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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jo Bannister's Brodie Farrell Series

I read several Jo Bannister novels several years ago and enjoyed them. 

I read Breaking Faith, Reflections, The Depths of Solitude, Echoes of Lies, True Witness (the first five in the Brodie Farrell series) and The Primrose Convention and Fathers and Sins, which were stand-alones.

Recently, I read a review of Flawed by Reading Fueled by Tea, and decided to check to see if the library had anything new to offer.  They did, but I decided to re-read a couple because it had been so long since I've involved myself with Brodie, Daniel, and Jack Deacon.  After all, I started reading them in Feb. of 2006 and that was 5 years and over 600 books ago.

I re-read The Depths of Solitude and Echoes of Lies...and enjoyed them every bit as much as the first time!

I really think the novels belong to Daniel Hood.  Brodie is the pivotal character, but Daniel is the one who makes the series work for me.  Oh, I like Brodie Farrell and Jack Deacon fine (and Marta and Charlie Voss, of course), but Daniel is unique.
I've also recently read Devoured, a new series by D.E. Meredith, that I really enjoyed.  I'll be reviewing it next, I think.  Don't like the title, but the cover convinced me to take another look.  A Victorian mystery

Oh, and finally got a copy of The Weird Sisters.  I liked it, too.  Hard not to like sisters named for Shakespeare's heroines, who frequently insert lines from the Bard in their conversation.  This is the one Edgar preferred when he knocked books out of my bag so he could curl up inside.
Speak of the devil, he is asleep beside me and not trying to walk on the computer, answer the phone, knock off papers or books, or bat any loose cords around.  I put a small quilt up here with hopes that would keep him from distracting me.  Sometimes it works.

And I read Rogue Island, too.  So have that review to write and schedule.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Negative Image by Vicki Delany

 I read Scare the Light Away by Delany a while back and enjoyed it.  Negative Image  is, however, part of a crime/mystery series featuring Molly Smith, and it is evidently a popular and well-loved series.

Here is the review from Booklist:

A murder turns personal for Sergeant John Winters, Constable Molly Smith’s boss on the Trafalgar, British Columbia, police force. It turns out that the victim, a has-been fashion photographer, has a decades-old connection to Winters’ wife, Eliza, a former model. Winters, his trust in his wife shaken, is taken off the case as Eliza becomes a suspect, ahead of both the victim’s young and scarcely grief-striken widow and his ambitious assistant. Working with Winters on a series of home burglaries, Smith suffers the tensions of being a woman in a man’s world; meanwhile, she deals with her father’s health problems, her love for Mounty Adam Tocek, and the presence of a stalker, parolee Charlie Bassing, who blames Smith for all his problems. An unusual protagonist for a crime series, Molly Smith is rarely the primary character when it comes to breaking cases (at least not through four outings), but her life outside work is given full sway. And yet, it is Molly who elevates this series from standard procedural fare into something quite memorable.
 Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this novel.  That happens sometimes.   I read it a couple of weeks ago, but honestly, had to look at the review to remember what it was about.
Fiction.  Crime/mystery.  2010.  250 pages.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jack in the Pulpit by Cynthia Riggs

Jack in the Pulpit is a cozy featuring a ninety-two-year old resident of Martha's Vineyard. 

 from Publisher's Weekly:

Fall is a splendid season on Martha's Vineyard, with spectacular views of land and sea in the ever-changing light. The sudden death of four people in one month, all parishioners at the same church, however, upsets the island's tranquility. In Riggs's absorbing fourth Vineyard mystery (after 2003's Cemetery Yew), Victoria Trumbull, the wise and sprightly nonagenarian island native, is caught in the middle of a jealous battle between the new minister and the retiring minister (both named Jack) at the community church. The ministers' wives are spreading gossip about the four deceased, all of whom provided handsomely for the church. If Victoria's granddaughter, a fugitive from a vengeful and abusive husband, adds to her worries, Victoria can take solace in her developing friendship with the new, city-bred police chief. A complex, well-paced plot, involving a never-mentioned grandparent, an auto accident, a dead seagull and a basket of mushrooms, comes to a neat resolution. A sensitive observer of the scene, Riggs writes with warmth and humor about all-too-human characters with whom readers can readily identify.

