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Friday, January 31, 2014

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

Sometimes you are privileged to discover a book that has so many layers to consider, you find yourself pondering not only characters, events, and established cultures specific to the story, but also wider implications of certain situations and circumstances that have repeated themselves over and over.

Mercy Snow is a beautifully written novel that examines a microcosm of human struggles concerning economic stability versus the damage to lives and nature.  The writing is beautiful, but the setting is corrupt and toxic.  Fortunately, Mercy Snow, the eponymous young woman at the heart of the story, has such remarkable strength of character that she somehow lifts the atmosphere and provides hope.

Set in the small town of Titan Falls on the Androscoggin river, the novel illuminates the far-reaching corrosive effects of the town's paper mill, the main source of employment.

Paper mills have caused tremendous environmental damage (link to more information of paper mill damage): polluting the air and dumping hazardous chemicals and waste into rivers and streams.  The smell is offensive and permeates surrounding areas, a not so subtle reminder of all of the other damage inflicted on both the environment and the local population.

There is another kind of damage that often accompanies an industry of this kind, the dependence of a poor population on the very industry that blights the landscape and their lives.  This contamination is two-fold:  1) a social hierarchy where the majority are at the bottom and often a single family inhabits the top rung, and 2) such economic vulnerability, that those at the bottom not only endure the ravages inflicted by the industry, but aid in its support because without it, they would not eat.  (This phenomenon is not restricted to the paper mills, of course.)

When Mercy Snow, her brother Zeke, and her young sister Hannah arrive in Titan Falls, they are quite literally at the bottom of the food chain.  When an accident sends a school bus off the road causing the death of a young woman, Zeke is blamed.  Mercy does her best to get at the truth of the matter, but prejudice against the Snow family is of long standing, and Zeke makes a convenient target.

In her attempts to clear Zeke, Mercy's main opponent is June McAllister, wife of the mill owner.  June is determined to get rid of the Snows.  Her influence in the town in enormous, and she wields it without compunction because she is trying to protect her own family.

There are several mysteries hidden in this town and in the novel, and Baker takes her time in revealing information.  Concentrating on the main characters and their strengths and weaknesses, Baker gradually discloses enough of the past to illustrate how past is prologue (aah, Will, you had such a way with words).  
And Tiffany Baker, too, has a way with words:

...a prick of gossip could go only so far before it would shred too much of the common fabric.

Afterward it was as if something inside of him had been irrevocably rearranged, like a box of dishes dropped, shattered, and then shelved for good.

...for just as her time in the woods with those two men was a memory she wished to keep to herself, as stagnant and singular as a puddle drying up on asphalt, she knew that Zeke also had pockets of similar disquiet that wouldn't evaporate in him either....

A silence fell over the room as the women took their needles, bent their heads, and began to stitch, their needles pricking, prying, and then just as quickly closing the little holes they were making in the fabric of one another's lives.

I found myself especially drawn to the thread/fabric motif that runs through the novel and had to be careful not to use those quotes exclusively.  Baker's facility with language is truly a gift.

The book contrasts the harsh realities of a paper mill town in decline and Mercy's dedicated and determined love of her family, with a delicate vein of magical realism thrown in.

Highly recommended.

NetGalley/Hachette Book Group

Contemporary Fiction.  2014.  Print version:  336 pages.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Negative Comment on a Negative Review (with update)

I just received an outraged comment a few minutes ago on my review of Windwalker.  I deleted the comment, but I must admit that perhaps my review was too snarky.  I published it right after getting back from a week in Baton Rouge and the stress of Erin's surgery and dealing with her set backs left me in a less than positive mood.  

The comment did not change my view of the book.  It did make me think about reviewing a book with such petulance.  The anonymous commenter mentioned that I should not read books about soul mates or reincarnation if I don't like the topics.  It isn't that I really dislike the topics; I've read books about both that have appealed to me, although I find the single soul mate concept and the search through centuries to locate that individual a tad difficult to make ring true .  Truthfully, I believe that writing good stories about either are difficult, and so when I read a good one (meaning one that I like, one that makes me suspend disbelief) I'm especially appreciative. 

I can't always tell from a book's description whether or not the book will be one that I will enjoy.  Even if everything about the description sounds appealing, it doesn't mean that the book is one that will, after all, meet expectations.  We don't always like the same books.  Even readers with similar tastes, and who usually agree about books they read, have different responses to certain books.  

