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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd

I saved several books I received from NetGalley in the summer-- awaiting Carl's RIP Challenge.  I'm glad I did because as soon as September hit, I dived headlong into the challenge with enough scary, paranormal, horror type books to keep me involved for a while.

The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd is the one I looked forward to the most as I've read all of her books  set in Victorian England and featuring Charles Maddox.  Yet I delayed starting it because of the intense, but subtle undercurrent of threat that accompanies the Charles Maddox series.  I have to be in the right mood to enjoy (or subject myself?) to the melancholic menace Shepherd's writing delivers.  

Charles Maddox isn't an entirely likable protagonist.  As a means of imparting atmospheric stories, however, Charles is a complete success.  Or perhaps I should give credit for that not to Charles, but to the omniscient narrator who respects Charles, but doesn't withhold details that expose his flaws.  

As for the writing style, I have to admit that many readers have a problem with the detail, the lengthy sentences, and the slow revelations.  All true, but the books are creepy and historic, with loads of allusions to Victoriana and the authors and works of the period.  I like this element, but can understand some of the objections to pace.  

The Pierced Heart presents a different version of the Dracula story.  If you've read Bram Stoker's Dracula, you will at once pick up on similarities of characters, descriptions, and style--yet the book is not simply telling the story from another point of view.  It is, rather, the telling the story that might have inspired Bram Stoker to write his fictional version of certain events.  In fact, I kept expecting Stoker himself to appear in the story, grateful for the inspiration and ready to put pen to paper.  At first, I thought that the young man Charles met in the library was Stoker (he did have red hair), but I realized the timing wasn't right, Stoker would have been a toddler in 1851.

If you like Gothic novels, The Pierced Heart fulfills the qualifications for the genre and gives another version of one of the most popular Gothic characters of all time. 

My fourth book for the RIP challenge.

NetGalley/Random House/Bantam Dell

Gothic/Mystery/Historic Fiction.  Oct. 21, 2014.  Print length:  256 pages.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Lazarus Prophecy by F.G. Cottam

The Lazarus Prophecy is a supernatural/horror/crime story that involves attempts by the Catholic Church to contain an ancient evil.  Unfortunately, not everyone believes in the concept or the prophecy, and as a result a terrible demon is loose in London.    
The first victims are prostitutes, and in spite of the distressing mutilations of the bodies, the killer has left no clues.  With each victim, the killer has left a message, written in archaic languages requiring linguists to decipher them. 

Always a step ahead, the killer enjoys taunting the police and leaving them hand-delivered messages directing them to the next body.  DCI Jane Sullivan is in charge of the investigation, and in spite of her impressive solve rate, the investigation remains stymied.

When the killer moves from prostitutes to a well-known and respected actress, the media attention becomes pervasive, whipping up public fear and putting pressure on not only the police, but the government itself.

What are the connections to the Whitechapel Murders of 1888?  To the secluded monastery in the Pyrenees?  To historical characters and their descendants?  Who hopes to profit from the frenzy of blame?  What is the end-game of the killer?

This is a horror story, and even if you can't fully accept all the details of the premise and have some questions about a few gaps in explanations, you may not be able to avoid the feelings of dread and trepidation the novel evokes.

This is my third book for Carl's RIP IX challenge.  It certainly kept me on tenterhooks.

NetGalley/Bloomsbury

Horror/Supernatural.  Sept. 2, 2014.  Print length:  289 pages. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson (RIP IX)

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson is a stand alone novel, and not part of her series about Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther, the detective duo series set in the late 18th century.  I've enjoyed all of the novels in that series and expected to enjoy this one as well.  It is my second book for Carl's RIP challenge.

The Paris Winter is another success for Robertson, but it is very different from the Westerman/Crowther series in both characters and setting.  Paris in the early 1900's was a creative mecca for artists and writers, and Robertson makes the most of the setting, capturing not only the physical elements of the city, but the atmosphere created by the artists themselves, the gender gap, the tremendous disparity between rich and poor, the divergence between the innocent and the worldly, the vulnerable and the powerful.

Maude Heighton gathered her tiny inheritance and all of her courage and came to Paris to train as an artist at Lafond's Academie, but she finds herself barely holding on with insufficient funds to keep her head much above the water (as soon as I wrote the phrase, I realized how much water had influenced my thoughts of the novel).  Money is so short that Maude is practically starving and terrified of the coming winter which could put an end to all of her hopes.  But then her friends manage to get her to visit a Mrs. Harris, who aids young women in Paris.  

A job as a companion to a young woman who is ill and who would like to improve her English is on offer.  The accommodations and reimbursement will make life much easier for Maude. One voice questions the largess and perhaps the purpose of the job, but when Maude's friend Tanya interviews the prospective employer, all seems above board.  Maude is delighted.  She is grateful for the money and the pleasant surroundings, and she likes Sylvie.  She is finally free of the stress of poverty and can spend more time with her art.

