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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Operation Mincemeat, Oh William!, by Elizabeth Strout, and The Nameless Ones by John Connolly


In 2010, I read Operation Mincemeat:  How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory  by Ben MacIntyre, and it remains one of my favorite WWII nonfiction books.  The film with Colin Firth is coming out in 2022, and I can't wait.  Operation Mincemeat trailer.



Oh, William 
is such a complex mix of human emotions, memories, and revelations.  How well do we know the people we live with for years?  Parents, spouses, children?  Not always as well as we think, and the same is often true about how well we "know" ourselves.  A lovely, character-driven story of a family, Oh, William makes the reader look into themselves and their own relationships.  Now, I have to go back and read Lucy Barton and all of Elizabeth Strout's books that I've missed.

A beautiful cover and a beautifully written book, as many of you have mentioned.  I'm late to reading Elizbeth Strout, but it has been such a satisfying experience.  How ordinary, how extraordinary!

NetGalley/Random House
Family.   Oct. 19, 2021.  Print length:  256 pages.



John Connolly's Charlie Parker series is always full of violence and brutality.  The series isn't for everyone, but I've followed it for years, always rooting for Parker, Louis, and Angel as they fight against supernatural evil.

from description of  The Nameless Ones In Amsterdam, four people are butchered in a canal house, their remains arranged around the crucified form of their patriarch, De Jaager: fixer, go-between, and confidante of the assassin named Louis. The men responsible for the murders are Serbian war criminals. They believe they can escape retribution by retreating to their homeland.
They are wrong.

 
Anyone who has read about the Serbian Croatian war is aware of the war crimes, mass murders, and ethnic hatred of that period.  The brutality of the Serbian forces remains a particularly dark stain in history, and Connolly doesn't refrain from the atrocities.

Fans of the series can't help but love Louis and Angel, who add a great deal of dark humor to the books.  The Nameless Ones leaves Charlie Parker in the background as Louis and Angel hunt the Serbian war criminals.

Of course, there is also a supernatural element:  Zorya is an eerie, chilling associate with the Vuksan brothers.  

Trigger Warning:  the book is well-researched, but even though I'd read about some of the atrocities before, they still made difficult reading.  

 read in march; review scheduled for Oct

NetGalley/Atria Books   

Supernatural Thriller.  Oct. 26, 2021.  Print length:  388 pages.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Fear on the Fens by Joy Ellis and The Stolen Hours by Allen Eskens

From description:
Now.
In the beautiful gardens of Shelley House a shocking discovery is made. A blackened hand dangles over the side of a wheelbarrow. The horrific scent of burnt flesh lingers in the air.

Detective Nikki Galena and Joseph Easter are called in to investigate.

Twenty years ago.
A family destroyed by tragic secrets. The scientist father who killed their gardener, before being murdered himself. The brother who disappeared, never to be seen again.

The 13th entry in the Nikki Galena series has some gruesome murders and a connection to Stargate, the recruitment of psychics for studies by the CIA.  As usual,  seeing Nikki's team in action and the connection to the CIA's attempts at remote viewing kept me interested, but this was not my favorite in the series.

Stargate and Remote Viewing and Stargate: Controlled Remote Viewing  

NetGalley/Joffe Books

Mystery/Thriller.  Oct. 14, 2021.  Print length:  400 pages



The Stolen Hours by Allen Eskens is the third in the Joe Talbert series, but the first one I've read.  It worked well as a standalone, and I'll probably go back and pick up the two earlier books at some point.  

Photographer Gavin Spencer plans ahead; when he commits a murder, he has anticipated almost every difficulty.  And even when he can't predict certain events, he has back-up plans in place.

Lila Nash is on the verge of getting the job she most wants, but a vindictive prosecutor is making an attempt to ruin Lila's career. Fortunately, Andi Fitch is on her side, giving her opportunities she had not had previously.  Lila is assigned Sadie Vaulk's case against Gavin Spencer.  Working with Detective Niki Vang, who made the connections between Sadie's case and six previous cases in which the victims did not survive, Lila discovers a chilling connection to Spencer.  

Tense and suspenseful, The Stolen Hours proved a solid new-to-me series that will have me looking at the two earlier books as well!  Thanks to Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea for recommending this one. 

NetGalley/Mulholland Books

Legal Thriller.  Sept. 7, 2021.  Print length:  320 pages.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge and World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

It is the season for garden clean up, Halloween crafting, and fall house cleaning.  And a raft of new book possibilities.  All of these activities can require decisions that I'm reluctant to make.  Which will take precedence today?  Setting a schedule is difficult for me and as a result, I meander through the day doing a little of this and a little of that.   The garden, then a letter, then the garden again.  Back and forth, a little here and a little there.  I keep track of all that on the other blog.

I have made some progress on the garden, and I've been good about catching up on correspondence. A letter every day or so for the last couple of weeks.  The fall housekeeping chores have been neglected this week, but I'm working on some purging of drawers and cabinets.  A box for GoodWill sits on the washing machine, and I add a little at a time, pulling things from hangers and deciding whether or not I'll wear it again.  That extra pound of weight a year became "slightly" more during the pandemic, and I must face the fact that some items will never fit again.   

And Every Single Day There Are Books To Be Read.