If you really like this style, you might be a fan of this series.  Sometimes I do like a good cozy mystery, but this one didn't do much for me.  

Have to admit that I do admire a ninety-two-year old with the grit and gumption of Victoria, but the plot line(s) weren't that interesting.  Great cover, though!

Fiction.  Mystery.  2004.  211 pages.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Redbreast  I want to read The Snowman by Nesbo, but decided to try some of his earlier novels featuring Harry Hole first.  I decided to begin with
The Redbreast.

The novel jumped around a lot, from the present, to WWII, and back to the present.  It wasn't exactly difficult to follow, but it was...annoying?  The parts in the past were less interesting and often a bit tedious.  There was a lot of misdirection, and the plot that involved the past became a little too unbelievable.

But wait.  I did enjoy the novel.  Harry Hole was engaging in spite of his alcoholism and surliness.  The subplot is what really held my interest, and it is the subplot that will be continued in the next novel.

The history concerning the German occupation of Norway, the Norwegians who voluntarily joined the German army, and the occasional reference to the Quisling government collaboration with the Nazis piqued my interest in this area.  I've not read much about the war as far as Norway was concerned, although I was aware there were a good many Nazi sympathizers (and/or those who feared Stalin more).

I downloaded this one to my Kindle.

Fiction.  Crime. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Are What You Read...

Actually, I find that a pretty scary proposition. 

But Scholastic's You Are What You Read site lists the following as

The 10 most influential books picked by adults on
(Click through each title to see how many times the book appears in Bookprints and the users who picked the book.)
1.       To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
2.       The Holy Bible
3.       The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
4.       Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
5.       The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
6.       The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
7.       Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
8.       The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
9.       The Giver by Lois Lowry
10.   Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The 10 most influential books picked by kids on
(Click through each title to see how many times the book appears in Bookprints and the users who picked the book.)
2.       Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
3.       Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
4.       Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
5.       Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
7.       Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
8.       Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney
9.       The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
10.   Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

I find the adult list quite reasonable, and have read all of them (well, not the Bible from start to finish) and while it might not be my personal list, still a good practical list.  I am, however, surprised by the kid list. I tried The Lightening Thief by Riordan and abandoned it--and Riordan takes 5 out of the top 10!

What do you think?  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Edge is a stand-alone thriller and not a Lincoln Rhymes novel.  The first several Lincoln Rhymes books were really good, but some of the more recent ones have not  satisfied me. At any rate, Deaver introduces a new character who is not connected with the Lincoln Rhymes series (or Katherine Dance spin-off series).

  Corte works for a government agency similar to Witness Protection. In the agency's jargon, he is a shepherd, the one whose job it is to keep his individual(s) safe.  He has been assigned to protect the family of a D.C. cop.

His opponent is Henry Loving, a lifter, whose purpose is to extract information through torture.  His victims die, but simply removing them is not the main intention--gaining information is.

There is history between Corte and Loving, and Corte's decisions concerning the protection of the Kessler family may be a little different than usual.  He wants more than to keep the Kessler family safe; he wants Loving.

As in all of Deaver's books, there is a twist or two.

I thought Corte's character was a little thin, but wonder if this is really a stand-alone-- or a possible new series.  If it is a new series, maybe Corte will give Deaver a little more scope (since Lincoln Rhymes is paralyzed, the Rhymes' novels must follow a certain course), and Deaver will flesh out Corte a bit more.

