly difficult because of the horrifying crime, but after that the psychological suspense kept me riveted as the layers unfolded in both past and present.  

Minett manages to add information a little at a time in keeping with Ellen's increasing interest in the secrets behind her bequest.  The alternating time passages are skillfully handled, and I'm happy to find a new author who can hold my interest while keeping me guessing!

NetGalley/Bonnier Publishing

Psychological Suspense.  2015.  Print version: 448 pages.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A New Year

I've taken some time away from the computer lately, and except for reviews that were already scheduled, have been avoiding writing new reviews.  Each morning, on my "to do" list in my journal, I write bk. rev.  Each morning, I give the computer a wide berth, anxiety mounting.

  I've avoided my other blog as well--because the urge to make and create has also been absent.  Of course, I'm reading.  A day rarely passes that I don't read, but every so often the need to retreat into a less active, more internal state of mind just happens.  Especially after the long holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's Celebrations when so much is going on.

What I have been doing, aside from the New Year urge to simplify and get rid of "stuff," is writing letters.  Years ago, I participated in Mail Art, which is an entertaining pastime. This year has brought a renewed interest.  Starting in December, Snail Mail to friends and family has kept me entertained.  Especially letters to my grandchildren (who have, as yet, failed to return a letter).  They love getting mail, but are less interested in actually writing letters in return.  But that's OK, because as much as I love receiving letters (instead of just email), for the moment, my obsession is decorating envelopes and writing letters.

to my daughters and a friend

this one went to a blog friend in Australia

grandson- he loves superheroes


Now, maybe I should write some book reviews...or get back to cleaning out and purging the accumulated mess.  GoodWill, here I come.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Catching UP

I'm so behind on everything, including reviewing books I read in 2015.  I've grouped some reviews I had drafts of together and am trying to get caught up on others.

Thorn by Vena Cork is set in London.  

A family disrupted and grieving after the father's death, has each member trying to deal with the loss in different ways as their lives have permanently changed.  Rosa Thorn must take a temporary teaching position at a nearby school.  Her children, Danny and Anna must leave their expensive private academy and join their mother at the same neighborhood school.

Thorn kept my interest up until the conclusion.  Unsure of the villain, I had suspected the actual culprit at times, but there were other possibilities that kept it interesting.  Until the very end, I was not sure who the guilty party was.  What bothered me was the long, feverish, and overdone finale.

Thorn (first published in 2003) is the first in a series, but I am surprised that the Thorn family saga continues, as it reads like a self-contained standalone.  The next in the series is The Art of Dying, and despite my discomfort with the conclusion of Thorn, I'm eager to read more by Cork.

Read in Dec.; review scheduled for Dec. 30, 2015.  Jan.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Mystery/Suspense.  2003; Dec. 18, 2015.  Print length:  352 pages.

Passenger 19 by Ward Larsen.  

Brief description:  Jammer Davis has spent most of his life investigating aircraft accidents. When a small regional jet disappears over the jungles of Colombia, it is a tragedy like dozens of others he has seen…but for one terrible detail—his young daughter, who was enroute to a semester abroad in South America, is listed on the passenger manifest.  

 Although it would seem that all aboard died in the crash, Jammer's investigation reveals that the crash was no accident and that at least two passengers are missing from the crash scene.  A search for their remains comes up empty.  Jammer is convinced that his daughter is still alive, but both Colombian officials and his own government appear to be thwarting his investigation.

Crime, corruption, and suspense make this fast-paced novel an engrossing read.

Read in August; review scheduled for Dec. Jan.

Thriller.  Jan. 5, 2016.  Print length:  368 pages.  

   Hillwilla by Melanie Forde is listed as literary/contemporary/women's fiction.  

Brief description:  Beatrice Desmond, 55, lives on a remote farm nestled in a deep hollow in southern West Virginia. A native of Boston and a graduate of an Ivy League college, Beatrice is a fish out of water in Seneca County; although she maintains contact with certain friends and family, too often, Beatrice retreats into her work as a translator and editor, or into the bottle of Jack Daniel’s she maintains nearby. Fate finally intervenes, requiring Beatrice to befriend and shelter Clara, an abused teenager, and accept the job of ghostwriting the memoir of her dashing but enigmatic neighbor, Tanner Fordyce.

I think I may have chosen this one because of the cover, but the description interested me as well.  I became quickly immersed in the novel and enjoyed.  Beatrice is an interesting (if crotchety) character, and I love the setting.

Read in December.