Once in a while, I find a cozy that genuinely appeals to me.  Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge (Agatha Christie fans may recognize the name of the country estate of Christie's second husband, Max Mallowan) proved surprisingly fun.  

It must be a challenge to write a mystery set in one of Christie's homes and have the housekeeper be the protagonist--it could easily end up more of a parody than a mystery. 

Phyllida Bright, however, turned out to be efficient, self-assured, and often inadvertently amusing.  A former army nurse, Phyllida and Agatha are more than employer and employee, having known each other during the war. Agatha's appearances are minimal; it is Phyllida's show.

Unsurprisingly, Phyllida is fond of detective novels and fictional detectives, especially Hercule Poirot.  When Phyllida discovers a body in the library (!) during a country house party at Mallowan Hall, the fun begins.  Confident that she can do a better job than the police, she goes about her own sleuthing, assured that she knows the household and its doings better than they do and will notice what they may miss.  

Parody, or homage, or a little of both, Murder at Mallowan Hall proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable romp with a character who has no difficulty handling whatever comes her way.  We've been introduced to the household, including Bradford, and I'm eager to see what happens in the next book.

NetGalley/Kensington Books

Cozy/Historical.  Oct. 26, 2021.  Print length:  304 pages.


World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. I've a fondness for personal essays and Aimee Nezhukumatathil's love of the natural world, lyrical language, and her personal experiences combine in this series of essays.   

The essays have no chronological order, Nezhukumatathil takes a cue from nature (a catawpa/catalpa tree, a peacock, a ribbon eel, fireflies) and pulls together information about the object of her attention, combining it with her personal experiences and her poetic voice. 

While some combinations are a stretch, each element in each essay (the nature writing and the personal anecdotes) has much to offer.  Her mother is a microbiologist and her father a geneticist, so the author's close observation and comprehension of the natural world is understandable. 

There is no need to hurry through the book, an essay or two at a time, and a little time to ponder the words and the importance of say, fireflies, to our lives.  The human touch and Nezhukumatahil's appreciation of the world around us--and it's vulnerability--becomes more intriguing and remarkable as we face the loss of species of both flora and fauna.  

I can't remember where I saw this mentioned, but I'm glad I made the effort to find and read World of Wonders.  I'm susceptible to covers and this one is both curious and beautiful, as is  the author's prose.

Have you read this one?  Did I see a review on your blog?

Purchased.  Milkweed Editions

Nonfiction/Nature/Essays.  2020.  Print length:  165 pages.  


Thursday, October 07, 2021

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall

Sometimes a book will not let you go, even when you aren't sure if you like it or not.  Burntcoat by Sarah Hall is one of those books.

Beautifully written, a kind of fictional memoir, Burntcoat takes place in England and begins with the traumatic episode when young Edith Harkness's mother Naomi suffers a severe stroke.  The mother Edith had known is gone and in her place a damaged woman who struggles with regaining sensible speech.  Her father eventually leaves, and eight-year-old Edith becomes interpreter and caretaker for Naomi as she recovers.

As Edith, nearing sixty and terminally ill, looks back over her life she relates the close bond with her mother, her training and success as a sculptor of large creations of burnt wood using the Japanese shou sugi ban technique, and the arrival and aftermath of a Covid-like pandemic much worse than the Covid we know.  

The novel moves back and forth in time as Edith reviews the events in her life.   When the swift and deadly AG3 virus begins its catastrophic death toll on an unprepared England, Edith and her new lover Halit try to ride out the lockdown at Burntcoat, which is both home and studio for Edith.  

There is much to like in Burntcoat, with the exception of the gratuitous sex scenes.  Yes, sex would be a light in the darkness, the closeness people need when threatened by events beyond their control.  There is a purpose for including the intimacy of Edith and Halit's relationship and of sex as a means of escape from the horror.  But...no, the inclusion of the graphic sexual episodes did not work for me.  Awkward, uncomfortable, and unnecessary.

The book is uncomfortable in several ways, but the discomfort is the kind that would be natural in the face of some of the events in Edith's life--her mother's stroke and long recovery, in the physical and emotional hardships of lockdown,  and in the fear and horror experienced as people, locally and nationally, die in huge numbers--one million in England alone.  

Not a book to easily forget, but one that is hard to evaluate.  Even as Edith recounts the important events in her life, she remains distant, removed from her own story.  The distance is understandable, and perhaps, inevitable.  

 read in August; blog review scheduled for Oct. 7, 2021

NetGalley/Custom House

Nov. 2, 2021.  Print length:  304 pages.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Jane Whitefield Series (books 2 and 3) by Thomas Perry: Fly with the Arrow by Sarah Wilson

Dance for the Dead is the second book in the Jane Whitefield series.  I dived into it shortly after reading the first book.  

Timothy Decker is eight-years-old and someone wants him dead.  The people who care about him are dying at a rapid rate when Jane Whitefield steps in to help him disappear.

At the same time, Jane is trying to help Mary Perkins escape a predator who knows about Mary's S&L fraud and wants her money, after which she will be disposable. 

I enjoyed this one, too, and I went directly into the next book.

Read in September.

Ivy Books.  Mystery/Thriller.  