Fiction. Crime/Mystery.  2010.  416 pages.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Edgar Loves Books

Well, in truth, he loves bags.  Plastic, cloth, or paper bags; they are all exciting adventures for Edgar.  Since this bag doesn't make any noise (paper bags are excellent for sound effects, cloth bags, not so much), he seems to find the atmosphere comforting.
 Obviously, I made it to the library yesterday, paid my fine, and checked out a few books.  Provided Edgar with a new activity.
   Edgar's choice is evident.  He is a discriminating fellow, after all.
I put the bag on the floor because I'd also been to the grocery store.  By the time I'd finished putting the groceries away, I was too exhausted to do anything else but read.  :)

The cold is much better, but still provides an excellent excuse to retreat to my reading chair with a cuppa and a cat.

The Time Weaver by Hana Abe'

The Time Weaver was a waste of time. Here is the  review from Publisher's Weekly:

Abé's fifth Drákon fantasy romance (after 2009's The Treasure Keeper) introduces Honor Carlisle, whose time-traveling powers help her fit into a dragon society hidden in the midst of 18th-century England. In an original and ambitious spin on time travel stories, Honor is at once the heroine and, from a future time line, the nemesis who drives the plot. The slow revelation of why and how such a sympathetic character could turn against her values adds dramatic tension, and the drákon's well-meant efforts to avert tragedy lead them to horrific expedients, making a welcome change from stock villains. Despite occasional purple prose and an unsatisfying ending precipitated by a third party who forces resolution on the conflicted protagonists, this story delivers a real sense of wonder. (June)
The only thing I wondered is why I finished. I didn't realize it was part of a series when I checked it out for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, but one was plenty.

Fiction.  Fantasy.  2010.  325 pages.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Edgars

I've been looking over The Edgar Winners and Nominees, and of course, jotting down some titles.  I've read two of the nominees for Best Novel, Faithful Place by Tana French (which I didn't like nearly as well as her first two novels, both of which I loved) and Laura Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere (which I liked much better than I expected).  On my list already were Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin and the winner of the Best Novel, The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.

Of those nominated for Best First Novel, I've only read Snow Angels by James Thompson.  Didn't like this one at all and won't be reading his second novel.  Too graphic, among other things.  The winner was Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva, which I'll look for at the library.

Haven't read any in the Paperback, Best Fact Crime, or Best Critical Biography categories, although Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang was already on my list.  A recent review in the paper made this one sound well worth reading.

I'm interested, too, in Jo Nesbo, another Scandanavian crime author.  Think I'll start with some of his older novels before moving on to The Snow Man, the one that is getting such buzz right now.

Lately, crime and mystery novels have been taking top priority around here. 


 Remember my review of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating?  Well, Bryce Eleanor found a tiny snail shell in the garden, and I used it when I was creating another eccentric little doll.  His name is Augustus, and I gave him a little book of his own, but The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is on his library list.

More on Augustus and his creation here.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games has been on my radar for a while (so many people have read it and posted positive reviews about this trilogy), but I've only just gotten around to reading it.  I wasn't disappointed in this YA novel.

Set in a post-apocalyptic era, the annual Hunger Games are approaching, and everyone is nervous.  Two young people from each district are chosen to compete until only one survives, as both a means of government control and entertainment.  The Romans had nothing on this dystopian society. 

When Katniss' younger sister Prim is one of the two chosen by lottery, sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her place. The other lottery "winner" from her district is Peeta, a school mate who once did Katniss a good turn that helped her family survive.

However, since only one individual survives the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta will be pitted against one another as well as against the tributes from the other districts. Twenty-four young people will enter the arena with the intention of killing the other participants.

You do have to suspend disbelief, but once you accept Collins' world of Panem, it is easy to become involved with both Katniss and Peeta's attempts to survive as long as possible. 

I'll have to get the next two books in this trilogy because I do want to know what happens next.

There are some similarities to John Marsden's series Tomorrow When the War Began, but also some major differences.  Instead of having a group of teenagers working together against the invaders of their country, these young people are pitted against one another. I have to admit that I enjoyed Marsden's first novel more, his characters all jump off the page, and I loved the whole series.