Nevertheless, the reader is aware from the first pages of the novel that not all will go well.  There is a brooding atmosphere that permeates, even when Maude's circumstances appear to improve. In fact, the sense of impending disaster becomes worse, because we now fear that Maude will encounter something even worse that starvation,  something deliberately malicious.

If you love art, you will enjoy the names of artists who had not yet become famous and the discussions of artistic styles.  If you are not interested in art, don't worry--the tidbits are like lagniappe, thrown in free of charge, and they never distract from the story.  For me these little inclusions of characters who actually lived and eventually triumphed in their fields were a large part of my enjoyment.  These inclusions are not, however, pedantic, and Robertson never lets them dominate.  

Even characters like Mrs. Harris are based on real people, and an interview with the author after the conclusion of the book was very informative.  (I would never have guessed who the Dante scholar would turn out to be, but perhaps you will.)

An evocative image of the Belle Epoque in Paris, the novel includes a compelling plot, characters that you can love and hate (and sometimes want to shake), and lots of historical detail.   While it isn't particularly fast-paced, it is compelling.  The Paris Winter kept me unsettled and apprehensive throughout.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Historical Mystery.  April, 2013; Nov., 2014.  Print length:  368 pages.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Recent YA Reads

Undertow is the first book in a new series by K.R. Conway. Definitely YA, but more than the typical teen romance and more than a paranormal fantasy.  I think what lifted it above the "typical" has to do with the setting and the way Conway managed a connection between the main characters.  It was fun to watch a group of disparate personalities coalesce and work together.

We're not talking great literature, but light entertainment with a bit of the supernatural and a great setting.  Not on par with Megan Whalen Turner or Maggie Stiefvater, but  still fun -- with a little suspense and with characters that I enjoyed.  

Funny thing, when I "opened" the ebook, it started with a blurb that almost put me off the book.  One of those blurbs that use the term  drool-worthy, setting my teeth on edge.  Worse, the way it was presented made me think I was starting the first chapter of the book, not just reading a blurb.  I'm glad I "paged" on and found the Prologue (a scene from 1851) because that reignited my interest.

Eila Walker, a high school senior, inherits a house on Cape Cod.  Not just any house, but a beautiful one built by one of her ancestors before 1850.  Gifts like that are never free of complications and there are plenty of those.  The book is definitely a teenage romance, but it does have more to offer.

NetGalley

YA/Supernatural.  2013.  Print length:  400 pages.



Fight Dirty by C.J. Lyons is the second series I've read recently featuring the child of a serial killer, in this case, a fifteen-year-old girl.  

Morgan is certainly not the typical teenager, but despite the fact that the horrifying life she led with her father has left her with a manipulative nature and, uh, unnatural skills, Morgan is determined to find a way to exist in the society of "normals" and stay out of prison.  She is quite happy to have her father locked up, however.

As in Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers and Game, I still find it difficult to see how any child could be an accomplice to such horrific crimes and not be committed to some kind of psychiatric care, but I was able to suspend my disbelief a little better in Morgan's case.    Interesting that Morgan never questions her own psyche, she accepts it and plans to avoid succumbing to it.  Jazz (I Hunt Killers) kept wondering if he was or if he wasn't a psychopath capable of murder.  Morgan knows she is capable of murder, but also believes she can control her urge to kill the people who annoy her.

There are some strong adult figures in Andre and Nick that attempt to be supportive, even if they don't fully trust Morgan.  (Note that I'm not including Jenna, who may have more problems than Morgan.  Not an admirable role model, Jenna.)  

It is quickly apparent that Morgan is willing to do to whatever is necessary to become a member of the society that her father preyed upon-- in order to avoid prison.  She is aware that if she does what she has been trained to do (and has few qualms about), she will be locked up eventually.  It isn't always easy, but Morgan is an extremely intelligent and mature fifteen-year-old and is able to anticipate what behavior might get her what she wants from different people. 

This is a fast-paced novel that left me wanting more Morgan.  The novel has a definite conclusion the plot, but also leaves the reader a clue about what will be involved in the sequel.  

Morgan was a secondary character in a previous novel by Lyons.  I haven't read any of the Lucy Guardino FBI Thrillers series, but evidently Jenna Galloway was a character in at least one of the books.  

About C.J. Lyons   "During her seventeen years as a pediatrician, CJ assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide, and Munchausen by Proxy. She has worked in numerous trauma centers, on the Navajo reservation, and as a crisis counselor, victim advocate, and flight physician for Life Flight and Stat Medevac."

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Crime/Mystery.  Oct. 7, 2014.  Print Length:  326 pages.




The 100 by Kass Morgan    A YA science fiction novel, The 100 has what is left of the earth's population orbiting the atmosphere for three hundred years.  An important factor for the survival of the community is population control.  Of course, there are several logical means of keeping the population in balance, but there are more brutal ways as well.