The commenter must have read my review on Goodreads because I don't give stars on my blog, but I rarely give one star reviews.  One star on the Goodreads site means "I didn't like it" and two stars means "It was OK."  I didn't like it.  

Which brings me back to my negative review.  I usually make a comment in my more negative reviews to the effect that my review is just my opinion, that the author has plenty of fans, that other reviews are positive.  It didn't happen with that particular review.  Mea Culpa -- I will keep this in mind.

Dang, I can't win for losing.  More comments on Windwalker review.  I sure made someone angry.  Even trying to mediate didn't help.  You'd think I was the only one that gave the book a less than stellar review.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Windwalker by Natasha Mostert

If you believe in soul mates and lovers who are reincarnated and fated to search for the partner with whom they have had disastrous relationships in the past,  Windwalker will please you.

Photographer Justine Calloway's guilt over the death of her brother results in a withdrawal from her career.  She takes a job as a caretaker of an old mansion with a bleak past and feels sorry for herself, not just because of her guilt, but because she is missing something in her life...a soul mate, a predestined partner to complete her.

Adam Buchanan left Paradine Park after killing his brother and has spent the past nine years in a secluded South African town writing letters to his soul mate.  He knows she exists and is determined to find her.  How this is supposed to happen is unclear since Adam doesn't really plan to leave.

Wonder of wonders, however, Justine and Adam are searching for each other.  She ends up at Paradine Park with a strange attraction to the missing man; Adam sees her photographs and "recognizes" Justine as his soul mate.

Both Justine and Adam are responsible for the deaths of their brothers.  Maybe they were meant for each other.  
I feel a little bad about the snarky review, but this one isn't as bad as the review for The Collector of Dying Breaths by M. J. Rose which I've scheduled for March.  Guess I'm just not a soul mate kind of gal.

NetGalley/Portable Magic, LTD

Romance? Paranormal?  2013.  Print version:  366 pages.

Home Again

Got back from Baton Rouge yesterday afternoon.  Erin's surgery went well, and the doctor is confident that she got everything.  As smoothly as the surgery went, there were some post-surgery complications, but Erin was finally released on Sunday, minus one kidney.  A week in the hospital is no vacation, but we were certainly glad to have met several outstanding nurses with patience and compassion.

Erin is doing well, up and about, and feeling so much better.  She and Brandon are preparing for another winter onslaught.  Baton Rouge and New Orleans are completely unaccustomed to ice and snow.  The last blast shut down much of B.R., but since we were in the hospital, we did not have to deal with the problem of closed roads and highways.  The icy weather even closed the Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans.  Unheard of!  

And now a new surge of icy precipitation is moving in.  The deep south is becoming a deep freeze.  

I'm tired, more from emotional upheaval than anything else, but am so relieved that Erin is doing well.  

Read several books while there and have plenty of reviews already to catch up on.  Finished The Hatch and Brood of Time by Ellen Larson, Vertigo 42 by Martha Grimes (Yep, love me some Richard Jury), Dominion by C.J. Sansom (whoa, what a frightening alternate history of WWII--if Britain had surrendered), Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker (beautifully written, I'll have some great quotes from this one), The Dirty Book Murder by Thomas Shawver (a bookseller, Japanese erotica, a Colette novel with inscriptions--one to Sylivia Beach and one by Hemingway that make that work priceless, and something hidden in one of the books that makes this auction haul worth murder), and The Quick by Lauren Owen (almost finished).

Sitting in a hospital room for seven days provided plenty of time for reading, and when I wasn't reading, I worked on some embroidery tucked in my purse just in case.  I'm so glad that the books in my que were good ones because they kept my mind busy.  My slim little Kindle held plenty of escape.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Pleasure of Memory by Welcome Cole

The Pleasure of Memory seems an odd name for this fantasy.   Beam's memories are more disturbing than pleasant.  

Beam, the antihero, is a thief and a smuggler whose various activities include gambling, whoring, and grave robbing.  Although he doesn't seem to seek violence, he is always prepared for it.

Even as Beam acknowledges his tendency to criminal behavior, he exhibits a concern for others in several situations;  he fights against this tendency, yet usually grudgingly submits to it.

The story opens with Beam feeling pretty good about his situation and his prospects.  He has found a gem in one of the crypts he plundered and believes he has managed to escape his pursuers.

What do you think?  Yep, the pursuers catch up with him and send him running for his life.

The action is exceptionally well done.  Beam's escape from the hostile warriors is as visual as a scene from a movie.  