NetGalley/Mountain Lake Press

Contemporary Fiction.  2014.  Print length: 208 pages.

A Better World by Marcus Sakey is the second book in the Brilliance trilogy, but I have not read the first book.  No worries, this one gave just enough background to allow me to enjoy this one without having read the first one.

In the 1980's children began to be born who were gifted in a a wide range of ways and a wide range of levels (Tier 1-Tier 4).  As the children grew up, their gifts became more obvious, and the world had to admit that a small percentage of these individuals had abilities that ranged from the ability to anticipate movement, to being able to tell if someone is lying or telling the truth, to the ability to read patterns to the extent that they can predict what will happen.  At first, perhaps, a novelty, but eventually, some of "the normals" begin to perceive these individuals as threats.  
As the children have grown into adults with these gifts, they have become both sought after and discriminated against because of their skills.  In this second book in the series, the U.S. is on the verge of a civil war.  Normals hugely outnumber Brilliants, but Brilliants have innate talents that can, in some cases, protect them.  Terrorism and corruption escalate the division between the two groups...and the end result might be the destruction of the world for both groups.

Suspenseful.  Easy to make some comparisons to the world's current problems.  

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Suspense/Dystopian/Thriller.  2014.  Print length:  392 pages.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Sanctuary Bay by Laura J. Burns & Melinda Metz

Sanctuary Bay by Jennifer Bosworth.  Great cover and an interesting premise: isolated, elite prep school; mixed race girl with traumatic background gets scholarship; something creepy going at the school.  Anything sound familiar?  I'm a bit of a sucker for this kind of novel.  The book started off very well, engaging me with Sarah, the protagonist, and her feelings.  However, it didn't take long for this one to go south for me. Sarah's willingness to get sucked into the "secret society" didn't fit with either her intelligence or the toughness she seemed to have from her difficult childhood.  Even when she begins to stand up against the "pack," it didn't work for me.

Also a cliffhanger.

Read in November; blog post scheduled for ??

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

YA/Mystery/Suspense.  Jan. 19, 2016.  Print length:  320 pages

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

I became a great fan of Tami Hoag when I read The Ninth Girl and quickly read and reviewed every other book in the Kovac and Liska series.  The Bitter Season is the fifth in the series.

One reason this series works for me is that in some books detectives Kovac and Liska take center stage while in others, they are in the chorus line--so to speak.  

In The Bitter Season both Kovac and Liska are featured, but Hoag splits them up.  Nikki Liska has gone to the cold case squad so she can spend more time with her young sons, while Sam Kovac must break in a new partner in homicide.  Each misses the comfortable relationship they have had in the past, but must adjust to their new situations.

Katherine Quinn makes a token appearance in this one, as do members of the homicide squad that are familiar from the previous novels.  Hoag keeps the series fresh with the change-ups, but gives us the sense of familiarity any series reader appreciates.  I like Sam's new partner and hope to see more of him in future books.  And I hate having to wait for the next in the series!

Read in November; blog post scheduled for Dec. 29, 2015.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Police Procedural.  Jan. 12, 2016.  Print length:  416 pages.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Some NetGalley Mysteries

Blood Sisters by Graham Masterton.  The fifth in the Katie Maguire series begins with the murder of horses, but escalates to the murders of quite a few others, but specializing in nuns.  The novel glories in brutal and grotesque murders, and I wasn't too impressed with Katie Maguire, either.  Don't think I'll be going back to pick up the earlier books.

If you are Catholic, you might want to give this one a pass.  

NetGalley.  Feb. 1, 2016.

e-Murderer by Joan C. Curtis.  What would you do if you suddenly began receiving e-mails from an anonymous and untraceable person who described the murder of a young woman?  Jenna Scala begins receiving e-mails at work, but addressed to her specifically, describing the death of a coed.  Unable to trace the source and unsure if the messages are genuine or a nasty prank, Jenna takes the messages to her psychiatrist boss who is disinclined to get the police searching for information concerning his clients.  Then the frightening messages become more personal.

Even though the author continues to throw viable suspects at the reader, I pretty much knew the culprit early on.  All the characters are surprisingly clueless, but the premise, if handled a bit more subtly, is a good one for a mystery.

NetGalley.  Dec. 17, 2015.

The Work of a Narrow Mind by Faith Martin.  Hillary Green is a retired officer now working on cold cases as a civilian.  Although I've not read any other books in this long series,  it did not interfere with the story. Hillary's interns couldn't be more different, but both are intent on learning from Hillary's skill and experience.  A couple of storylines in this one.