Barry Award Nominee for Best Novel (1997)Dilys Award Nominee (1997).  Print length:  400 pages.                                                       

Shadow Woman has a different twist because Jane decides to marry her Carey McKinnon and give up her life as a guide who helps people disappear.  But Jane feels compelled to help Peter Hatcher again because she had to rush his relocation, and he is once again in danger.  She intends this to be her last case.

Another twisty action-filled book with a pair of married killers who have been hired to find and kill Peter.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but this may not be the best series for binge reading as the plots are basically the same, although with new characters on the run and new villains pursuing them.  

If I didn't already know that the series continues, I might have wondered if Shadow Woman was supposed to conclude a trilogy.

The suspense and adventure are satisfying, and these books kept me involved, providing an escape from depressing national, state, and local news.  However, I think I'll give the series a pause for a month or so--not abandon it, just enough of a rest that I can appreciate the suspense again.  

Read in September.

Ivy Books.  Mystery/Thriller.  Print length:  432 pages.

Sarah Wilson's Fly with the Arrow (Bluebeard's Secret #1) was a great take-off on the Bluebeard tale.  It was fun, original, the cover is gorgeous.

My only complaint is that it ended in a cliff-hanger.  But I was willing to forgive that and pre-ordered the next book: Dance with the Sword.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the second book as much AND it ended with another cliff-hanger.  As much as I enjoyed the first book, Dance with the Sword failed to have the same effect.

Read in September.

Kindle Unlimited. 

Fairytale re-telling.  2021.  Print length:  311 pages.

 

Sunday, October 03, 2021

The Riverwoman's Dragon by Candace Robb

 

Candace Robb's historical mysteries are some of the best available.  She did her PhD (ABD) studies in Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature and has continued her research anew with each of her books. 

The Owen Archer series is set in the late 1300's, a period that has long interested me.  When I read The Apothecary Rose, the first in this series in 2015, I was captivated by the fictional characters, plot, and the intertwining with the historical characters from the time:  Henry of Lancaster, John Thoresby-Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and John of Gaunt.  Each book expanded on the genuine history of the time and the historical figures who influenced that history.

Robb's Author Notes are a wonderful addition to each book.  Using actual events, people, and customs, she doesn't load the plot with overly detailed explanations, but does include the information if you are more interested.   I always am.

The Riverwoman's Dragon is the 13th in the series and takes place in 1375 as an outbreak of the plague has the population of York in fear.  

from description:  "May, 1375. Owen Archer returns from London to find York in chaos. While the citizens are living in terror of the pestilence which is spreading throughout the land, a new physician has arrived, whipping up fear and suspicion against traditional healers and midwives." 

 Magda has been a blessing as a wise woman and healer--treating the ailments of York for years, delivering babies, using herbs to treat illnesses, and working with Lucie, Owen Archer's wife and local apothecary.  But Magda is a pagan, not a Christian.  With fear flamed by the plague and a man claiming to be a doctor, many of York can be persuaded to turn against her.  

When Magda is accused of murder, Own must find a way to protect her and find the villain.

There are several interesting threads in this installment, and we learn a little more about Magda's background.  

Another excellent addition to Candace Robb's Owen Archer series.  Start with the first book, and maybe, like me, you will keep wanting more.  

read in August; review scheduled for Oct. 3.

NetGalley/Canongate Books/Severn House

Historical Mystery.  Nov. 2, 2021.  Print length:  256 pages




Friday, September 24, 2021

Uncharted Waters and Where Cowards Tread by Sabrina Flynn, Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave, Tahoe ice Grave by Todd Borg

Catching up on reviews from this summer.


Uncharted Waters by Sabrina Flynn is an unusual and intriguing installment in the Ravenwood series, an interlude between the mysteries--a novella that gives the mysteries a rest as it catches the reader up on the various characters and their lives.

The series has a large cast of characters, but the novella takes the time to develop them in their ordinary lives, away from the mysteries that Bel Amstel and Atticus Riot keep getting involved in.  

Because so many characters are interesting in their own right, Uncharted Waters allows us to know them a bit better.  It also provides hints that might lead to future plots.  A fun intermission from an entertaining series!

Read in August.


Ink & Sea Publishing
2019.  Print length:  113 pages.

Where Cowards Tread was an immediate follow-up to Unchartered Waters.  Back into the Ravenwood Mysteries, because they are such a combination of danger, suspense, and great characters.  

Bel and Atticus Riot have married, adopted Sao Jin and Sarah who were part of previous books, and are addressing all of the complications involved with married life and the new location of the detective agency.

Jin is sneaking out at night and visiting China Town, searching for answers in the dangerous streets and alleys.  Grim has begun following her in hopes of keeping her safe.

Someone doesn't want the new Ravenwood detective agency to survive, there's a missing girl, and Jin is courting serious danger in China Town.  

The historical setting of San Francisco, China Town, and the Barbary Coast, the genuinely interesting cast of characters, and the suspenseful plots keep this series entertaining, exciting, and fun to read.  

Read in August.

Ink & Sea Publishing
2020.  Print length:  442 pages.

Paul Cleave's Cemetery Lake (Theodore Tate #1) is a pretty dark crime novel.  Theo Tate is a PI and former police officer.  After his wife and daughter were rundown in a drunken hit-and-run accident, his daughter died and his wife has remained in a catatonic state.  Theo is a broken man, not only from the loss, but because of his subsequent actions.