However, I DID enjoy The Hunger Games and look forward to Catching Fire.

Fiction. Dystopian/YA. 2010.  384 pages.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face by Jack Prelutsky

 I had Bryce Eleanor for 6 days, from Thursday night until Wednesday afternoon.  It was great fun, and we played and read.  The last few days, however, she developed a summer cold and went through the tissues like mad. 
It didn't bother her most of the time, and she was cheerful and playful in spite of it.  

I'd ordered 3 poetry books by Jack Prelutsky to have on hand for the grandkids.  Be Glad Your Nose Is On Your Face is the one I got down for this visit, and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.  

Both Prelutsky and B.E. have a thing about spaghetti, so poems that featured spaghetti were favorites. 

I like that Prelutsky uses big words frequently; his poems are written for children, but they are certainly not condescending.

 Of course, this one says it is perfect for ages 7-11, and B.E. is only three.  Nevertheless the charming illustrations and rhymes kept her fascinated whether she understood everything or not.

The marvelous illustrations are by Brandon Dorman  and go well with Prelutsky's funny and fanciful words.  In 2006, Prelutsky became the nation's first Children's Poet Laureate, a well-deserved honor.

After Amelia and Chris returned from New Hampshire and Boston and picked up their happy daughter (bringing at least a half dozen new books), I settled in to a quiet house again.

But by Thursday night, I realized that I'd contracted B.E.'s cold.  She was so sweet and cheerful.  I was a miserable, grumpy, whining, self-pitying mess.  By Saturday, I couldn't even read to comfort myself.  Just whine, take meds, and try to sleep.  This morning, I've decided to live.  

And I'm going to catch up reviews.  Yes.

The Last Lie by Stephen White

The Last Lie returns Dr. Alan Gregory, the Boulder psychologist to the forefront. White's last book, The Siege, was a bit of a departure and featured detective Sam Purdy, Gregory's frequent sidekick in an excellent storyline, full of adventure.  Unfortunately, the newest Alan Gregory installment isn't nearly as good.

When a new neighbor complains about Gregory's dog and whether Emily should be off her leash, Gregory finds the man supercilious and develops an instinctive distrust of the man who is well-known for his work in the area of women's rights.

After a housewarming party at the home of the new neighbor, a young widow, one of the guests, claims she was raped.  There are blank spots, however, in her memory of the event.  Although she believes her rapist was her host, the memory gaps create problems.

Dr. Gregory is supervising a young psychologist who has been treating the young woman and has  insights into the case that he cannot share.  At the same time, his wife Lauren (an assistant DA) and his friend detective Sam Purdy also have information that they can't share for legal reasons.   

On several levels, this book didn't work as well as previous books in this series.   I had difficulties with some of the lengthy comparisons to the Kobe Bryant case.  Not with the allusion as such, but with the drawn out, hypothetical presentation.. The reader can understand the possibilities in a paragraph or two and doesn't need a couple of pages. 

Gregory's behavior seemed unusual at times, unlike his previous incarnations somehow.  Maybe this is partly because I've missed a novel in the series that sets up a change in Gregory's outlook and behavior.   The portion involving Jonas didn't ring true for me, either, and this bit bothered me.

It is difficult to discuss the problems I had with the book without spoilers, but I never felt truly involved with the plot or the characters. 

Fiction.  Mystery.  2010.  416 pages.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen; trans. Lisa Hartford

Mercy arrived from Francesca Russell with PenguinUK on Monday.  I started it Monday night, stayed up late, finished the next morning.  Thanks, Francesca, this one was a real page turner!  In fact, I have 5 books waiting to be reviewed, but they will just have to wait in line because this one is taking priority.