The plot focuses on the use of the death penalty for many infractions.  If juveniles break the law (even in very minor ways), they are imprisoned until their 18th birthdays and then re-tried.  For Clarke, whose 18th birthday is approaching, her retrial will result in her execution.  

At the last minute, however, a new plan is revealed:  one hundred juvenile offenders will be sent to earth.  If they survive any toxic after-effects the atmosphere suffers from the nuclear war, then the planet can be recolonized.  If not, then at least the  juveniles will not have to be retried and executed.  Win/Win for the government--get rid of 100 juvenile offenders and, possibly, find it safe to return to earth. 

There are some interesting concepts to consider:  How does a community survive in space for three hundred years with limited space and resources.   How do those individuals sent down as test subjects make a life for themselves on earth, especially with no experience and/or skills?  If these concepts had been better developed, the book would have held some promise as not one, but two survival stories.  As it turned out the plot is not really much concerned about either one.  Both the space station and the earth community are sort of like facades or stage sets.

The book doesn't  satisfy, and I think it could have with a little effort and research.  Minimal character development, a lack of explanation about how in heck the space station has survived the many problems that centuries in space would entail, and a plot that seems pretty unfocused and painfully coincidental.

The premise has been made into a television series.

NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


YA/Science Fiction/Dystopian.  2013.  Print Length:  327 pages.


The 100:  Day 21  

Well, I wasn't all that impressed with the first book, but I hoped the second would be an improvement.  

Not really.  And a cliffhanger.  

NetGalley/Little, Brown

YA/SciFi/Dystopian.  Feb., 2015.  Print length:  352 pages.










Monday, September 15, 2014

Broken Harbour by Tana French

Somehow the review of Broken Harbour fell into the "I'll do it soon" pile.  I don't review all of the books I read, sometimes just because I forget, but I don't forget Tana French's novels; they linger, not just in certain details, but in the atmosphere that emerges while reading,

Broken Harbour is one of those with a pervasive atmosphere that leaves the reader uneasy almost from the beginning.  French pulls Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, a secondary character from Faithful Place, and gives him top billing in Broken Harbor.  

Ever since In the Woods, French has made a habit of including characters that will appear in new works.  Rob and Cassie took pride of place in In the Woods; Cassie stepped out alone in The Likeness (which introduced Frank Mackey);  Frank Mackey leads in  Faithful Place which introduced both Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy and Stephen Moran; Broken Harbour features Mick Kennedy, and The Secret Place features Stephen Moran (with appearances by Holly and Frank Mackey), and I expect her next novel will include Detective Antoinette Conway.

This is a clever way to go deeper into the lead characters while introducing prospective lead characters.  We learn more about each protagonist, but we don't get tired of them, and we are familiar with characters in the new novels.  A series that provides both continuity and discovery....

Broken Harbour  examines the ramifications of the recession and is set in a small housing estate where the homes look good, but have actually been cheaply constructed.  In addition to cheap construction and out-of-the-way location, the builders went bankrupt and most of the houses in the planned project remain unfinished and uninhabited.  When a dreadful murder leaves only the mother of the family alive, Mick Kennedy and his rookie partner are called in.  Was it a murder or was the father responsible?

What is so compelling is the way little things (what is said and unsaid, small decisions that loom large, different ways of seeing the same thing) have huge ramifications when accumulated.  Decisions made by the Spain family and their friends, by Kennedy and his much less experienced partner, situations from the past-- influence each character including the investigating detectives and shape the events in the novel.  The outside factor,  the recession and its effect on the economy, sets everything in motion with disastrous effects. 

A novel without an evil character out to harm anyone, Broken Harbour sees many flawed, but decent characters inadvertently hurtling toward tragic consequences.  

After reading Tana French's latest novel The Secret Place, I'm so glad I went back and read this one.  Now, I am up to date with all of the novels in this series.

When I went to Goodreads to post my review, I saw this one by Nataliya.  It is a terrific review and has excerpts from an interview with Tana French about what prompted the book.  

I read this in  August before the RIP Challenge began, but it would make a great RIP choice.

Psychological Suspense.   2012.  Print length:  426 pages.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly (RIP #1)

The Wolf in Winter is a Charlie Parker mystery that blends the supernatural with mystery.  I've read and reviewed two other books by John Connolly:  The Book of Lost Things (a YA novel) and The Whisperers, another Charlie Parker mystery.  I liked them both, although one is a YA fantasy about a boy who gets lost in fairy tales and the other a dark adult mystery/paranormal novel.

The Wolf in Winter finds Charlie Parker looking into the death of Jude, a homeless man that had recently wanted to hire Parker to look for his missing daughter.  It appears that Jude's death is a suicide, but one of Jude's homeless friends has doubts, and Parker begins to wonder.