While Theo is overlooking an exhumation at a Christchurch cemetery, things go to hell.  The body in the coffin is not the one that belongs there and bodies begin to rise in the lake that borders the cemetery.

Reviews seem to indicate that people either loved or hated Cemetery Lake.  I'm somewhere in between.  Theo is a little hard to like, the first person narrative doesn't work well for me, and the twists were disconcerting.  

I may try another in the series in hopes that Theo becomes more likable and less broken, but overall the book was dark, and I wasn't particularly concerned about the characters.

Read in August.

Kindle Unlimited/Atria Books
Crime.  2016.  Print length:  416 pages.   

I really enjoyed the first two books in Todd Borg's Tahoe series, but Tahoe Ice Grave  wasn't quite as satisfying.  Owen McKenna is hired to investigate the death of Thos Kahale who was murdered in the frigid waters of Lake Tahoe.  The investigation takes him to Hawaii and back again.

The premise didn't work as well for me in this book, and I had a difficult time adjusting to that.   Still...likable characters and a beautiful setting, and I'll move on to the next book.

Read in August.

Kindle Unlimited/Thriller Press
Crime/Detective.  2002.  Print length:  288 pages.


----------------
The news can be depressing, so I love to find articles that are hopeful (often in admittedly small ways) that creative and innovative individuals are doing for themselves and for their communities.  Positive things like finding solutions to plastic pollution, re-wilding areas, exhibiting kindness in small, but important ways, better farming techniques that look at preserving the land, seed savers (especially heritage plants), designs for more sustainable housing and community involvement in architecture and city planning--things that may be small and local, but that are encouraging.  Innovation, resilience, and creativity may not change the big picture, but still make me happy and act as a defense against the bad news.  

Also, things that counteract the violence, hate, and aggressive behavior that we are bombarded with daily.  Try this link for hopeful and uplifting things on Bored Panda.   

One example:  
"A little boy about 3 came up to me and asked if my head was cold.  I said yes a little (Melbourne Weather).  He took his beanie off and said that I could have it."


Yep, these make me feel better.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Vanishing Act (Jane Whitefield book 1) by Thomas Perry

 Sam had a post on Thomas Perry, and I realized I'd read The Burglar and liked it, so I thought I'd read a little more of Thomas Perry.

Looking at a list of Perry's books, I noticed the Jane Whitefield series.  Jane is a Native American, and I like books that feature indigenous characters.  I also liked the description of Jane being a "guide" who helps people in serious trouble disappear.  Many books in this category are about women and children escaping abusive situations, but Jane's clients vary.  They aren't always innocent, but they aren't deserving of being murdered.  (Think Kelley Armstrong's  Rockton series in which not all of the community are upstanding citizens.)

from description:   Thanks to her membership in the Wolf Clan of the Seneca tribe, she can fool any pursuer, cover any trail, and then provide her clients with new identities, complete with authentic paperwork. Jane knows all the tricks, ancient and modern; in fact, she has invented several of them herself.

In that lovely way of synchronicity,  Jane's Seneca background is important and there are digressions that tell some of the same myths that Robin Wall Kimmerer relates in Braiding Sweetgrass.  Deganawida  the Peacemaker features in Kimmerer's discussion of the legends of the Iroquois.  Born in Tonawanda, NY, Thomas Perry is well versed in the local indigenous legends and culture.  Many things that Kimmerer mentions in her nonfiction Braiding Sweetgrass appear in The Vanishing Act. from legends to environmental and cultural practices of the indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes region.

The plot begins with Jane finishing getting one client to safety and finding another prospective client waiting for her in her home.  Jane's professional skills are impressive and the plot has plenty of close calls and one sinister surprise.  As skilled as Jane is at making people disappear, she is also capable of making mistakes--and just when it seems her skills are incomparable, Jane finds herself confronting unanticipated problems.

Suspenseful and entertaining!  I was glued to this one, and since this is the first in Perry's Jane Whitefield series, I have more to look forward to reading.

Ballantine Books (purchased)

Thriller.  1996, 2007.  Print length:  368 pages.  


Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Mad Women's Ball by Victoria Mas

Throughout history, men have used many ways to remove difficult or embarrassing wives and daughters.  Women who, for one reason or another have proven troublesome (for husbands, fathers, or brothers) have often found themselves relegated to asylums.  Whether because of mental illness, refusal to stay in their place, adultery (of either partner), or financial incentives--asylums have provided ways to remove inconvenient women.  

In 1885 in Paris, Eugenie, a young woman in a controlling, patriarchal household, reveals to her grandmother that she "sees dead people."  As a result, she ends up in the Salpetriere Asylum.  Eugenie was already problematic for occasionally taunting her father, and he takes the opportunity to relieve himself of her presence.

The asylum under Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot was in much better shape than it had been previously, and Charcot made many advancements in science, but "Charcot had come to believe that susceptibility to hypnosis was an indicator of latent hysteria. He based this belief on the fact that hysterical symptoms could be reproduced by hypnotic suggestions (Fancher, 1985, p. 54)." (source)

Women in the Salpetriere Asylum range from those who suffer from epilepsy, dementia, "hysteria", sexual trauma, and in Eugenie's case the insanity of seeing spirits.  But Eugenie is not insane, and soon enough, Genevieve, the head nurse has to deal with this particular problem.  