Mercy is the Winner of the Glass key Award 2010 for Best Nordic Crime Thriller--previously awarded to Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.  It is also the Winner of the Reader's Book Award (Denmark) 2010, Danish Thriller of the Year 2010, and The Golden Laurels award in Denmark.

Carl Morck was a top homocide detective until one of his team members is killed, the other one is paralyzed, and Morck himself is shot while investigating a murder.  Morck, already an outsider because of his caustic remarks, now finds it difficult to cope.  He can't get along with anyone else; no one wants to work with him and understandably so.

To get him out of the way, he is promoted to a new department for cold (and hopeless) cases--Department Q.  His boss sees the newly formed Department Q as a means of keeping Morck out of the way while gaining extra money for the department.  Morck understands that his new office in the basement has benefits both to his boss and to himself and intends to while away his time doing as little as possible.  He is assigned one assistant to perform various chores and errands.

Enter Assad, an immigrant with some unusual talents.  The first of these abilities that Morck pays genuine attention to is Assad's ability to charm some of the dragons that beleaguer Morck, but Assad puzzles the detective in many ways.

I like Morck.  He's going through some personal difficulties, he's sarcastic, he's lazy, he's off-beat, and he has a rare intuitive approach to crime.  But I love Assad.  Full of surprises and humor, Assad galvanizes Morck. The two develop a  quietly hilarious relationship that can lighten even some of the more serious scenes. 

Morck (or Assad) chooses to begin with the case of Merete Lynggaard, a young and beautiful politician who vanished five years earlier.  Earlier investigations assumed she drowned, but her body was never discovered and there were a few anomalies.  At first, Morck doesn't really believe he will find any answers either, but he becomes interested in spite of himself.

And Merete Lynggaard isn't dead.  She has endured a situation that most would consider worse, and yet, she maintains her sanity and her own sense of autonomy as far as is possible. 

While the first few chapters were a little slow, filling in some background about the case that ended in such disaster for Morck's team, the tension slowly begins to pick up when Morck begins looking into the Lynggaard case and, punctuated with some really amusing sections, the suspense continues to mount throughout the book.  By the end, I could hardly keep myself from skimming to discover what was going to happen. 

Carl Morck and Assad are two wonderful additions to the field of criminal fiction.  I can't wait to read more about these two and Department Q.  Highly recommended for those who love crime fiction!

Fiction.  Mystery/Crime.  2008.  Eng. trans.  2011.  489 pages.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin

The Dead Path was kind of creepy, but not really frightening.  The cover is great, and the book sounds scary, but the idea has been covered before with more suspense.

Nicholas Close sees dead people.  Sound familiar?  After his wife dies, Nicholas sees his wife and other dead people re-enacting their final moments, caught in some kind of time loop.  He finds this new dimension disturbing.  Well...yeah.  

Nicholas ends up leaving London and returning home to Australia.  Not only does he continue to see dead people, but a traumatic event from his childhood re-surfaces in a variety of ways. 

His sister has become a good witch, his mother considers him bad luck, someone has been killing children for decades, there is a haunted wood, awful spiders, the Green Man myth, and more. 

Yet, I didn't find it very scary.  Creepy, yes.  Full of elements that should make it frightening, yes.  So why didn't it have that effect on me?  

I think it was because none of the characters had enough dimension for me to care deeply about what they were supposed to be going through.  In order to make an elaborately fantastic plot like this work, the characters need to both likable and interesting.  Nicholas seemed to be playing a part instead of participating in a horror story.  

There are quite a few genuinely creepy scenes and disturbing events, but it didn't work for me.  The conclusion was irritating.

Too bad.  I wanted to feel frightened.

Fiction.   Supernatural/Horror?  2009.  374 pages.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner

Castle of Shadows  is another one for the Once Upon a Time Challenge and is another YA novel.