Parker's investigation leads him to Prosperous, Maine, a town that has an unusual ability to "prosper" even in hard times and that shuns outsiders.  The inhabitants are all descendants of the town's founders, except for those who have married into one of the original families.  

There you go.  Bound to be some supernatural element when a centuries-old town remains peopled by descendants of the same founding fathers.  Especially since their church, which no longer has an official congregation, was brought over stone by stone from England and rebuilt.  The church has a certain threatening atmosphere, emphasized by leering images of the Green Man and definitely lacks the feel of any Christian sect.  

The town leaders of Prosperous are not pleased with Jude's inquiries, and after his death, Parker's questions create a threat the Selectmen of the town will not tolerate.

Angel and Louis play a small part, as do villains from the past like the Collector and the lawyer Eldritch, the Believers, the Backers, and Cambion.

Mostly character driven, the plot does keep the suspense building.  Connolly manages to do this extremely well and without gory details.  The lack of gory details (oh, there are few of those with Cambion), does not affect the tension the novel evokes.

A great RIP novel that has good writing, well-developed characters, suspense, and a lingering feeling of evil.  Since I'm reviewing this for Carl's RIP Challenge, I'm reviewing it a little early and will mention it again closer to the publication date.  You can get it from NetGalley if you want it for the challenge.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Suspense/Mystery/Supernatural.  Oct. 28, 2014.  Print length:  416 pages.



Friday, September 12, 2014

Some Thoughts on YA Novels

Is including fantasy, sex, and violence all that is required for a YA novel?  So many authors of YA books appear to feel that all that is required to appeal to their target audience are young characters and violence and/or sex.   How condescending.

It isn't that I believe sex and violence should be excluded from YA fiction, just that there should be a purpose to it other than titillation.  Sex and violence do not need to be treated casually as the main draw of the book, do they?

---------
What do I think should be included in YA and Juvenile books?


  • Good characterization and dialogue.  Skimpy novels that rely on a stereotypical version of someone else's characters just to get published do readers an injustice.  Recently, the dialogue in several YA novels has left me pondering where the authors live, if they have any contact with adolescents, what kind of conversations the authors themselves indulge in.  Characters in YA novels often sound so...hollow.  
  • Plots that are intriguing and require some thought.  Yes, even young children can appreciate a well-considered plot with plenty of detail.
  • The inclusion of good vocabulary, allusions, history, or current events that encourage young readers to do some research of their own volition.
  • Strong supporting characters, often adults but not always, that provide guidance, consolation, comfort, and inspiration.  Although there are negative characters in life and literature, there are also people we can depend on to do their best, even if they are not always successful.
  • A  sense of values.  Integrity, responsibility, trustworthiness, etc.  Not in a pedantic way, but proof that, although characters can make mistakes and bad decisions, they can improve, solve problems, overcome circumstances.  There are consequences to negative actions, but there are also ways in which we can improve our situations and become better individuals, both in fiction and in life.
What would I like to see less of in YA novels?
  • Emphasis on appearances (full lips, great pecs--so overdone is so many YA novels)
  • Sex.  Does not need to be overemphasized or detailed.  Plot and characterization should always take precedence.  A personal preference, perhaps, but I don't like gratuitous sex in any novels.  
  • Insta-love.  What a great lesson to teach young people.  Not.  Especially since most insta-love is based on appearance.  Attraction is one thing, but love requires something more than appearance and hormones.  
In all fiction, I tend to be drawn to mystery, fantasy, and science fiction.  Good old entertainment and escape novels.  They don't have to be worthy of being classified as great literature; they just have to be good entertainment.

---------------------

The above is from a draft I wrote in February, but after my last review, Melody made a comment about that sent me searching for this draft.
 "Generally, I often find myself in a dilemma reading a YA with dark and violent elements. They may be intriguing, but I'm not sure if those might have some impact on the YA readers, given some school violence we've seen today. I just hope that the readers would be mature enough to distinguish the difference between fiction and reality."
 Thanks, Melody, for reminding me that this is a subject that interests me.  I read a all kinds of fiction--including children's and YA novels. Some are excellent for readers of any age, but some are disappointing (at least to me) in what they offer young readers.

Those of you who love and read YA fiction, what do you look for in this broad category?  Do you prefer certain genres?  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Back Home and Some Catch-up Reviews


When I mentioned going on a road trip, I failed to understand that most of the trip would really  be on the road!  We did get to visit some friends and had a great time in Eureka Springs, but came home tired.  Really tired. 

And then I seemed to have some kind of additional exhaustion that called for refusing to get back on any kind of schedule and a lot of naps.  I had several drafts in progress, so I've dragged myself to the computer to get some posted.


I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga is listed as a YA book.  It isn't, however, what you would normally consider YA material.  The premise--what if your father was a notorious serial killer?--is excellent, but the book degenerates into 1) grisly murders (lots & lots of them) and 2)  repetitive  ponderings by Jazz on whether or not he is like his father.  Not that one wouldn't spend a lot of time considering the possibility given the circumstances, but Jazz recites certain phrases like a mantra and the subject is kept on the surface rather than given much depth.