The escape is just the beginning of a long journey that changes Beam in almost every way. Despite his better judgement, he risks his life to save a mage, and finds himself with even more problems than he had before.  Facing demons and his own fears become  daily challenges for Beam.

A reluctant antihero begins his transformation in this version of the hero's journey, and the journey will continue in the next two installments of this trilogy.

I almost didn't request this NetGalley offer because of the cover, which seems more appropriate for a Nordic Noir murder mystery.  Don't judge this book by its cover.   Welcome Cole has created a gripping plot, strong characters, and an engaging fantasy world.  

NetGalley/Caelstone Press

Fantasy/Adventure.  2013.  Print version:  549 pages.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Moving Target by J.A. Jance

Moving Target is the latest in the Ali Reynolds series.  I've read the Joanna Brady series for years, but have only read a few of Jance's Ali Reynolds series.

Lance Tucker, a high school student with great hacking and programming skills, got in trouble when he hacked his school's computer system in protest of a new policy.  The repercussions are much more serious than they might have been because someone is aware of his new program GHOST that allows access to the dark web without detection.

Confined to a juvenile facility, Lance is attacked and severely burned while decorating a Christmas tree.  Suspecting that the incident is not an accident, B. Simpson (Ali's fiance' and head of a cyber security firm) wants to protect Lance and find out who is behind what he considers attempted murder.  

A side story involving Ali's aging butler has her busy in England, but as soon as she has that wrapped up, she joins B.  in his attempt to protect Lance and his family.


Mystery.  Feb. 18, 2014.  Print version:  352 pages.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


*  Martha Grimes has written a new Richard Jury book!  The title Vertigo 42 comes from a bar instead of a pub this time.  Thank you, NetGalley!

*  Hidden pictures!  You may have seen this on Facebook, but so cool!  More here.

*  Finished two books about soul mates and reincarnation.  I'm not much into soul mates.  Fee and I are soul mates by default; no one else could put up with either of us.

*  Tomorrow we leave for Baton Rouge.  Erin's surgery is scheduled for early Monday morning.  I will be there for a while.


*  Have a couple of books in progress and some NetGalley e-books to keep me busy in B.R.   Reading The Hatch and Brood of Time by Ellen Larson (another title cadged from Shakespeare)and The Paper Sword by Robert Priest, a YA fantasy.  Both are pretty good so far.  Then I'll indulge in the new Richard Jury by Martha Grimes and Dominion, a new C.J. Sansom novel.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Third Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

The Third Rule of Ten:  A Tenzing Norbu Mystery             

Keep current with the truth: we’re only as weak as our secrets— especially the ones we keep from ourselves.

Ten Norbu, former Tibetan monk, former homicide
 detective, and current private investigator, realizes the danger of keeping secrets, but the secrets he decides to keep continue to accumulate.

Even after formulating his third rule of Ten, he acknowledges his failure to "keep current with the truth."

Outwardly, Ten's life is proceeding well on both the professional and personal levels.  Ten knows, however, that there are undercurrents bothering him--but he isn't ready to face them.

His new case leads him down a digressive path.  From a missing person's case, to gangs and drugs, and other avenues (both medical and political) that appear to be related --Ten follows one link in the chain to another.

The Dharma Detective must work through his own personal issues and confront a deadly threat that has an unexpected author.  When Ten realizes who the villain is, he receives a profound shock.

I love this series.  Love the characters, the Buddhist references, the plots.  Hope Hendricks and Lindsay are busy with the Fourth Rule of Ten!

NetGalley/Hay House

Mystery.  Feb.  2014.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter People  is a ghost story that takes place in two centuries.  The story's origin takes place in the early 1900's when a series of tragedies shake a family and a small town.  In the present day, Ruthie and her younger sister live with their unconventional mother in an old farmhouse in West Hall, Vermont.  

Of course, Ruthie's family lives in the same house that Sara Harrison Shea's family occupied when the first series of tragedies occurred.

A number of strange disappearances have occurred over the years in this small township, but there is no real sense that the population is unduly concerned.  The disappearances could be explainable by boredom with small town life...or connected to legends that the inhabitants only half believe and find a little titillating.  

There are parts of the book that are pretty creepy, and the details of Shea family life in the past are a strong point, but ultimately this is a book that left me feeling manipulated,  not satisfied.  

I've only read one other book by McMahon, and I wasn't impressed with that one, either.  I realize that she is a well-loved icon of her genre and that she has many devoted fans, but for some reason, her books don't work for me.

Read in Dec. of 2013.