The reviews are all very positive, but for some reason, I had difficulty feeling the same way.  When I can't think of much to say, I've been resorting to Product Descriptions and Reviews on Amazon.  So here goes another one:

 "No clue about why the Queen vanished had ever been found. Until now..." The day Charlie discovers a scrap of paper that could solve the dark mystery of her mother's disappearance, her world changes. Forever. Charlie and her friend, Toby, must race against time on a dangerous mission to uncover the sinister truth. But in this shadowy world of secrets and lies, there is more to fear than they can possibly imagine...
 Sometimes YA novels are suitable for everyone, regardless of age, and sometimes they are suitable only for a particular age group.  I would definitely place this in a "young reader" category.

I just wasn't deeply engaged by either characters or plot.  Most of the YA novels I've read lately fall into this category.  Maybe I should re-read some of the novels from my own childhood and see if they hold up to the memories I have of them.  Some novels enchanted me then, but would they have the same effect now?

Still, when I read Shannon Hale (i.e. The Goose Girl), Erin Hunter(Warrior series), Donna Jo Napoli (Zel), or Megan Whalen Turner (The Thief - Attolia series), I find myself deeply involved with both characters and plots. Even if the above books are written for a younger audience, they contain something that lasts beyond turning the final page.

I do think very young readers might be quite taken with this novel, and the sequel City of Thieves has also been released. Although it didn't offer me the feeling of delight that some YA novels do, every reader has preferences for a certain kind of book.

Other Reviews:  Bookhi, BookMonkeys,

Fiction.  YA Fantasy. 2010.  336 pages.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D'Almeida

Death of a Musketeer is another book sent to me by the author. 

From Publishers Weekly

Dumas fans eager for further details of the lives of his swashbuckling musketeer heroes may enjoy this first in a series of historical mystery novels that transforms those men of action and intrigue into the king's detectives. The concept is less far-fetched than it might seem; in one of Dumas's own sequels to The Three Musketeers, The Viscount of Bragelonne, D'Artagnan displays almost Holmesian powers of deduction. But D'Almeida has not yet realized the potential of her conceit. By choosing to wedge her plot into the midst of the well-known original—chronicling D'Artagnan's first adventure with Athos, Porthos and Aramis—she has constricted herself, making the central elements of her plot disappointingly familiar. The whodunit posed for her four heroes—a young woman who closely resembles the queen has been murdered by an unknown assailant—is not especially tricky due to a paucity of plausible suspects, and the colloquial language can jar. Nonetheless, the idea is interesting enough that both musketeer and mystery fans can hope for improvements in future entries. (Nov.)

Originally published in 2006, Death of a Musketeer is the first in the series that includes at least two more installments.   While not categorized as a YA novel, that is probably where the novel fits best.

Fiction.  Historical fiction.  2006.  264 pages. 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

Phantoms in the Brain:  Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
is full of strange examples of the way the brain functions and malfunctions.  Ramachandran is the neuroscientist who developed the deceptively simple mirror box to help individuals with phantom limb syndrome--and has to be one of the most broadly curious men living today.  He is full of questions, full of hypotheses, full of hunches.   When it is feasible, he goes about proving or disproving these theories, developing more questions and theories along the way.  He also admits that for many of his questions, there are no currently available means to prove what he theorizes, but it doesn't stop his questioning.

He is a "what if" kind of scientist, as well.  He asks a question, forms a hunch, then says "what happens if you do this?"  I think this is the part I like best, Ramachandran doesn't always rely on terribly expensive equipment, he formulates simple experiments and adapts and revises the process.  It isn't that he eschews the use of fMRIs , MEG, or PET scans or other remarkable technology, but he also uses more fundamental approaches.

The book covers topics such as phantom limbs, neglect syndrome, Capgras Syndrome, denial, temporal lobe epilepsy, and blind sight.   He includes plenty of examples and explains in a conversational manner that is easy to understand.  Ramachandran and Blakeslee, his co-author,  know their audience and their goal is to communicate with the lay public, not publish an academic paper.