The book had such potential as a study of a young person who has been subjected to the teachings of a murderer and as an attempt of said young person to come to terms with the ramifications of a totally dysfunctional family, but that potential is never fulfilled.  


Favorite character:  Jazz's best friend, Howie.


I would have liked this a lot better if the author had spent less time with thinking up shocking details and concentrated more on a more in depth study of character.  It does have a certain suspenseful tension that could have been excellent if not immediately followed by gore.


NetGalley/ Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Suspense.  2012.  Print length:  281 pages.



Game is the follow-up book to I Hunt Killers.  The first one has a conclusion, even though you expect the next book in the series, the plot is wrapped up.  Not so in Game.

If you can get past seventeen-year-old Jazz being recruited by the NYPD  (even if the recruiting is only by one member of the crime force hunting for the Hat-Dog killer), then you will probably be up for the new grisly murders.  


Jazz just steps right in and takes charge with his special knowledge and puts all of the NYPD and FBI task force to shame.  Because adults always call in adolescent children of serial killers to aid in their investigations.  


Oh, yes, it turns out that the first inclusion of Jazz was off-the-books by a lone task force member, but after being kicked off the investigation, he is then called back in.  Because they can't solve the case without him.


Of course, Billy Dent is involved, manipulating the game, but is there someone even higher in the serial killer hierarchy than Billy?   If you want to find out, there is always the next book, because this one is a cliff hanger.


NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Suspense.  2013.  Print length:  532 pages.


Saturday, September 06, 2014

ARCs in the Mail

Bitter River   was an ARC that arrived in the mail and gave me another author to follow.

Publishers Weekly:        The murder of 16-year-old Lucinda Trimble, whose strangled body is found in a car in the Bitter River, propels Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Keller's worthy sequel to her well-received adult fiction debut, A Killing in the Hills (2012). As West Virginia prosecutor Bell Elkins and the rest of closely knit Acker's Gap struggle to fathom who could have wanted to kill the popular high school honor student, a sniper fires at the county courthouse, almost killing Bell's assistant. Days later, a devastating explosion levels Ike's diner, moments after the divorced attorney finished breakfast with her much younger lover, Clay Meckling. Suddenly, remote Acker's Gap seems under siege, with Bell, stalwart sheriff Nick Fogelsong, and their team scrambling to find answers before the next attack. Ultimately, some of them prove less interesting than the questions Keller, a native West Virginian, poses about the nature of friendship and family—as well as the engaging, unsentimentalized Appalachian community she has created.  

Keller is a skillful author, and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  I will be reading more of Julia Keller in the future, including the first one in the series.

Read in July

Mystery/Crime.  Sept. 3, 2013.  397 pages.



Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason.  Another ARC in the mail.  I've only read one other book by Indridason, and I didn't like it at all.  This one was better, but still not something I'd have read if it hadn't just arrived in the mail.  He has many devoted fans, but I don't happen to be one.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Erlendur, the doleful Reykjavik police inspector (Outrage, 2012), has taken leave from his job to return to Iceland’s remote Eastern Fjords. He is camping very rough in the collapsing remains of the farmhouse his family abandoned after his younger brother, Bergur, disappeared in a savage blizzard that Erlendur barely survived. Walking the moors, Erlendur meets an old man named Boas who took part in the search for Bergur, and the voluble Boas tells him of another disappearance. A woman named Matthildur set out for her mother’s house in 1942 and disappeared in another blizzard. Erlendur begins to visit surviving people who knew Matthildur, and he ultimately stitches together a tale of lies, betrayals, and murder. But all the while, it is Bergur’s disappearance—and Erlendur’s guilt—that obsesses him. His interviews with people who knew Matthildur, all in their eighties and nineties, recall the voices of Norse sagas: pithy, concise, and very matter-of-fact about everything, including their own impending deaths. These encounters are brilliantly written, and the Matthildur “case” is wonderfully convoluted. The dour detective courts hypothermia each night in the farmhouse, has ethereal encounters with an augur from his youth, and finds some respite from his lifelong grief. Strange Shores reads as if it could be the last entry in the Erlendur cycle. If so, it’s a superb end to a haunting series. --Thomas Gaughan
There were elements in this one that interested me, but overall I found it slow and not "brilliantly written or "wonderfully convoluted."  That's just me, you might love it and many other readers did, indeed, love it.
Read in Aug.
Scandinavian/Crime/Mystery.  Aug. 26, 2014.  305 pages.