Supernatural.  Feb. 11, 2014.  Print version:  336 pages.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Windrose Chronicles by Barbara Hambly

I really enjoyed this fantasy/science fiction series, but must warn anyone who reads them as ebooks that it is a bit jarring to confront the problems of the conversions.  Typos and spacing problems abound.  

The Silent Tower was originally published in 1986, and so the computer technology will be dated for those who are computerate literate.  I'm not, so other than noting that technology has advanced considerably, the tech stuff is over my head anyway.  

A kidnapped computer programmer taken into a medieval world meets a young warrior and a mad wizard who has been imprisoned for years in the Silent Tower.  Adventures befall them and each of the three main characters have to learn who to trust.

One thing that I loved about this series is the lack of description of Joanna:  she is very small, has curly blonde hair, and a prominent nose.  It is a really vague description.  She is not gorgeous,  not described in voluptuous or glamorous terms, and not presented as a pre-packaged painting of visual delights.  Hambly lets her be a person, not an image.

It may seem contradictory, but I do love the frequent details about the appearance of Antryg:  beaky nose, flexible, clownish face, bony, middle-aged, and recovering from the effects of his imprisonment.  Certainly not the typical hero -- in looks or behavior.

I worried at first that Joanna would fall for Caris, the handsome warrior and was relieved that it did not happen.  

No insta-love here for anyone.

The Silicon Mage  continues the plot line established in the first book.  Joanna realizes she has made a serious mistake and that she must rectify it.  The character development continues, especially with Caris, who evolves into a character with more depth.  More exciting and suspenseful adventures.

 Antryg is still my favorite character and the power that he had to keep hidden in the first book must be called on in this one.  


Dog Wizard  is the final installment, and  since the original plot line was resolved, this novel adds another plot.  Characters from the first two books reappear and some new characters are added.

Joanna's role in this novel is much reduced.  Antryg takes center stage throughout.  

This is the final book in the trilogy, but if Hambly decided to return to these characters, I'd be there.                        

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Cry in the Night

A Cry in the Night is a psychological thriller. Dark and intense and often unpleasant.

Trying to review this book has been a slippery slope.  

Missing children, the effect of history and myth, misogyny at work in past and present.  The author does not give the reader much help in this novel, deliberately leaving us in the dark--and uncertain about what to believe and who to trust.

DI Sam Taylor and DC Zoe Barnes have worked together long enough to be confident in each other, but from the beginning of this case, their trust in each other is threatened by secrets.

Not only is the relationship of the two investigators undergoing a devolution, but both Sam and Zoe have a growing sense of unease about what is going on in their department.  A corruption of values and of trust is taking place.  The point of origin for their concerns differ, but both have increasing concerns and questions

Both Sam and Zoe question how QC Helen Seymour has ended up defending all of the women in the files given to Sam...cases where women have murdered their own children or those in their care.  

Instead of an unreliable narrator, this novel features a number of unreliable characters.   A clever technique that leaves the reader uneasy and often repelled.

I almost abandoned this book pretty early.  I persevered, and must admit that while not a pleasant novel, there are some interesting insights.  Grieves keeps the tension tight, and the reader ambivalent and troubled.

Read in Dec., 2013

NetGalley/Quercus Books

Police Procedural/Psychological Thriller.  Jan.  2013.  Print version:  ??

Monday, January 13, 2014

An Air of Treason by P. F. Chisholm

I was interested in  An Air of Treason:  A Sir Robert Carey Mystery  because of a long fascination with Amy Robsart and the mystery behind her death.  Who is responsible for this fascination?  Sir Walter Scott and his novel Kenilworth which I read as a teenager.    

 Much has been written, in fact and fiction, about Amy and whether her death was an unfortunate accident or murder.  If murder, was her husband Robert Dudley involved?  Was Queen Elizabeth, who adored Dudley, responsible?       

Chisolm presents a new theory and has done a lot of research to make the theory plausible.  While the truth will never be known, the circumstances give rise to plenty of speculation, and Chisolm has used many primary documents to develop his plot.

I have not read the previous novels in this series, but I did enjoy this one.  Sir Robert Carey is a protagonist with flaws; he is often humorously egotistical, but is essentially a good man with a talent for solving mysteries.  

Robert Carey is the son of Elizabeth's half brother, Lord Hunsdon.  Hunsdon was the son of Mary Boleyn, and many believe, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII.   Carey is, therefore, both Elizabeth's nephew and second cousin.  