The book is short and well-researched, and I found it intriguing in its rather unusual approach.  The inclusion of spiritualism, family dynamics, and the names of Charcot's famous students were sometimes at odds.  Medical science, especially in the area of mental health, has undergone remarkable and often cruel trends and so have cultural norms.  Women are much better off today--they can vote, get divorced, retain custody of their children, work outside the home, etc.  And yet...women are still expected to meet some of the social norms of a century ago, don't trust that reporting abuse will be taken seriously, and are called hysterical if they respond in a manner accepted as OK for men.  

Women Who Defied Gender Roles Were Once Imprisoned in Asylums

Restoring Perspective: Life and Treatment at the London Asylum

Women's Admission to Asylums in United States of America

It was difficult to find accounts of the Le Bal des Folles at the Salpetriere Asylum because almost everything led back to the novel and the upcoming film, but I finally found this.   

NetGalley/Abrams Books

Historical fiction.  Sept. 7, 2021.  Print length:  224 pages.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer


I finally finished listening to Braiding Sweetgrass:  Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, and it was quite an experience.  A blending of myth, traditions, science, environmental mistakes and possible cures, family anecdotes, and all kinds of thoughts to ponder.  

While I enjoyed some essays more than others and each essay has a strong personal involvement and bias, each one gave me a something to consider about the ecology of this land and the abuses we have inflicted upon it.  Unintended and unexpected consequences, as well as "who cares" consequences.  Even attempts to correct the mistakes often had other harmful consequences.  

First published in 2013, Kimmerer and most scientists were fully aware of the ramifications of global warming/climate change on both flora and fauna.  Eight years later, here we are experiencing the cumulative effects that scientists have been warning about since the climate models of the 1970s.  The changes may have been gradual for years, but the effects have intensified and can no longer be ignored.

Kimmerer had not despaired in 2013, and her work continues to offer ways of reclaiming damaged environments, but I have to wonder how hopeful she continues to be.  The catastrophic fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts have, for the last few years, forced us to look at what we have wrought and yet, we continue to do the very things that have contributed to the mess we've created.  

Do I agree with Kimmerer's basic philosophy?  Yes.  It is beautiful, scientifically sound, and logical:  reciprocate--take care of what feeds and supports you, don't take more than you need, insure that the plants, trees, and animals that help humans survive can also survive and thrive.  

I wish I could have read this book decades before it was written.  Braiding Sweetgrass may be idealized at times, but it touches people in ways that statistical models cannot.  Perhaps it could have helped curtail the some of the practices that have led us to this point.  Perhaps it would have encouraged a more open-minded outlook and offered a better horizon.

The Wendigo metaphor of insatiable greed and hunger is an affliction we can all recognize:  we want more, faster, easier, more convenient.  We never have enough.  Instead of recognizing this always wanting more as a flaw, societies have seen it as not only acceptable, but aspirational.  

The book is long and the audio version is exceedingly long, but I want to believe that we will, not only this country, but the world, realize the damage we continue to inflict, and think about healing this planet.

Audiobook.



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Gated Prey by Lee Goldberg, The Killer in the Snow by Alex Pine


 
Little Thieves is a retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale by Margaret Own from the perspective of the maid who stole the princess's identity.  

The book starts well.  Vanja has usurped the princess's identity and is stealing from wealthy aristocrats in order to buy herself a chance at freedom.  Vanja's godmothers, Death and Fortune, have made it clear that a certain time Vanja must choose between serving one or the other her godmothers.  Vanja, however, is determined to be in service to no one.  

After a heist that she hopes will provide the final amount to buy her freedom, she encounters one of the lesser gods who curses her, but gives her two weeks to break the curse.  

So much is going on in Little Thieves, the "princess" is soon to be married off to a brute of a man, Vanja needs to get free before that marriage takes place, the real princess is in the village in much reduced circumstances and justifiably angry, a Junior Prefect arrives to catch the jewel thief--and the story devolves in a half dozen ways.  

Much of the Little Thieves is very good.  I like the idea of telling the story from the POV of the maid that takes over the life of the princess.  Vanja can be practical and funny, but at sixteen, she isn't always seeing the situation clearly.  The curse is one that is intended to make Vanja consider events in a different light AND has another purpose besides punishing Vanya.  

There is a lot going on, suspense, a little romance, a growth experience, all kinds of complications cropping up.  

Somehow though, I was never as invested as I wanted to be.  I enjoyed it, but didn't love it.

Two of my favorite fairy tale re-imaginings of the Little Goose Girl story are Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl in her Bayern series and Intasar Khanani's Thorn.

NetGalley/MacMillan's
Teens/YA.  Oct. 19, 2021.  Print length:  512 pages  

 

Gated Prey is the third entry in Lee Goldberg's Detective Eve Ronin series.  In order to have a better understanding of the background, it is better to begin with the first and second books that explain how rookie Eve Ronin ends up in the homicide squad and the resentment the Sheriff's department expresses toward for her high profile appointment and for her role in exposing the corruption in the department.  

Two plot threads are included in this third book.  One has to do with a Eve and partner Duncan Pavone pretending to be a wealthy couple in order to catch the home invaders who have been hitting very wealthy homes in an exclusive and gated community.  The second has to with Eve's questions about a still birth that has serious implications.