His contributions have been such that his name and some of his work has been featured in every one of the "brain" books I've read in the last couple of years.  

V.S. Ramachandran on "On Your Mind"  (TED)
V.S. Ramachandran on Mirror Neurons  (TED)

Sandra Blakeslee also co-authored  The Body Has a Mind of Its Own How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better which I reviewed last year.

Below is an example of Rachandran's Mirror Box and an explanation of how it works.

Informative and interesting, Phantoms in the Brain is worth the time!

Nonfiction.  Neuroscience/Brain.  1998.  313 pages.  (extensive Notes; excellent bibliography)

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse

The Winter Ghosts is another very short book. 

From Publishers Weekly

In Mosse's wisp of a new novel (after Sepulchre), Freddie Watson is a stilted young man who has not gotten over older brother George's disappearance on the Western Front during WWI. It is now 10 years since the Armistice, and Freddie, after a stay in a mental institution, has come to the French Pyrenees to find peace. While motoring through a snowstorm, he crashes his car and ends up in the small village of Nulle, where he meets a beautiful young woman named Fabrissa. In the course of an evening, Fabrissa tells Freddie a story of persecution, resistance, and death, hinting at a long-buried secret. By the next morning, she is gone, leaving Freddie alone to unlock a ghostly mystery hidden for 600 years. This is a staunchly old-fashioned story, taking fully 100 pages to get moving, and by the time things pick up, the gist of the narrative will be obvious to anyone who has ever sat through a Twilight Zone episode. Freddie's obtuseness does little to help along a gruel-thin story. (Feb.)
 Not particularly impressed with this one, but it was very short.  The premise didn't work well for me, and Freddie, the protagonist, was almost as nebulous as Fabrissa.  I've read several novels in the last year or so that dealt with the history of the Cathars, which is an interesting and sad subject of religious persecution, but other than the historical info, found little to keep my interest.

Fiction.  Historical/Supernatural.  2009.  260 pages.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Air Mail by Naomi Bulger

 Air Mail was sent to me as a review copy by author Naomi Bulger.  Below is the product review from Amazon.


Product Description

Reclusive old Mr. G.L. Solomon's favorite things are single malt whiskey, Steve McQueen movies, and gingersnap cookies. He hates processed cheese, washing detergent commercials, and the way the teacup rattles in the saucer when he picks it up. Solomon has become accustomed to his lonely routine in Sydney, Australia-until the day he begins sporadically receiving letters in his mailbox from a complete stranger. On the other side of the world, Anouk is a mentally delicate young woman living in New York who insists she is being stalked by a fat woman in a pink tracksuit. When Anouk declares to Solomon that she is writing "from the Other Side," the old man breaks away from his daily grind of watching soap operas and reading Fishing World and travels to New York to find her. As he is drawn into Anouk's surreal world of stalkers and storytelling, marbles and cats, purgatory and Plato, Solomon has but one goal-to unravel the mystery before it is too late. " ... A story of mismatched individuals in a world where magic touches the diurnal." -Christine Nagel Literary Services

It is a very short book with some of the mysterious correspondence characteristics of Gryphon and Sabine, but without the wonderful illustrations.  It suffered by comparison.  The characters have potential, but several elements kept me from being able to suspend disbelief or to become truly engaged by either Mr. Solomon or Anouk.

Fiction.  2011.  103 pages.

Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson

Instruments of Darkness delivered more than I expected!  Set in West Sussex in the 1780's, the protagonists are Harriet Westerman who runs her estate in the absence of her husband, a navy commander, and Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist.

When Harriet discovers a murdered man on her estate, she rides directly to the home of her neighbor, the reclusive, antisocial, Gabriel Crowther.  Crowther is unaccustomed to receiving visitors, but when he reads the brief note his man brings him, he agrees to see Harriet.  The note contains just two sentences:  "I have found a body on my land.  His throat has been cut."