The Cat Sitter's Nine Lives by Blaize & John Clement is a cozy mystery.  I'm not always satisfied with cozies, but I did enjoy this one.  Publishers Weekly about the Dixie Hemingway Mysteries:  "...blends elements of cozy and thriller to produce an unusual and enjoyable hybrid."
What I liked:
The setting and Dixie's "profession."  Dixie is a former Sarasota, Florida deputy sheriff and current pet sitter on Siesta Key, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, just off of Sarasota.  Most of her clients are cats.
A bookstore, a missing cat named Cosmo, a crumbling mansion.
It is a light read, not to be taken too seriously, but I enjoyed it.  This one was written by John Clement after the death of his mother, and evidently some devoted fans of the series are disappointed with this novel; others appear to like it just fine.
Since I haven't read any others in the series, I have no opinion on that score.  It provided me with a few hours of entertainment while I imagined myself sipping margaritas under a beach umbrella on Siesta Key.
Read in July
Cozy Myster.  July 8, 2014.  318 pages.



The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker is described as "Fun, Seductive, and Utterly Engrossing" by Deborah Harkness in a blurb.  Huh?  In fact, the book has garnered quite a few glowing descriptions, but I'm at a loss to see why.

It is long and slow and did not have much to do with the title.  There were a few interesting sections interspersed with the tedium.  Remember this is just my opinion.  I read the entire thing, but had to read other books in between, only coming back to it when I had nothing much else to read.

In spite of positive blurbs from many sources including Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal, I was glad to see that many actual readers found it as disappointing as I did.  You can check Goodread Reviews to see the wide variety of opinions. 

Read in Aug.

Fantasy.  Aug. 1, 2014.  577 (endless) pages.




Thursday, September 04, 2014

How We Learn by Benedict Carey

I'm always interested in learning and in how to make the learning process better, more efficient, and longer term.  When I saw How We Learn:  The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens on NetGalley, I immediately requested it, but expected something rather dry and ridden with educational jargon.  

What a pleasant surprise to find the book informational in the best way (and full of some counter-intuitive concepts) and as entertaining, at least to me, as a novel.

When I finished, there was scarcely a page without highlighting.  I've put the hardback on my wish list, and I'll include it in my next book purchase because this is one of the books that I prefer in a page format that I can easily pull from the shelf and peruse at will.  If there is a possibility of referring to the book in the future (books on science, neuroscience, yoga, gardening, fabric art, etc.), I want it on the shelf with others in that category.

Carey begins with some basic facts about the brain and how memories are made and stored, then moves on to some detailed studies.  

Tidbits:

"...appreciating learning as a restless, piecemeal, subconscious, and somewhat sneaky process that occurs all the time--not just when you're sitting in a desk, face pressed into a book--then it's the best strategy there is.  And it's the only one available that doesn't require more time and effort on your part, that doesn't increase the pressure to achieve."

"Most people do better over time by varying their study or practice locations.  The more environments in which you rehearse, the sharper and more lasting the memory of that material becomes--and less strongly linked to one comfort zone."

"Altering the time of day you study also helps, as does changing how you engage the material, by reading or discussing, typing into a computer or writing by hand, rciting in front of a mirror or studying while listening to music:  Each counts as a different learning 'environment' in which you store the material in a different way."

--sections on the stages of sleep and the different ways each stage helps consolidate information

"Breaking up study or practice time--dividing it into two or three sessions, instead of one--is far more effective than concentrating it."  "Studies find that people remember up to twice as much of material that they rehearsed in spaced or tested sessions than during cramming."

--the "fluency" effect

--"interleaving  multiple skills

This is an excellent book about learning that will give you new insight into the learning process.  Both interesting and informative, How We Learn can provide skill sets to aid anyone who wants to learn more efficiently and with less effort.  The research and studies are documented in the Notes, and Carey experimented with most of them himself or uses examples of others who tried the methods.  Great for students, for parents, and for anyone who wants to learn, including learning to improve physical behaviors as in music or sports.

Highly recommended.  One of my favorite books this year, and it isn't even fiction.

Read in June; blog post scheduled for Aug.  Sept.

NetGalley/Random House

Education/Learning/Nonfiction.  Sept. 9, 2014.  Print length:  274 pages.




Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Little Road Trip

I finally abandoned all WIPs in the studio, loaded up my Kindle, packed Kindle and The Carpathian Assignment in the bag to keep accessible, and have my other bag in the trunk of the car.

Waiting on Fee to get home, and then we will be off.  Dear Daughter will feed and care for the Triad, that multifarious three some of bad cats.  

I may be slow responding to emails and comments for a few days, but I do have some reviews scheduled.  

Ooops, he just walked in...time to go!

The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Marco Effect 

In 2011, I received Mercy an ARC by Jussi Adler-Olsen, (title later changed to The Keeper of Lost Causes)
 I reviewed it here.  It was the first in the series about Department Q, Detective Carl Morck, and his assistant Assad.  The book is an excellent example of Nordic Noir, but with some very humorous twists.

