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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Absent One and A Conspiracy of Faith by Jussi Adler-Olsen

To catch up on the Dept. Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, I went to the library and was fortunate to find the second and third in the series sitting on the shelf.  Just the two I needed! 

The Absent One 

When a twenty-year-old cold case concerning the murder of a young man and his sister leads to other old cases connected to a gang of wealthy prep school kids, Dept. Q's Carl Morck finds that someone doesn't want these cases re-opened.  The members of the prep school gang are now famous, influential, and powerful.

Eventually, Morck focuses on finding a street woman named Kimmie, a woman who has a cunning gift for survival and camouflage.  Kimmie has lots of experience at avoiding unwanted attention.  She appears as a bag lady most of the time, but when needed, she can transform her appearance into that of an expensive, well-dressed wife or business woman.  She needs these chameleon-like skills; the police are only a recent concern;  Kimmie has been hiding from something much more deadly for nearly twenty years.  

Rose is introduced in this second book in the series, but there is too little of Assad, and it is Assad who leavens this bread of good and evil.  The sly humor and comic relief added by Assad, that clever and mysterious man, keeps the viciousness of the crimes from becoming too much.  

I have to hesitate a bit on this one.  The bad guys were a little too depraved for me and the plot pretty far-fetched.  Yet, while I didn't like it as much as I hoped, the book was, nevertheless, riveting.  

Translator:  K.E. Semmel;  British title:  Disgrace

Library copy/Dutton

Nordic Crime/Police Procedural.  2012.  406 pages.
A Conspiracy of Faith suited me better than The Absent One.  More Assad, more humor to contrast with the evil doings.  There are certainly plenty of detestable villains in most of Nordic crime novels, and they are present in the Dept. Q books as well. Fortunately, Adler-Olsen doesn't dwell on the graphic details of the crimes; his ability to create tension and dread works even better than lengthy, gory descriptions.

The books, however, are long and there are plenty of details--but they are details concerning Morck (his ex-wife, his friend Hardy, his romantic interest in Mona), Rose (and her sister, Yrsa), and Assad (where does he really live?).  There are also details concerning another crime concerning arson under investigation. 

As a result of these digressions, many readers find the books too slow and too long.  I'm not one of those.  I like them long.  I like most of the details about what goes on in the private lives of the Dept. Q team and about politics within the police department.  They are the real reason I love the series.

A Conspiracy of Faith begins with a message in a bottle--a long delayed cry for help.  When the message finally makes its way to Dept. Q, it is so damaged that determining much of the message is a difficult guessing game.  

This isn't a whodunit, a matter of having several suspects and determining which one is the killer.  We know who the killer is and have insight into his goals and his methods.  There is information about his childhood and dysfunctional family, and about his married life and the control he exerts over his wife and her behavior--but we don't know his real name, where he works, or how he conducts his life when he isn't involved in his murderous activities.

I am now all caught up on all 5 English translations of Dept. Q!

Translator:  Martin Aitken (I like his translations);  British title:  Redemption   

Library copy/Dutton

Nordic Crime/Police Procedural.  2013.  504 pages.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cormoran Strike Novels by Gailbraith (J.K. Rowling)

My daughter recommended The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling).   It had been on my list for some time, so I finally ordered it.

The Cuckoo's Calling is the first of the Cormoran Strike novels.  Cormoran Strike is missing the lower part of one leg, the result of an IED explosion in Afghanistan; is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star and a famous groupie; has just broken up with his long-time, off-and-on, selfish, and manipulative girl friend; and is struggling to keep his P.I. business afloat.

When Robin, a new temp, shows up unexpectedly to serve as his secretary, Strike finds her more than competent, but realizes how temporary her presence will be because he is already behind in his loan payment.  Yet, almost as soon as Robin is seated at her desk, a new client walks in and is willing to pay well for Strike to investigate the suicide of his sister Lula Landry, a famous supermodel.