Crowther simply can't resist a corpse!  He does ask why Mrs. Westerman has come to him rather than the magistrate, and Harriet replies that she has read one of his published articles about the signs a murderer might leave on a body or in the vicinity of the body.

The scenes move back and forth between Sussex and London and America, where another murder has occurred.  Although the switches are a bit abrupt, I had no difficulty switching locations and characters.  The two (or three) stories are obviously tied together and the connections are reinforced as the novel continues. 

I really liked the friendship that develops between Harriet and the reclusive Crowther, who is forced to mingle with many individuals as he and Harriet attempt to solve the murder and reveal the one responsible.  The motive lies in the past, and this unusual team of "detectives"  must discover the deadly secrets that have prompted the murders.  

It is a bit unusual to pair two characters like Harriet and Crowther on the basis of friendship, rather than romance.  Robertson does an excellent job with this aspect and gives us plenty to enjoy about the characters and their relationships.  The minor characters are well-drawn as well.

While the conclusion seemed a bit rushed with some resemblance to Jane Eyre and The Fall of the House of Usher, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and look forward to Robertson's next adventure with Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther!

Fiction.  Historical Fiction/Mystery.  2011.  372 pages.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Russian Winter  is an excellent example of how fiction can reveal truth  with more resonance than historical fact.  We all know that life in Stalinist Russia was frightening and often deadly, but by connecting with fictional characters that a skilled author directs with grace and restraint, we get more than an intellectual awareness, we get an empathetic awareness of the times.

Nina Revskya, a former star of the Bolshoi Ballet, is in her seventies, confined to a wheelchair, and haunted by memories.  When she decides to put her collection of jewelry up for auction--proceeds to be donated to the Boston Ballet-- the memories she has repressed come flooding to the surface.

  Grigori Solodin, whose letters have in a way precipitated Nina's decision to sell her jewelry, again attempts to contact her as he tries to unravel his own personal mystery, the fact that a beautiful amber necklace in his possession may have once been part of a set that Nina has inherited from her husband's family.  Nina has vehemently denied the possibility.

Drew Brooks, the young woman from the auction house, catalogs and researches the pieces before the sale.  When Grigori brings the amber necklace to her, intent on adding it to the auction, Drew delves even deeper into the origin of the amber pieces.

In the meantime, Nina's memories of her past continue to occupy her time with increasing vividness--her childhood in Stalinist Russia, where people disappear with heartbreaking finality; her career with the Bolshoi, her training and eventual rise to ballet stardom;  her husband, the Russian poet, Victor Elsin;  her friends--Vera, a fellow ballerina, and Gersha, a talented composer. 

These flashbacks are the heart of the novel, and Kalotay successfully draws the reader into the atmosphere of post WWII Russia with all of the attendant hardships, poverty, and fears. 

Not even the privileged are exempt from fear.    The little scenes of Nina, Victor, Gersh, and Vera, these very talented young people, are touching in their simplicity.  All of them have the unusual benefit of loving their professions and of friendships that offer some relief from the stark realities of life, but they are all aware that a single word or secret could destroy them.

When Gersh is targeted by the secret police, the tension mounts.  No one is safe, informers are everywhere, association with those who have been targeted can be dangerous.  The brief idyll of the friends is over as each one faces complications, misunderstandings, and the power of the state.

Switching between time periods is skillfully done, and Kalotay's writing is lovely, descriptive, and evocative. 

I found the characters from the past "more real" than the characters in the present, but that didn't bother me.   The secrets, mysteries, and eventual realization of misconceptions are revealed slowly, with consideration.  Not that you won't suspect some things, but there are interesting twists along the way.

I liked this novel best for the personal, atmospheric sense of Russia under Stalin and for the sections on the ballet which includes marvelous, tiny details of a dancer's life and training, but there were many other reasons for enjoying Russian Winter.

Fiction.  Historical fiction/mystery.  2011.  496 pages.