The first book gives the background of Department Q and  Carl Morck.  Morck is a troublesome policeman at best, and in the first novel, he is far from his best.  A recent murder investigation left one of his team members dead, another paralyzed, and Morck himself  wounded.  His former enthusiasm for his job has vanished.

Located in the basement, Dept. Q has (ostensibly) been created to deal with cold cases, but actually the creation of Dept. Q provides an excuse to keep Morck out of the way and gain funds for the department.  Morck is happy with this arrangement and fully intends to take advantage of the situation and do as little as possible.  Problem:  Assad just won't leave those case files alone.  It was a great book, sad and terrifying in places and laugh-out-loud or chuckle quietly in others.  

I was delighted to receive The Marco Effect through NetGalley and to continue the adventures of Morck and Assad (and I still have to catch up on several more Dept. Q books that I've missed.)  In this fifth book, he has another assistant:  Rosie, who joins the freaks in the basement and fits right in.

The plot:  Marco is fifteen and part of a Rom family of thieves, but he has been unhappy with his situation for some time.  The cruelties of his uncle bother him, and when he runs afoul of his Uncle Zola, discovering some terrible secrets, Marco goes on the run to prevent...well, I'd better not say.  At any rate, Zola wants Marco silenced at all costs, but Zola isn't the only one who wants Marco dead.

Morck, Assad, and Rosie are working on the cold case of a missing civil servant, and eventually it turns out that Marco knows something about the case.  Corruption, embezzlement, and murder--and a fifteen-year-old kid running for his life.

What I liked:  I really liked the characters.  Adler-Olsen runs the gamut with his characters from the good guys to the bad guys.   I love Adler-Olsen's style--he really draws me into both characters and plot.  The humor in this one is somewhat less than in the first in the series, but Assad still trumps in this department.  Plenty of suspenseful situations.

My only (tiny) complaint concerns Marco's ability to outwit all the forces against him, again and again.  It was great for awhile, and I was cheering him on, but an awful lot of the novel focuses on his evasions--of not only Zola's gang, but everyone else who is searching for him, and it is hard to believe that even a brilliant youngster could escape all the evil forces hunting him for so long.  The scenes were remarkably suspenseful, but there were too many of them.

Highly recommended.  If you like great crime fiction you really should give Jussi Adler-Olsen a try.  I'm fixin' to add the ones I've missed to my list y'all--even if I have to pay for them.  And you know I don't like to pay for books.  I read too many and can't afford it.  

Read in Aug.; blog post scheduled for September.

NetGalley/Penguin Group/Dutton

Scandinavian Crime.  Sept. 9, 2014.  Print length:  496 pages

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Anatomy of Dreams by Chloe Krug Benjamin


The Anatomy of Dreams

Book Description:  It’s 1998, and Sylvie Patterson, a bookish student at a Northern California boarding school, falls in love with a spirited, elusive classmate named Gabe. Their headmaster, Dr. Adrian Keller, is a charismatic medical researcher who has staked his career on the therapeutic potential of lucid dreaming: By teaching his patients to become conscious during sleep, he helps them to relieve stress and heal from trauma. Over the next six years, Sylvie and Gabe become consumed by Keller’s work, following him from the redwood forests of Eureka, California, to the enchanting New England coast.

But when an opportunity brings the trio to the Midwest, Sylvie and Gabe stumble into a tangled relationship with their mysterious neighbors—and Sylvie begins to doubt the ethics of Keller’s research, recognizing the harm that can be wrought under the guise of progress. As she navigates the hazy, permeable boundaries between what is real and what isn’t, who can be trusted and who cannot, Sylvie also faces surprising developments in herself: an unexpected infatuation, growing paranoia, and a new sense of rebellion.

In the last year or so, there have been a lot of novels featuring dreams, sleep, and/or sleeplessness.  A fascinating subject for most of us, but this one end up being in the "not so much" category.  

This is a book that I wanted to like, yet as it turned out, was not.  Although there are parts where you intuitively know where it is going, it doesn't go exactly there.  Or it does, but in a way that I found unfortunate.  I can't discuss my quibbles without spoilers; you will have to decide for yourself whether or not the book will satisfy your expectations.

NetGalley/Atria Books

Science Fiction? Psychological?  Sept. 16, 2014.  Print length:  320 pages.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Time for RIP IX !

Time for Carl's RIP Challenge

The first challenge was in 2006 (that hardly seems possible), and that year I read:

 The House on the Borderland, a short novel by William Hope Hodgson, written in 1908.  I chose it because Hodgson was an influence on H.P. Lovecraft, who called Hodgson's work "cosmic horror."  I didn't like it all that much, in spite of all of the Gothic elements, but I'm glad I read it.

Lolly Willows or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend.  This was actually The Book of the Month Club's first selection...in 1926.  My main interest was in the way Townsend rearranged The Wild Hunt myth.