From the first book, Duncan Pavone's imminent retirement has been discussed.  If Duncan retires, I'm not sure the series will succeed.  His mentorship and support help keep Eve balanced.  He is the perfect experienced foil to Eve's impulsiveness.  

Read in May.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Police Procedural.  Oct. 26, 2021.  Print length:  268 pages


A man, his wife, and his daughter are murdered in an isolated farmhouse.  The murders are similar to murders that occurred in the same farmhouse twenty years earlier.  Too similar to ignore.

This is the second book in this series, and I didn't read the first one.  

There are some twists, but an important plot thread seemed obvious from early on.  I didn't find the main character Detective James Walker particularly appealing and the references to a couple of previous cases felt more digressive than important.

Alex Pine has written a series of books on true crime, but I believe this is only his second novel.

read in August

NetGalley/Avon

Mystery/Thriller.  Oct. 28, 2021.  Print length:  400 pages 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Names in a Jar by Jennifer Gold

 What drew me to Names in a Jar was the fact that Jennifer Gold used Irene Sendler as the inspiration for this fictional account of Warsaw, Poland and the Nazi occupation, and that as a young person, Leon Uris' Mila 18, the well-researched novel about the Warsaw Ghetto and the remarkable uprising, was an unforgettable experience.

Sendler's courage, initiative, and ingenuity intrigued me, and I wanted to try this fictional account based on Sendler's activities.

Two sisters, Anna and Lina, and their father are rounded up and imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto where starvation and typhoid take a terrible toll.  Twelve-year-old Anna joins a group of children who make their way in and out of the Ghetto, usually through the sewers, in order to get food and medicine.  

The story alternates between Anna and Lina.  Anna and infant Dov are smuggled out by Jolanta (the nom de guerre used by Irene Sendler) and taken in by a Polish family.

Lina stays in the ghetto, but becomes involved in forging papers for the underground network to give the children being smuggled out new names and backgrounds.  Eventually, Lina and Masha, another young woman who exhibits great courage, end up in Treblinka.  

Both sisters hold out hope for reunion, struggling with the threats that could end their lives.  Will the jars in Jolanta's garden help reunite the sisters, or any of those 2,500 smuggled Jewish children, with their families?

Although the author never goes into graphic detail at any point, there are some difficult and unpalatable incidents that should be expected in a book set in this period and location.  Gold handles all of these incidents well, including just enough to give a sense of the horror faced by Polish Jews and the Polish resistance and still be in keeping for young adults.  

NetGalley/Second Story Press
YA/Historical Fiction.    Sept. 14, 2021.  Print length:  336 pages.

Friday, September 03, 2021

R.I.P

 When Carl, began the first R.I.P. Challenge in 2006, I was all in.  I think the last time I formally joined was in 2016 or 2017, but I continued to read spooky books during the fall.   If you are looking for some suggestions, here are some that I looked back and found.

Renfield: Slave of Dracula (R.I.P. #9)

A list of some of the books that I'd read for the challenge  posted in 2011

End of Watch by Stephen King

Almost anything by John Connolly or Sharon Bolton

I wish I'd kept better track of R.I.P. books, because it is such a fun challenge.  At first, I concentrated on classics, then I moved on to some more contemporary books that fit the parameters of the challenge.  I also read some middle school or YA that were good, too. 

 Now, I just look for what others are reading and add some to my list.  

My favorite holiday is Halloween and spooky/supernatural books fit the season.  I'm not quite ready to get the Halloween decorations out, but I'm certainly thinking about it.  I just ignore the Heat Advisories and think pumpkins.


Anyway, I'm checking your R.I.P. book lists and stealing your suggestions. :)

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

SOE in Denmark, and Desolation Canyon by P.J. Tracy

 September has finally arrived, although it will be a while before it feels like fall.  I still have a lot of books to review from August, and I'll have to make myself get some of them scheduled.  Procrastination.  Instead of reviewing, I often just start another book.  Do you do that?  

It is 88 this morning with a heat index of 97 degrees; the high today will be 99--so the heat index will be at least 108.  Combined with the onset of allergy season and the itchy eyes, sneezing, and overall tiredness, I'm not feeling any incentive to do much today.  Weeds, be damned.  

I slowed down on my Nightmare Catchers in August, and have only three in progress.  Almost done, but they've been waiting on completion for a while. 

 

SOE in Denmark is an overview of SOE operations in Denmark written shortly after the war.  (Special Operations Executive) 

"SOE in Denmark was written at a time when SOE was still largely unknown to the general public and its operations a closely guarded secret. It was expected that its activities would never be officially acknowledged and the study of its actions in Denmark was compiled with the aim of provide a lasting record of its achievement."

While the book offers an account of the SOE's operations and collaboration with the Danish agents, it is an official report and lacks personal information about the agents who risked their lives.  The Appendices offer more information and reference material.  I was a little startled to find that approximately 2/3 of the book was the reference material, important and informative.

Having read Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks (son of Benjamin Marks, antiquarian bookseller of Marks & Co and 84, Charing Cross Road fame), I mistakenly thought SOE in Denmark would be similar.  