From there, we are off on a twisty investigation with intriguing characters and likable protagonists.   The novel is fairly typical in its approach, but then most genres are rarely conspicuously original--most readers expect to recognize certain tropes.  What always sets books in any genre apart from others in the same genre (at least for me) is the writing style, the character development, and the verisimilitude of the created world (including minor characters).  All of these qualifications in The Cuckoo's Calling satisfied me.  I was able to imaginatively settle in with setting and characters and feel present in the story. 


Kindle Purchase/Mulholland Books

Mystery/Crime.  2013.  Print Length:  561 pages

The Silkworm 

Thank goodness for the library which had the second book.

I liked this one as much or more than The Cuckoo's Calling because the characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin are expanded, both in present and in background material.

Strike is in a much better position financially after his success in solving the murder of the supermodel in the previous novel.  That is not to say that he is making a lot of money, but that he is not in immediate danger of insolvency.  
Robin, who loves her job, has turned down a better offer, but her fiance still objects to her working with Strike.   Strike's former romantic partner Charlotte Campbell, whose marriage to Jago Ross is imminent, would prefer to lure Strike back into her influence. Both Robin and Strike are going through personal dilemmas involving their relationships outside of the office.

Strike takes on a new case for the wife of an author who has disappeared.  Owen Quine has written a manuscript that could expose malicious information about a lot of people involved in the book trade.  Even unpublished, the manuscript causes upheaval and fear among authors, publishers, and others associated with Quine.

Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  My only complaint is in the elaborately grotesque murder.  Without giving a spoiler as to the reason for the depraved method of the murder, I still believe the manner of death could have been less gruesome without having an effect on the plot.

Red herrings,  misdirection, and Strike's tendency to keep his suspicions to himself-- keep the reader in the dark about which of the suspects actually committed the murder.


Library/Mulholland Books

Mystery/Crime.  2014.  455 pages.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

Summon the Keeper

Cosmic accidents require procedures to keep the world safe. Thus the role of the Keeper, a protector who keeps evil at bay.

Claire Hansen is the Keeper, who along with her familiar, a cat named Austin, is summoned to a B & B where an opening to hell exists in the basement.  Claire is not a happy camper and is afraid that this particular assignment may require her presence... forever.  Not what she had in mind for the rest of her life. 

This is a light and funny book filled with an odd assortment of characters and plenty of contemporary allusions (although dated now, as the book was published in 1998).  

Two love interests:  a handsome young caretaker and a sexy Quebecois ghost, who is definitely missing female companionship.  Add "Sleeping Beauty" in Room 6, a vampire, some werewolves, and other unusual characters to the mix and the result is often hilarious mayhem.

R.I.P.  Challenge

Read in Sept.
Purchased paperback.

Supernatural/Fantasy.  1998.  336 pages.

Three YA Novels

Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond began with some good ideas.  The idea of a circus rivalry and maybe some magic sounded interesting.  The family feud, however, when explained (finally) didn't work that well for me.  And there was waaay too much telling, not enough actual talking or showing.  Somehow Julietta and Remy (Romeo,  uh huh) failed to really materialize as genuine.  It was OK, but had the potential to be much better.

NetGalley/Amazon's Children's Pub.

YA.  Oct. 1, 2014.  Print length:  372 pages.

The Empath by Erica Crouch is a novella or long short story.  Gypsies, tarot, seances, psychics genuine and fraudulent.  And romance.  I think this one would have been better as a novel--it had some great ingredients for a longer narrative.  

NetGalley/Patchwork Press

YA.  Oct. 7, 2014.  Print length:  98 pages.

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley  won the Newbury Medal in 1985, but I wonder if it would qualify today.  Aerin is a princess who is distrusted and humiliated, and her father (the King!) does little or nothing about it the way she is treated even though he appears to love her.  I mean, step up, Dad.  

The first part of the book is better that the last half, but sometimes seems disjointed and the syntax is...uncomfortable.  It isn't that you can't understand the sentence structure, just that it feels awkward at times.  

I liked Aerin's determination, but none of the characters had much depth and the weirdness of Luthe, the strange army of cats and dogs, and the less that climactic battle with her uncle left me struggling to maintain interest.