When Elizabeth orders him to investigate the death of Amy Robsart Dudley, Carey knows that the investigation of a thirty-year-old death will be dangerous for him.  The possibility that Elizabeth herself may have been involved concerns him.

The story line of Carey's man, Sergeant Henry Dobson is equally interesting.  Dobson provides plenty of action on his own.

I enjoyed the mystery and the researching on line for some of what is documented about Amy's death and the consequences thereof.  

My main complaint is that Chisholm refers to Scots as Scotch.  I've always heard that the preferred choice is either Scots or Scottish.  However, Scotch is an archaic term, and although I found it jarring, I guess it is appropriate.

Amusing, but crude, definition from Urban Dictionary:

Most definitely does not mean 'Scottish' when describing people. It is often used to describe liquor, eggs and beef among other things. 

Those who call Scottish people 'Scotch' are often corrected with a polite saying-so, or a "F__ off, you stupid American bastard!", depending on how much Scotch the Scottish person has recently imbibed.
Stereotypical American - "Hey you're Scotch! Isn't Scotland in England?" 

Drunken Scot - "F__  off, you stupid American bastard!"

Any hoo, a good historic mystery with interesting characters and an engrossing plot.  There are six previous books in this series that I may be looking up soon.

Read in Nov., 2013.  Review scheduled for Jan., 2014.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Historic Mystery.  Feb. 4, 2014.  Print version:  250 pages.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

One May Smile by Penny Freedman

Are you drawn to a title that you recognize as a famous quote?  Even more intrigued if the quote is less well-known?

Authors love to use famous literary lines as titles, and it certainly works in my case, as I find titles have a huge influence on my initial interest in a book. Shakespeare and the Bible probably top the list as examples of plundered titles, but I find John Donne has been a favorite source for titles as well.

Many mystery authors are well-read and full of allusions.  My favorite writer in the mystery genre is/was Reginald Hill, who could allude with such subtlety and skill.  

I find it hard to resist when I see a title like Val McDermid's Mermaids Singing referencing Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock " (who may have borrowed "mermaids singing" from John Donne) or Peter Robinson's In a Dry Season from Eliot's "Gerontion."  

Truthfully, I'm always susceptible to a novel that uses a quote I recognize as a title.  Faulkner made great use of the Bible, Shakespeare, and Homer for titles; certainly proved successful for him. A few other well-known authors who have cadged titles from quotes include Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Hemingway, Maugham, Steinbeck, and Flannery O'Connor. 

No surprise then that I was drawn to this mystery by the title and by the cover which (I believe) comes from a still from Olivier's Hamlet.

One May Smile is an engaging mystery featuring Gina Gray--linguist and Oxford lecturer, mother and grandmother--who finds herself as wardrobe mistress to a bunch of Oxford students with plans for a production of Hamlet.  Initially, Gina found herself looking forward to the trip to Denmark and to Elsinore where the play was to be staged, but when she finds that she must take her three-year-old granddaughter, her planned romantic interlude with DCI David Scott falls apart.

When one of the students is killed in a car accident, Gina can't help but speculate about all of her previous observations of the students and their relationships, and she finds herself drawn into the investigation.  Using her background in linguistics, she examines language, emails, and text for clues.  

The writing is witty and amusing.  The chapters are mostly from Gina's pov, but later DCI Scott, Gina's love interest, inserts his own opinions.  No gory or shocking violence. 

An engaging protagonist and a satisfying read.

NetGalley/Troubadour Publ.

Mystery.  Nov. 2013.  Print version: 207 pages.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Antigo Nick

Antigo Nick  is an illustrated translation of Sophocles' Antigone that is both contemporary and creative.  Anne Carson's translation, Robert Currie's book design, and Bianca Stone's illustrations combine to provide a treat for the senses.

While the majority of the lovely illustrations fail to relate to or elaborate on the story, that was evidently a deliberate decision on Carson's part, and the often absurd images are beautifully rendered on transparent pages.

The translation is modern, campy, and abridged.  The allusions to Brecht, Beckett, and Hegel (and others) heighten the absurdity of the illustrations and of the textual format by replacing mythological references.  

I found myself reading aloud (because, indeed, the original play was meant to be seen and heard, not read silently) and the work is accessible in a single sitting because Carson does not translate everything in the original--she compresses and stylizes.

I liked the use of Brecht's alienation effect, the absurdest approach of Beckett, and the allusions to the dramatists.  Which is a little odd because I'm neither particularly fond of nor well-informed about their works.  I may have a new literary journey ahead of me--looking for a better understanding of Brecht and Beckett and some grain of understanding of Hegel's metaphysical philosophy.  All of which will be beyond my capacity, but now seems kind of--fun.  What a contradiction.