It isn't.  It is, nevertheless, important.  I  wish someone had recorded a more detailed account of  the individuals involved in the resistance to the Nazi Occupation of Denmark. Although SOE in Denmark lacks the human aspect, it is historically interesting.

(Some of the most famous female SOE agents were in France and included Nancy Wake, Violette Szabo, Odette Sansom, and Noor Inayat Khan--they have been written about many times. I wish we knew more about the Danish agents.)  

NetGalley/Frontline Books

WWII History.  Sept. 21, 2021.  Print length:  208 pages.


Desolation Canyon is the second book in this new series by P.J. Tracy.  

The series has several problems: 

While the author seems to want Detective Margaret Nolan to be the lead character, she wasn't the main character in Deep Into the Dark, and she isn't in Desolation Canyon.  

Too many fantastic coincidences and unbelievable plot lines.

No humor.

I miss the Monkeewrench gang! 

NetGalley/Minotaur Books 

Jan. 18, 2022.  Print length:  320 pages


Friday, August 27, 2021

Braiding Sweetgrass (in progress), I Will Always Write Back, and The Devil's Teeth


 For the last ten days or so, I've been listening to Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants by written and narrated by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  A series of essays that combine scientific knowledge with indigenous myth and culture and examine our relationship with the earth.  

I've been enjoying the essays and the soothing voice of the author/narrator.  It isn't the kind of book that you read (or listen to) straight through.  You listen and pause and return again later that day or the next.  I've listened to about half now, an essay or two at a time as I do chores or sit and sew on the Nightmare Catchers.  

Kimmerer is a scientist, but she is strongly influenced by her indigenous heritage, and the essays make me ponder the way the two, science and culture, differ.  They may come to the same conclusions, but by very different paths.  


In a letter from our thirteen-year-old granddaughter, she mentioned that of her summer reading, I Will Always Write Back was the book that made an impression on her.  As both a reader and a letter writer, I figured this was a book I needed to read.  

The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from an impoverished city in Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever.

In 1997, Caitlin's middle school initiated a pen pal exchange, and Caitlin requested a pen pal from Zimbabwe.  Martin Ganda, a bright, but impoverished student received Caitlin's letter.  For six years the two corresponded, building a friendship that has lasted over the years.

The story is told in hindsight, with both Caitlin and Martin revealing events and situations that were not present in their letters.  Martin's poverty was beyond what twelve-year-old Caitlin was capable of understanding, and he reveals the extent of it only much later.  Initially, he wants to focus on what the two had in common, as if they were both normal kids.

When the letters begin, Caitlin is as shallow and privileged as many American middle schoolers can be in an affluent society.  With little experience outside of their own families and communities, they don't yet realize what it is to be without the things they take for granted--food, clothing, housing.  American children are often sheltered and unaware--in any real sense---of the effects of poverty, even in their own communities.  This is, of course, true of many adults as well.  

Martin's experiences come as an eye-opener for readers.  And most of the readers of this book will be American middle-schoolers.  The stories of Caitlin and Martin should have an impact on how young people begin to process a broader world.  

Martin is persistent.  He never gives up, and eventually, with the help of Caitlin and her family, attends an American university and builds a successful career.  Still friends years later, the two relate the story of the impact the letters had on each of them.
   
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
2015.  Print length:  392 pages.


In 2018, I read the first of the Ravenwood Mysteries, then the second, third, and fourth.  The more I read the more I enjoyed them (always fortunate).  

The Devil's Teeth is book #5, and I was delighted to get back to a cast of characters that continued to grow on me with each book. 

For pure rollicking adventure, wit, and historical inspiration, these books have all been a pleasure of escapism.  The Devil's Teeth is somewhat tamer, as Bel has been confined to an asylum.  Not that this has done much to contain her.

In San Francisco, Atticus Riot has his own problems with the agency, his caseload, and the two daughters he has adopted.  

Sabrina Flynn uses the history of San Francisco and the raucous Barbary Coast as inspiration for both characters and events.   In the midst of the adventure, other topics like misogyny, racism, political corruption, all the vices of the Barbary Coast and China Town. 

Action packed and characters that leave the page and engage your imagination.  A Victorian mystery series that is one romp after another.

Ink & Sea Publ.
Victorian Mystery.  2019.  Print length:  352 pages.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Horseman by Christina Henry and Tahoe Blow Up by Todd Borg

 A wonderful cover, but unlike The Girl in Red, Horseman doesn't deliver.  At first, I thought it would be a fun take on the original.  When the two fourteen-year-olds were playing Sleepy Hollow Boys, I expected to love this different perspective on Washington Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Instead, the story begins nearly thirty years later.

Which was fine and still promising.  Brom and Katrina have married, had a son, lost both their son Bendix and their daughter-in-law, and have been raising their grandchild, Bende, usually shortened to Ben.  

As a coming-of-age or self-actualization story, Horseman does have some merit, but in the end, the impact is lost.  The first person narration tends more to "telling" than showing and feels clumsy--like explanations of what is happening.

I looked at some reviews and there are plenty of positive reviews, so the fact that I was disappointed, doesn't mean that you will be.  And no one can fault the cover!

NetGalley/Berkley Publ.

Fantasy.  Sept. 28, 2021.  Print length:  320 pages

 

In early August, I read Tahoe Death Fall by Todd Borg and felt glad to be at the beginning of a long series which will be there when I need something to read in those periods when the pickings are poor or when a book I thought I'd enjoy ends up being abandoned.  