NetGalley/Open Road Media

YA.  1985, Nov. 14, 2014.  Print length:  244 pages.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Louise Penny: Still Life and A Fatal Grace

A few months ago, I received an ARC in the mail of Louise Penny's The Long Way Home. I had read (and thoroughly enjoyed) several of Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache novels:  A Rule Against Murder, The Brutal Telling, and Bury Your Dead-- but they are numbers 4, 5, and 6 of the 11 Chief Inspector Gamache novels;  I was missing quite a few in the series and all of the first three novels.

So...I started some back-up reading.

The first in the series is Still Life, which introduces most of the characters in the series.  

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Canadian Penny's terrific first novel, which was the runner-up for the CWA's Debut Dagger Award in 2004, introduces Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. When the body of Jane Neal, a middle-aged artist, is found near a woodland trail used by deer hunters outside the village of Three Pines, it appears she's the victim of a hunting accident. Summoned to the scene, Gamache, an appealingly competent senior homicide investigator, soon determines that the woman was most likely murdered. Like a virtuoso, Penny plays a complex variation on the theme of the clue hidden in plain sight. She deftly uses the bilingual, bicultural aspect of Quebecois life as well as arcane aspects of archery and art to deepen her narrative. Memorable characters include Jane; Jane's shallow niece, Yolande; and a delightful gay couple, Olivier and Gabri. Filled with unexpected insights, this winning traditional mystery sets a solid foundation for future entries in the series.(July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved
Both the setting and the characters in this series help set it apart from other mystery/police procedurals.  Penny's characters are exceptionally well-developed--from Chief Inspector Gamache and his team to the fascinating and quirky inhabitants of Three Pines.  In the books I'd previously read, Ruth Zardo (the cantankerous, weird, and wonderful old poet) has been my favorite character, so it was interesting to see her in her embryonic form in Still Life, the first in the series. 
The book description above reveals some of the plot, so I won't go into it.  I'm curious about how much Louise Penny had in mind for her characters when she wrote this first book.  It seems that either she had an idea about the trajectories of their lives or did such a good job of creating fascinating characters that it was impossible not to continue developing and expanding them.  Certainly, she had a great deal in mind for Gamache, and there is a theme begun and later revealed, piece by piece, about Gamache's role in the Surete; but I can't help but wonder if she already had plans for the other inhabitants in Three Pines that would carry throughout eleven books.
From Booklist
Quebec Surete Inspector Armand Gamache, who made his debut in Still Life (2006), returns in this enjoyable follow-up. An almost universally disliked, even hated, woman is murdered. Naturally, the pool of potential murderers is deep, ranging from the victim's lover to her friends (well, acquaintances) to various others in the small Canadian community of Three Pines. Gamache, a smart and likable investigator--think Columbo with an accent, or perhaps a modern-day Poirot--systematically wades his way through the pool, coming upon a few surprises along the way. Penny is a careful writer, taking time to establish character and scene, playing around with a large cast, distracting us so we won't see the final twists coming until they're upon us. This is a fine mystery in the classic Agatha Christie style, and it is sure to leave mainstream fans wanting more. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Penny continues to develop her characters and to add a few new ones.  Three Pines is a character in itself; a village that doesn't appear on any map and that most people find almost by accident.  Yep--a kind of Brigadoon located near the Canadian border.  The village has a Currier & Ives appearance and a magical aura, but murder does occur there.  Once again Inspector Gamache is called in to solve the murder--which is the most prominent plot line--but we are also able to gain more information about the Surete corruption.  

Of course, I love the series for the writing and the characters, but I also love that Penny mentions and alludes to some of my favorite poets:  John Donne, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, even Leigh Hunt.  I have to admit that the fictional Ruth Zardo has been added to my pantheon of poets.