Here is a link to an article about interviewing Carson and Currie.  I especially liked the description of Carson who was leading a performance of AntagoNick at N.Y.U. :

"For the performance, Carson was wearing what she called her “Oscar Wilde suit”: slim plaid pants, a long dark coat with white stitching on the lapels and a bright red necktie featuring a picture of Geryon. N.Y.U. ...."

I must order a copy of Antigone.  I looked, but it appears I don't have one.  But before I do, I need to research and decide on which translation.  And I should reread Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus; the evolution of Creon (Kreon) is of particular interest.  I loved Carson's interpretation of Kreon and his list of nouns and verbs.

My thanks again to Gin Jenny for her review of Antigo Nick.  I'm so glad I ordered it and have the gorgeous little book  and Carson's loose translation of a play that I'd failed to appreciate on first reading it years and years ago.

The book is a work of art in every sense of the word, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

One caveat:  reading the handwritten text did cause occasional hesitation.  Some of the words in the black and red text were jammed together, and I had to pause and distinguish where they separated.

Greek drama/translation.  2012.  180 pages.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

January Musings

I've finished several books this week and still have December reviews to get caught up on.  Sometimes I find it difficult to write and then schedule a review for several months in the future.  I delay, I procrastinate.   Of course, months down the line, when I don't have anything to post, those pre-scheduled reviews are nice to have.

Here are some of my recent finishes from December:

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall by Vaughn Entwistle.  :)  A.C. Doyle has just killed Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem and finds both the public and The Strand (which serializes his stories) very angry at him.  He has been asked by a medium to prevent her death, and Doyle and his friend Oscar Wilde are on the case.  Fun!  I've begun a draft, but the book is scheduled for publication in late March, and I've delayed finishing the review which I'll schedule for April.  NetGalley ARC

A Cry in the Night by Tom Grieves is a strange police procedural that kept me pondering whether or not I liked it.  At one point, I was about to abandon it, but something kept me intrigued to the point that I had to know how it turned it out.  Complex and twisty.  Don't know how I'm going to review this one.   NetGalley ARC

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon.  Paranormal.  Review is already scheduled, but McMahon is not my cup of tea.  Scheduled for Jan. 16.   NetGalley ARC

Some January finishes but not yet reviewed:

The Blood Maidens by Barbara Hambly (James Asher series) Purchased for Kindle.

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly (Windrose Chronicles)  Purchased for Kindle.
The Silicon Mage                "             "             "
The Dog Wizard                  "             "             "

Antigo Nick - a translation of Sophocles' Antigone (with a few additions) by Anne Carson (recommended by Gin Jenny at Reading the End)  Oh, lovely words to be read aloud! Sent me researching Anne Carson and the original version by Sophocles.  Loved it. My first reading of Antigone had little individual impact because I had about 30 plays to read that semester.  It Was A Long. Time. Ago!  I've matured since then.  Purchased because it is a beautiful book, and one that I suspected I'd want to keep.  So right.  I'm tempted to read it again right now.  Aloud.  Again.  

The Truth Against the World by Sarah Jamila Stevenson (YA and very good) Publication set for June.  NetGalley ARC

One May Smile by Penny Freedman (a good mystery, literate, set in Elsinore).  Gina Grey, the protagonist is a university lecturer, a linguist, and a feisty, funny woman.  I will read more more by Freedman.  NetGalley ARC

Some recent DNF:

The Lost Boys by Lilian Carmine (YA)
The Arnifour Affair by Gregory Harris
Hetty Feather by Jacqueline Wilson 
When Shadows Fall by J.T. Ellison 
The Stargazer by Michele Jaffe
Mrs. Lincolns Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

Some recent finishes, but won't review:

Well, I won't name them--would not be a positive reflection on either the books or the reader, who doggedly finished them.  They should have been relegated to the abandoned pile.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Defy by Sara B. Larson


While I by no means find this novel on a par with the best of YA novels, it kept my interest enough to finish it.  (I've just gone through a number of YA novels that I DNF, and quite a few that I did finished, but didn't bother to review.)

I'm thinking a lot about the YA novel genre lately and the impact they have on their readers, mostly young girls.  Even in fantasy, some semblance of reality should be included.  Yes?

OK, here goes the positive.