The Wyvern Mystery by Sheridan J. Le Fanu, who cannot hold a candle to Wilkie Collins in any way, but remains a classic in the genre.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins--not his best and written near the end of his life,   THH is very short.  But  Collins at his worst still beats Le Fanu.  At his best, Collins is Mr. Gothic for me.  The Woman in White by Collins remains one of my favorite books of all times.  I read it in high school (along with The Moonstone), then reread for a later RIP challenge and was delighted to find it still kept me engrossed, beginning to end.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan, a much more contemporary choice, but unlike the majority of readers, I didn't much care for it.

Death in the Garden by Elizabeth Ironside was a pleasure to read.  Has some similarities to Lolly Willows with a theme of a woman's quest for independence from a domineering male, but for me this story was eminently more readable.  Part I deals with Diana Pollexfen's acquittal of her husband's murder.  Part II moves to the days preceding his death, and Part III moves forward sixty years when Diana's grand-niece and heir finds Diana's diaries.

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris is the first in the Harper Connelly series.  Harper can find dead people.  Got a missing body?  Harper might be able to help you locate it.  I've read a couple in this series since then.  While not a fan of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Harris (please don't hate me),  I have thoroughly enjoyed the Harper Connelly series.

*****

I'm starting this year's Challenge with The Carpathian Assignment.  Initially, I got a garbled version from NetGalley, but when I mentioned that I was interested in the book, just couldn't decipher the e-manuscript, the publisher sent me an ARC in the mail.  Started it yesterday! 

You guessed it, Dracula and Transylvania.  

Visit Stainless Steel Droppings if you'd like to join the fun!  You can choose to read or watch films or television or combine the two.

I'm watching The Night Watchman's Journal, can't wait for the  next episodes to be released.  Another good Kdrama for this Challenge is Arang and the Magistrate.



My Eccentric figures for Halloween continue to take shape.
Marigold the Hedge Witch likes to be prepared.




Brief Reviews of Some September Releases

The Caller by Juliet Marillier concludes the trilogy that began with Shadowfell and continued with Raven Flight.   I really enjoyed the first novel where more time was spent with Neryn and Flint; the second and final novels are much slower.  Neryn's visits to the Guardians are the slowest sections, and much of the final novel is spent on the visit to the White Lady.

I had difficulty understanding the willingness of the general populace and the court to accept the untenable cruelty of the King.  I suppose it bothers me more because in real life it happens all too often--past and present.

The events slowly advance toward the planned confrontation at Summerfort; Flint barely manages to continue his role as the King's Enforcer, hating himself for what he must do, but determined to give the rebels the best effort he can; Neryn's plan to visit all of the Guardians is derailed after the her stay with the White Lady.

When the king and the court arrive at Summerfort earlier than planned, will Neryn, Flint, the rebels, and the Good Folk make a successful bid for freedom?

NetGalley/Alfred A. Knopf BFYR

YA Fantasy.  Sept. 9, 2014.  Print length:  450 pages.  



The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack is also a YA novel, but perhaps for younger readers.  Maekko is a young thief in a Steampunk version of London.  On her own for years, the only stability in her life is provided by Chaff, head of a group of street rats--abandoned children who, like Maekko, steal to survive.

When Maekko and Chaff are interrupted during a robbery, the two split up; Maekko barely manages to escape the Literati officers, but finds temporary shelter and a cat with a clockwork leg.  The cat, whose missing leg has been replaced with a marvelous clockwork prosthetic, enchants Maekko.  Maekko's security doesn't last very long as someone tips the Literati, and she is carted off to jail.

Naturally, we can't have our heroine remain in jail, but her escape leads to much worse than the threat of being sent to an orphanage: a killer's threat, two dead bodies, and Ash, the son of the chief suspect.  Maekko and Ash make an unlikely team, and initially there is a lot of sparring, but gradually they begin to appreciate each other's good qualities--which is a good thing if they want to stay alive.

A debut novel that I think young readers will enjoy.  OK.  I did, too.  

YA/Steampunk/Fantasy.  Sept. 2, 2014.  Print length:  224 pages.




The Thief Taker engaged me initially, but then lost me.  I did read the entire book because I wanted to know what happened, but the intriguing beginning became a much less intriguing follow through.

Book Description:  The year is 1665. Black Death ravages London. A killer stalks the streets in a plague doctor’s hood and mask...

When a girl is gruesomely murdered, thief taker Charlie Tuesday reluctantly agrees to take on the case. But the horrific remains tell him this is no isolated death. The killer’s mad appetites are part of a master plan that could destroy London – and reveal the dark secrets of Charlie’s own past.

--------
I like this period and am usually interested in stories about the plague and the time period in which Samuel Pepys is writing his diaries about politics, London life, the Great Fire, and even executions.   

However, the characters in the novel failed to engage me and the bizarre murders seemed pointlessly gruesome. Plot:  capture, escape, capture, escape, etc.


NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Historic Mystery.  Sept. 9, 2014.  Print length:  432. pages.  
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