I'll be posting more about this series  soon.  Below are the titles in order.
  1. Still Live   read this month, reviewed in this post
  2. A Fatal Grace (Dead Cold)  read this month, reviewed in this post
  3. The Cruelest Month  read this month, not yet reviewed
  4. A Rule Against Murder  read & reviewed 2009
  5. The Brutal Telling  read & reviewed 2010
  6. Bury Your Dead  read & reviewed 2010
  7. The Hangman  read this month (novella), not yet reviewed
  8. A Trick of the Light
  9. The Beautiful Mystery
  10. How the Light Gets In  read this month, not yet reviewed
  11. The Long Way Home  read this month, not yet reviewed
Only the the latest, The Long Way Home is an ARC.  The others have been library books or Kindle purchases.  I've read most of them out of order, and each book does stand alone, but getting the character development and the Arnot case/Surete corruption would be better served by reading them in order.  I still have two books to pick up (#8, #9), but I'm hesitant to dive right into them because then I will be all caught up with no Three Pines and Inspector Gamache to read.  I will hoard them for a while before giving in.

I highly recommend this series!  Of course, I know many of you love the series as well and are as grateful as I am that Louise Penny created the village of Three Pines.


So nice to have a working computer again!

At Last

We have had more computer problems with malware.  I was horrified to discover problems with the brand new computer just when I thought things were back in order.  Anyway, thanks to a very nice and patient tech guy who came out twice, things are back in order.  

Evidently, I downloaded something and inadvertently checked a box that gave some malicious advertising site permission to load up the computer with ads and pop ups and scary warnings.  It was impossible to use the computer for more than a few minutes at a time without constantly closing ads that froze the screen.  

Since it wasn't a virus (oh, no-- I gave permission somehow), none of the firewalls or other safety precautions prevented the  sh  stuff from multiplying.  

I've been reading like crazy, but unable to write reviews.  I already had a few scheduled for October-January for books that needed to be posted closer to publication date, but I am way behind in writing current reviews.  

Funny how addicted we become to our technology.  Our computers serve such multi-functional purposes in our lives that what once seemed a luxury or a convenience now seems a necessity.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Two More Mysteries

Unfold the Evil     bk 2       

I was introduced to Larson's Natalie Joday series through NetGalley when I received The Hatch and Brood of Time, the first book in the series.  Larson's characters and style appealed to me, so on discovering that Larson also writes science fiction, I read her science fiction novel In Retrospect, which I also enjoyed and reviewed.  

Naturally, when NetGalley offered the second in the Natalie Joday series, I was eager to read it.  Natalie is debating where she wants to go as a reporter, and a more demanding (and better paying position) is available.  Since her brother Daniel's daughter is now a consideration, she must think about how much time is needed for the prospective job and how much for helping care for her niece.  

When the paper's advice columnist begins receiving letters from "Enigma,"  Natalie, somewhat reluctantly, begins helping out.  Her brother's girlfriend Rebecca is a psychologist, and Natalie and Rebecca puzzle over the riddles contained in the letters.  When it appears that a death from years earlier might not have been the accident it seemed at the time, Natalie becomes consumed with discovering more. third book by Larson was another success.  Her characters and her plots engage my imagination.  

Read in August; blog post scheduled for Oct. 23.

NetGalley/Poisoned Pen Press

Mystery.  2000; Nov. 4, 2014.  Print length:  304 pages.

The Seventh Link by  Margaret Mayhew   

A cozy mystery featuring a retired colonel and the small English village of Frog End.  

The good:  I enjoyed the elements relating to WWII and the information about bomber crews.  I also liked Thursday, the cat.

On the other hand, the novel is short, slow and low key, and lacking in real suspense.  Nor is the mystery completely resolved.  Not that, given the circumstances, I object.  Hard to have incontrovertible proof some 60+ years after the fact.  

Read in August; blog post scheduled for Oct. 23.

Netgalley/Severn House

Cozy Mystery.  Nov. 1, 2014.  Print length:  160 pages.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein

The Red Magician

Fairy tale?  Magical realism?  Allegory? Jewish fantasy?  Holocaust story?