  • a female protagonist with brains and brawn
  • have to admit that I love the girl masquerading as a boy trope; always have.  Love it in Shakespeare, in fantasy, and in Korean drama.
And the negative:

  • feels derivative;  doesn't distinguish itself from the crowd
  • insta-love; even when Alexa is maintaining that she dislikes the prince, the attraction is there, and once she gets a look at him is all over.
  • no clue as to how Alexa manages bathroom details on a long journey, with two guys as tent mates
  • another main gripe I have about YA novels:  the simpering of young girls over male musculature.  'Cause now, really, how many teen-age boys are that developed?  And even though Damian may be a bit older--is that all it takes?  A beautiful body?  I find this as appalling (although reversed, as the current trend seems to be) as the "full lips, green eyes, big boobs" when describing the female protagonist.  Not opposed to having a little description of appearance, but when appearance trumps character and dialogue is mostly internal thoughts of "he/she is gorgeous; just look at his abs/her lips, etc. , I just think cartoon.
Read in Dec., 2013

NetGalley/Scholastic Press

YA/Fantasy.  Jan. 7, 2014.  Print version:  336 pages.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

What She Saw: Forensic Handwriting Mysteries by Sheila Lowe

What She Saw caught my interest because the blurb mentioned that it was the latest in a series about a court-approved expert on handwriting analysis.  As it turned out, the handwriting analysis plays only a small part in this mystery, but I will check on some of the other books in the series.

Initially, the novel hooked me with a young woman on a train who has no idea who she is or how she came to be on the train or where she is going.  

Unfortunately, the novel seemed to lose its impact as the mystery widened and some of the plot twists failed to feel believable.  I've read novels in which plot twists are totally far-fetched, but that somehow manage to feel credible.  In this novel, some of the twists involve technology that may already exist or are certainly in the foreseeable future, and yet felt...false.

While I had no intention of abandoning the novel and that says something, ultimately, it did not fulfill my expectations.

I just noticed that Amazon Reviews are extremely positive, but Goodreads are less so.

I still would like to read some of the earlier books in the series that evidently have more to do with handwriting analysis.

Read in Dec., 2013.

NetGalley/Cameron Publicity

Mystery.  2013.  Print version:  280 pages.  

Time of Attack by Marc Cameron

Time of Attack  is a Jericho Quinn novel, and evidently these novels are quite well thought of by many.  The premise involves a deadly virus, a plague introduced as an act of terrorism.

Interesting:  the way the plague is introduced by infecting soldiers about to return home from Afghanistan as they get hair cuts  and the way infections are continued in the States through nail salons.  The possibility of a fatal virus as a form of warfare feels both possible and frightening, and I've always been interested in the Black Plague and the deadly flu pandemic of 1918 in which 20-40% of the world's population became ill and an estimated 50 million people died (from Flu.Gov)--so the premise has promise for an action-packed thriller.

Not So Interesting:  Most of the rest of the novel and characters. Although there are obviously many fans of this series, this genre has some truly excellent authors who create realistic characters and plots.  I did not find this to be the case in Time of Attack which failed miserably to live up to the promotional blurbs.

Read in Dec., 2013.

NetGalley/Kensington Books/Pinnacle

Thriller?.  Jan. 28, 2014.  Print version:  416 pages.


Friday, January 03, 2014

The Voices of Heaven by Maija Rhee Devine

The Voices of Heaven  is the first book I've finished in this new year, and although I'm about a dozen reviews behind, I can not delay this one.  It moves to the head of the line, and I must thank Johanna Ramos-Boyer for sending me such a lovely book.

This may be a long and wandering excuse for a review, so I will give a brief synopsis and mention that I found the book fascinating, touching, informative, and beautifully written.

My overview of the book:  

The story begins right before North Korea invades South Korea in 1950.  Although the threat of war hangs in the air, for the most part, life in Seoul is going on as usual.

The focus is on a couple who have been happily married for 15 years, but who have had no son.  Mi-na, their young daughter, was adopted, but this secret has been kept from her, and Mi-na feels that she has failed her parents by not having been born a boy.  When the grandmother tells Gui-Yong that he must take a "second wife," he submits knowing that his duty is to produce a son; yet he dreads hurting Eum-Chun, his beloved wife, and the entire situation.  

Everyone tries hard to make the new family work, but everyone suffers.  The fact that each member of the new family does his or her best to find a way to exist does not change the suffering of Gui-Young, Eum-Chun, or Soo-Yang (the "second wife"), all of whom feel obligated to follow tradition.  Mi-Na must also learn to share her father and to accept the fact that she is partly responsible for the situation by not having been born a boy.  The entire family keeps Mi-Na's adoption secret thinking to protect her, but unintentionally giving her a far greater burden.  Yet because all of those involved are good people, we become invested in each of them and in their efforts to cope.