NetGalley.  Dec. 15, 2015.

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

The Children's Home

A strange book.  I'm at a loss about how to describe it and have conflicted feelings about the content or maybe the presentation of the content.

Morgan Fletcher has been hiding on his secluded estate for years, his face destroyed in some unexplained event, unable to face the reaction people have when they see him.  His companion is a housekeeper who is efficient, kindly, and unaffected by Morgan's appearance.

And then a child mysteriously appears and Morgan and his housekeeper take the child in and care for it.  Then more children appear, the ages varying.  None seem at all put off by Morgan's disfigurement, but...the children are strange.

When one of the children is ill, the local doctor is called in and eventually, he and Morgan become good friends.  The three adults are protective of the children, but Morgan and Dr. Crane are gradually more and more puzzled by their behavior.

The author keeps everything indistinct, ambiguous, mysterious, and increasingly sinister.  At some point I formed some suspicions, which proved to be true, but in the most unexpected and bizarre manner.  I'm not at all sure about how to classify The Children's Home:  parable, allegory, magical realism, psychological suspense, horror...?   I'm not even sure that I liked it.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.  Source
Read in June, 2015; blog review scheduled for Dec. 28, 2016.


Psychological/Fantasy? Jan. 5, 2016.  Print version: 224 pages.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Medieval Mysteries--Owen Archer series by Candace Robb

The Nun's Tale is the third in the series, and the only one that has given me pause.  It is a dark tale, but the inspiration came from a real incident.  Chaucer makes a brief appearance which, given the title, is entirely appropriate.  A lot of interesting historical information and the introduction of some new minor characters who will show up later--but the nun's role bothered me.

The King's Bishop begins with the suspicious death of a page and an accusation against Owen's friend Ned.  Ned has fallen in love with one of Alice Perrer's maids, and Alice gives Ned an alibi by admitting that Ned was with her servant at the time of the murder.  Ned is removed from the scene when assigned to a delegation to a Cistercian abbey in hopes of gaining support for the king's nomination for a bishop.  More murder and political maneuvering ensue.  I felt like the books were back on track with this one.

The Riddle of St. Leonard's is particularly interesting because of two factors:  the return of the plague and a mystery involving the deaths of several corrodians.  Corrodians made donations of money, land, or housing to an abbey or monastery, and in return, received care and accommodation for the rest of their lives.  St. Leonard's provided housing, food, and medical care for its carrodians in the city of York.  Some of the corrodians, however, lived beyond the worth of their endowments and instead of making a profit, the church had to absorb the loss. The practice was being curtailed at the time of the novel.  Lots of twists in this one.

 The Gift of Sanctuary  finds Owen returning to Wales on a mission for the Duke of Lancaster.  Traveling with him are his father-in-law (on pilgrimage), Geoffrey Chaucer (to report on the fortifications in Wales), and the temperamental Brother Michaelo, who has made some drastic changes since the first book.  Again, the characters have depth and unique personalities, but of course, there is a murder and some political deceit as well.

I really like this series of medieval mysteries.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher is a re-imagining of the old Blue Beard tale.

Plot Description: Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords—no matter how sinister they may seem—Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.
Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”
With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

The style is similar to fairy tales in maintaining a distance, a kind of disconnect,  from the characters and their situations.  I like Kate Bernheimer's description of character "flatness" (Fairy Tale Is Form, Form Is Fairy Tale) as a way of explaining that distance. 

But as much as I love original tales, one reason I enjoy re-tellings and modern versions is that there is a much more personal take on the characters.  The Seventh Bride somehow manages a little more rounding of characters while still keeping that disconnect.  In the grim, dark elements of this tale there is a feeling of remote observation of events, even though much of the book is first person as related by Rhea.  As a result, I couldn't place the story in either the traditional, abstract camp or the modern, psychological/personal camp.

In attempting a new twist on the traditional Bluebeard tale, the book seems to be trying to hard--especially in the descriptions of the previous wives.  Since I was unable to really identify with Rhea, the protagonist, or find much interest in the previous wives other than their oddity, the book failed to really satisfy me. 

Note:  I am in the minority in my opinion.  Reviews are very favorable.  

"T. Kingfisher is the vaguely absurd pen-name of an author from North Carolina. In another life, as Ursula Vernon, she writes children’s books and weird comics, and has won the Hugo, Sequoyah, Mythopoeic, Nebula and Ursa Major awards, as well as a half-dozen Junior Library Guild selections."
 (via T.