All are true.  Voros, the Red Magician, foresees the Holocaust and tries to warn people, but he cannot be specific, and the idea of leaving their ordinary lives to flee a vague and unbelievable danger is beyond the scope of most people.

Kisci is a young girl in one of the villages, and she becomes very attached to Voros and tries to aid him.  But a confrontation with a stubborn and misguided magical Rabbi ends with Voros moving on.

Things in the village proceed for a few years, but eventually the Germans arrive and the villagers who survive end up in the camps.  Kisci barely survives until the end of the war, but Voros finds her and nurses her back to health.  The two have one more journey to make.

A tale of faith and the lack of faith, of vengeance and of guilt, of Jewish mysticism, magic, and the harsh realities of Holocaust.

I can't say I loved it, but The Red Magician was provocative.  I've never been entirely comfortable with magical realism-- it always leaves me with a kind of dissonance and that is certainly true in this case. 

"Lisa Goldstein has published ten novels and dozens of short stories under her own name and two fantasy novels under the pseudonym Isabel Glass. Her most recent novel is The Uncertain Places, which won the Mythopoeic Award. Goldstein received the National Book Award for The Red Magician."

NetGalley/Open Road Media

Magical Realism/Fantasy.  Originally published in 1982; new publication Oct. 21, 2014.  Print length:  144 pages.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Purity of Vengeance (a Department Q novel) by Jussi Adler-Olsen

For some reason, publishers in the UK and US have chosen different titles for these books.  Mercy (which I received as an ARC some years ago) is the first book in the Department Q series; when published in the US, the name was changed to The Keeper of Lost Causes.  

The Purity of Vengeance was published as Guilt in the UK, but I also found it on Goodreads with its original Danish title--Journal 64.  Titles are important, of course, but  all you really need to know is that if it is a Department Q novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen, it is going to be good.

One other minor complaint is that Amazon doesn't always include the name of the translator.  It is a hit or miss kind of thing, and any work of translation should include the name of the translator.  I don't believe the humor in Adler-Olsen's books could be as successful without a skillful, an artful translation, and it is the humor in the books that truly sets them apart.  The books are all great crime books with loads of tension, but the humanity of the characters and the humorous bits of comic relief make the tension bearable and lift the books above the typical Nordic Noir/Scandinavian Crime novel.

Back to the book.  The Purity of Vengeance (or Guilt, or Journal 64, whichever name you choose) was inspired by actual events on the island of Sprogo, where young women deemed unfit to reproduce were given abortions or sterilized without their consent and often without their knowledge.  From 1923-1961, the "pathologically promiscuous" were sent to Sprogo in an attempt to keep them from breeding more degenerates. (! Hard to believe, isn't it?) The picture below is from the 1950's.

When Department Q (the cold case department in Copenhagen) gets involved in a number of old missing persons cases that occurred on the same day,  similarities begin to appear.  Piecing together the connections of five missing individuals who, on the surface, have no connections, keeps the members of the team relying on their feelings as well as the few facts they gather, and they dig deeper in their efforts to discover what happened.  There are numerous sub-plots that the author skillfully manages and that keep the reader darting from situation to situation, from present to past and back again.  And things aren't always as they seem.

The humor is inserted in the relationships among the Department Q members (Carl Morck, Rose, and Assad), friends, and family.  The balance between evil and comic relief is so adept, so perfectly timed and deftly handled, that what could easily be overwhelmingly discouraging about human behavior is remedied by the humor the author uses to break the tension.

As expected, I was involved from beginning to end, appreciating all aspects of the novel:  anger,  apprehension,  horror of what happened to the women considered unworthy of reproducing--and the eccentric, kind, mysterious, and amusing behavior and remarks of the cold case team.  

The Department Q novels are the very best of Scandinavian crime fiction.  Highly recommended.  (I ordered The Keeper of Lost Causes, the first in the series, for each of my daughters, and I hope they will continue the series.)