Of particular interest is the plot.  Owen McKenna is alerted by Spot, his Great Dane, and realizes that a fire is rapidly moving up the mountain toward his cabin.  The speed of a forest fire depends on fuel, weather, and terrain and can move as fast as 10 mph.  All conditions are present when McKenna registers the danger, and the fire is quickly moving up the slope at frightening speed.  He notifies his closest neighbor and picks her up as quickly as possible to escape being trapped by the fire.

With all the fires currently burning across the West, the book felt even more relevant  Aside from the search for the arsonist, the information about forest fires was educational.  Blow ups, sudden increases in intensity that risk fire fighters losing control; trees that are more flammable and those that have greater resistance; methods and equipment used in fighting forest fires are all included as McKenna, the fire department, and the forest service deal with the fires.  

I like the characters and, although the arsonist is not too difficult to spot, I enjoyed the way the plot played out.

Thriller Press/Kindle Unlimited

Suspense.  2001.  Print length:  320 pages.



Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Bombay Prince by Suhata Massey and Over My Dead Body by Jeffrey Archer

 

From the beginning of this series, it was clear that India was approaching the precipice of a divided nation.  Britain had promised self-rule if India would help during WWI, but reneged, offering some reforms, but not self-rule.  

When Edward, the Prince of Wales, made his royal tour in 1921, tempers were high and the divisions between sects were a roiling undercurrent.  Indians were divided into those who wanted self-government and those who supported the British-- and then into various sects, the largest majorities of which were Muslim and Hindus.  

A supporter of independence, Perveen Mistry did not intend to join the parade crowds welcoming the Prince of Wales, but changes her mind and joins her friend Alice and the Woodburn College assembly. 

A student protester rushes toward the prince's carriage, unruly crowds that turn into riots, a young girl who had visited Perveen for advice is found murdered on campus grounds.  

Another excellent glimpse of the various cultures, beliefs, and political turmoil of an India seeking change.  The redoubtable Perveen and her family and friends give a personal insight to different views, religions, and nationalities.  For many of us, the best way to develop an interest in other cultures and in history is often the result of reading fiction and then becoming interested in finding out more.

I highly recommend this series by Suhata Massey.

The audiobook was skillfully narrated by Snethan Mahan.

-----

I read some Jeffrey Archer books years ago, so when NetGalley offered this one, I was interested.

from description:  In London, the Metropolitan Police set up a new Unsolved Murders Unit—a cold case squad—to catch the criminals nobody else can. 
 
In Geneva, millionaire art collector Miles Faulkner—convicted of forgery and theft—was pronounced dead two months ago. So why is his unscrupulous lawyer still representing a dead client? 
 
On a luxury liner en route to New York, the battle for power at the heart of a wealthy dynasty is about to turn to murder.
 
And at the heart of all three investigations are Detective Chief Inspector William Warwick, rising star of the department, and ex-undercover agent Ross Hogan, brought in from the cold. 

Over My Dead Body is the 4th book in the Detective William Warwick series, and I haven't read the previous books.   The setting is the 1970's and was full of topical allusions which younger readers might not recognize.  

Three previous books in the series might have made a difference in my opinion, but I doubt I'll go back and pick them up.  

I liked some elements, but several felt "forced"--i.e., the Holmes-like deductions in the opening chapters whose only purpose was the author's need to have a little fun and to make DCI Warwick seem supremely clever.  This largely throw-away section does, however, introduce young James who has a bit of a cameo late in the novel and may be intended to show up in future books.

Warwick is upstaged as the novel progresses DI Ross Hogan, who is a more interesting character with an edgy quality that contrasts with "choirboy" Warwick.  Warwick's team has multiple characters who have obviously been in previous books, but don't have that much to do in this installment as the main plot (among the many mini plots) focuses on the clever, sinister, and obsessive Miles Faulkner and his return to life...and on his obsession with his art collection.

NetGalley
Police Procedural.  Oct. 13, 2020.  Print length: 384 pages.
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Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes

 

 I read The Last Watch in October of 2020 and posted the review in March.  I'm glad to have been able to continue this adventure with The Exiled Fleet, but now I'm waiting for book 3.  

 My main complaint is that I wish there had been a little reminder of some of the events in the first book.  The Exiled Fleet begins in medias res, and as I've read over a hundred of books since last October, it took me a chapter or so to reorient myself.  A minor complaint.  

Character development continues, an important element in a series that relies on a sense of loyalty and camaraderie.  Each of the characters has both strengths and concomitant flaws that keep them human--not perfect, infallible cardboard cutouts.  In addition to Rake, Cavalon, and Jackin, secondary characters from the first book take on new responsibilities, and some interesting new characters are added.

The Sentinels survived the collapsing of the Divide and have rescued as many other endangered Sentinels as possible, but their situation is still dire.  As they struggle for materials, food, and mechanical and technical solutions, we learn more about the characters and their backgrounds while also gaining a better understanding of their world(s) and the machinations of Augustus Mercer, his eugenic programs, and long range plans.

Plenty of action.  Read in July; review scheduled for 

NetGalley/MacMillan-Tor/Forge
Science fiction.  Aug. 17, 2021.  Print length: 432 pages.