Fairy Tale/YA.  2014; 2015.  Print length:  236 pages.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Two Medieval Mysteries: The Apothecary Rose and The Lady Chapel

After reading several good NetGalley offerings, I started and discarded several more.  Since Medieval mysteries are a sub-genre I relish, I decided to try a new series.  Candace Robb writes the Owen Archer series set in the late 1300's, and having read some good things about the series, I decided to give it a try.

It was, fortunately or unfortunately, a reminder of the potato chip commercial:  "Bet you can't eat just one."  

Candace Robb did PhD studies in  Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature (ABD, all-but-dissertation) and has continued to research the fields thoroughly for each book.  

I love Beowulf , Chaucer, and medieval history.  I still have my Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, although I was required to do very little translation of it for that course in Old English. My copy is a college text edition, nothing like the beautiful original manuscript (which is fortunate, since the cover has teeth marks where our dog Emily decided to taste Old English many years ago).

In the Author's Note at the conclusion of The Apothecary Rose (first in the Owen Archer series), Robb includes quite a bit of interesting information about the use of longbows (6-foot bows that "were capable of penetrating chain mail and had a range of about 275 yards,"  a proficient bowman could shoot 10 or 12 arrows per minute, as opposed to a crossbow's two per minute); the 14th c. city of York, including its importance as an ecclesiastical center;  the long war in France and its consequences; politics of church and state; medical and herbal treatments, etc.  

Some of this was familiar due to my interest in both medieval history and medieval mysteries, but there is always new information and new perspectives on familiar topics.

Robb also has some intriguing comments on the three hats a writer of historical mysteries must wear.  Not all writers of historical mysteries manage all three as well as Robb.  She creates well-developed novels with dynamic characters; gets the chronology right (or explains why some changes are included); makes sure that the places she mentions in the city of York are well-researched and accurate; and avoids superfluous historical detail that doesn't develop the story.  Some of that detail can be found in the Author Notes, and you can easily skip those if you choose.

The Apothecary Rose is set in 1363 in the city of York.  The main character Owen Archer had been the Captain of the Archers under Henry of Lancaster, until losing an eye.  The old Duke found a use for Owen as a spy, but when the old Duke died, Owen found himself having to choose between John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and the new Duke, John of Gaunt.  Thinking that the Archbishop would be a better choice, Owen discovers that politics and self-service trump religion more often than not.  Owen is a little naive, thinks more like a soldier, and does not admire Thoresby's worldliness and easy moral stance.  

When two suspicious deaths occur in the infirmary of St. Mary's Abbey, Thoresby sends Owen in to determine if the deaths are connected and if murder was done.  Although Owen is not aware, the reader knows who is responsible--the mystery is not who, but why. (And I have to admit the why wasn't a complete satisfaction for me.)

An intricate story set in a world of both fact and fiction, with historical detail that aids rather than distracts from the compelling plot and characters.  From the infirmary to the apothecary shop to the machinations of some of the church figures, Robb gripped my imagination and allowed me to immerse myself in another time and place with characters that engaged my interest.  

Purchased.  Read in Nov., 2015.  Blog review scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015.

Medieval Mystery.  1993; 2015.  Print length:  340 pages.  

I immediately ordered the next in the series.

The Lady Chapel takes the title from a thread running through the novels about the real John Thoresby and his determination to complete the Lady Chapel for his tomb.  

A man is murdered and his body left on the steps of York Minster--missing a hand.  The Archbishop once again recruits Owen Archer to solve the mystery, but the body count rises.  An orphan is in danger, the complicated reasons behind the murders involve the wool industry and the financing of a war, and Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, makes an appearance.

Of interest to me:  

--the Town Waits, musicians employed by the city and provided with livery, salary, and silver chains of office.  They were common in every English town up until the beginning of the 19th c., according to Wikipedia.  I'd never heard the term before, but guess they were similar to city sponsored orchestras in the present.  Cool.

--the wool industry and the smuggling and the way Edward III tried to make money for his war in France.  And frequently, went back on his word.

--the fact that the novel began when Robb read an account of the Goldbetter lawsuit and "false monies" from Edward III

All of these things and more are responsible for instigating the plot, yet don't require thorough knowledge.  Robb doesn't bog the story down with unnecessary detail, but I always get a bit sidetracked with history and find Robb's Author Notes fascinating!

Purchased.  Read in Nov., 2015.  Blog review scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015.

Medieval Mystery.  1994; 2015.  Print length:  402 pages.