The novel moves from the period right before the war, through the war itself, and for decades afterward.


Voices of Heaven is a remarkable novel.  I guess I always thought of the Korean War as having taken place just outside of the tents of M*A*S*H, both the film and the television series.  How limiting.  This novel gives insight into a culture that, in spite of the long Japanese Occupation, still retained traditions from the Joseon Dynasty--profoundly different from our own culture in social norms and mores, religion, family structure, and daily life.

If you have read this blog regularly, you know that I'm a fan of Korean drama, and in watching these shows, especially contemporary drama, I've always been fascinated by social mores that still exist in South Korea--a country that is so modern, so technologically advanced, so fashionable, and in many ways, so Westernized and globally conscious.  Reading this novel has given me a much better context in which to place current events.

South Korea is both so modernized and so steeped in traditional thought.  The importance of sons, the authority of family, the role of women--still have great impact.  The continuing residue of the Korean War and the ever-present threat of the craziness of North Korea can't help but have an influence.  A tiny country surrounded by North Korea, Russia, Japan, and China that has managed great economic recovery and global significance, despite is size and devastating history.  Yet, in many ways, our (Western) awareness and knowledge of South Korea is minimal.

The popularity of South Korea's film and television industries have made many more people conscious of South Korea, but Voices of Heaven provides not only a fascinating story of family, but also a more authentic glimpse of individual struggles and of both the positives and the negatives of Korean tradition.

I loved this book and its characters.  I'm grateful to Johanna Ramos-Boyer of JRB Communications for sharing this book with me and to Maija Rhee Devine for writing such a wonderful, thoughtful, and sensitive novel.

Literature/Historic Fiction.  2013.  316 pages.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull by James Raney

I read Jim Morgan and The King of Thieves (a NetGalley ARC) and reviewed it here in April.  When Sarah Miniaci offered me the next installment, Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull, my e-reader was in the shop, so she sent me a copy in the mail.  Thanks, Sarah!

I admit that I'm a sucker for pirate adventures, so even had I not enjoyed the first in the series (which I certainly did), this one would have appealed to me.

Many of you have probably given frequent thought to the quality of books for young readers.  I've always considered a good book for kids to be one that can just as easily enthrall adults.  There are many good books for young people out there, and I enjoy reading them.  

On the other hand, there are many books for this age group that are condescending or simplistic or poorly written or all of the above.  Good books for young people should be just as meaty and just as thoughtful as possible, I think, in order to secure their futures as readers.

Raney obviously realizes this, and I can imagine that he has great fun writing the adventures of young Jim, the brothers Ratt, and Lacy.  While I'm not fond of books that are patently pedantic or didactic, I do want a book for young people to touch on important values, to have a keen sense of the human flaws we all share, and to include examples of character growth. 

 Jim, our protagonist, has certainly come a long way from the spoiled young fellow that began the first novel.  In the Pirates of the Black Skull, we see Jim continue to struggle with dilemmas and difficulties, some of which are just part of growing up in general, but--because of all the adventure and magic--the importance of friends, of trust and trustworthiness, of responsibility, integrity, and accountability...can be the difference between life and death.

The trick is, perhaps, to present all of this without appearing to be preaching, to make the young readers come to these conclusions for themselves.  Kudos to Raney for letting his readers ride the adventure, aware of Jim's bad decisions, but hoping that he will realize his mistakes and correct them.  As adults, we are aware of what he is doing, but young readers will be able to incorporate these values in a way that blends easily with the adventure.

And there is plenty of adventure:  there are villains, monsters, liars, and betrayals; and there are steadfast friends and there is humor and suspense.

One niggling item:  I did get a little confused about the identities of the schemer, the thief, the warrior, and the sailor in Janus Blacktail's story.  I'll be alert to the appearance of Janus Blacktail in the next episode of Jim Morgan's adventures because Jim owes the mysterious cat a secret.

This was an ARC sent by Sarah Miniaci at Smith Publicity, but the ebook is available on Net Galley, and Amazon has the Kindle version for $2.99.  

If you have a penchant for adventure and/or are looking for good books for young readers, I can wholeheartedly recommend both Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves and Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull.

Juvenile/Adventure.  Dreamfarer Press.  2013.  320 pages.