Crime/Police Procedural.  2013.  512 pages.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

I read The Walled City as a dystopian novel.  Of course, I did.  The novel has all of the elements of a world that has undergone some serious change that leaves society in a state of primitive chaos.  However, when you get to the end of the novel, it turns out the story is based on a real place in Hong Kong.

The Kowloon Walled City  (via The Daily Mail) was demolished in 1992, but while it existed it housed 33,000 families-- a stunning 50,00 residents within 0.010 sq. miles. Photographs of the city look like it could have been from the imagination of a science fiction writer, and you can see more pictures if you check the link above or visit Greg Girard's website (Girard collaborated with Ian Lamboth in photographing the city for five years before it was demolished.) While it existed, Kowloon City was the most densely populated area on earth.

What I considered to be world building as I read the novel was not simply from the author's imagination.  

Although not a dystopian novel, the setting could easily pass as a dystopian world.  The walled city of Hak Nam (based on the Kowloon Walled City) is the home of three young people:  Dai, Jin Ling, and Mei Yee.  The story is revealed from each of these three perspectives, and we gather information as the three lives intersect.

It is a tense novel, set in a dangerous and gritty city within a city, populated by the desperately poor and run by gangs.  As I was reading, I was horrified by the conditions of Hak Nam; of course, I was thinking the entire time that this was an imaginary world, a dystopian setting.  The plot and characters may be fictitious, but the world Graudin describes existed.  A stranger than fiction experience, even if the reader doesn't realize it at the time.

The characters feel authentic:  Dai, a young man who hopes to make a kind of amends and return to his own world; Jin Ling, a courageous young woman, scarcely more than a child, is on a mission to rescue a beloved sister; and Mei Lee, sold into prostitution, and initially, grateful that at least she is in a higher-class brothel, but who gradually finds herself surprised to be hoping for freedom.

The stories and intersecting goals of these three characters make compelling reading.

read in july; blog post scheduled for 

NetGalley/Little, Brown

Suspense.  Nov. 4, 2024.  Print length: 448 pages.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Grave Mercy by Robin Lafever

Grave Mercy:  His Fair Assassin   

Grave Mercy is the first book in a trilogy.  I wasn't sure if I would like it, but soon found myself hooked.  Set in 1480 Brittany, amidst Brittany's struggles to remain independent of France, the political intrigue and corruption are basically true and many of the characters and events are real.  While I did not like the list of Dramatis Personae that prefaced the story, I did appreciate the author's historical information at the conclusion.

"Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?"

Rescued from a brutal father and an arranged marriage, fourteen-year-old Ismae is hurried in secret to a convent.
Not any old convent, however;  this convent serves St. Mortain, the god of death.  Ismae is given a test and a choice.   Ismae passes the test and chooses to remain at the convent, where she will be trained as an assassin and taught multiple ways to kill.  She will become one of the Handmaidens of Death.  

After a three years of training, Ismae begins her role as an assassin.  Her victims are traitors who have sided with France and betrayed Brittany.  When Gavriel Duval arrives at the convent incensed that the convent has ordered the deaths of men he had hoped to interrogate, it seems that either a mistake was made or that Duval himself is a traitor.  Ismae is assigned to travel with Duval, to determine his loyalties, and to protect the young Duchess of Brittany.

History, fantasy, myth, and a little romance.  I found Grave Mercy entertaining and look forward to the next in the series.  Goodreads reviews were certainly mixed!

NetGalley/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

Historical Fantasy.  2012.  Print length:  565 pages.  (didn't feel like it was that long at all)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

The Ploughmen   

I received this ARC in the mail.  Impressed by the beautiful austerity of the cover, it was a pleasure to discover that the writing was just as beautiful.  The Montana landscape, often harsh and uncompromising, is depicted with such appreciation and skill that it is easy to feel present in the story.

And yet, the story, in spite of the beautiful writing, is not a peaceful or pleasant one.  John Gload, seventy-seven, is a brutal killer who has finally been caught.  Val Millimaki is a deputy, a man of quiet integrity in the last months of a troubled marriage. 

Assigned night duty at the jail, Val finds himself sitting with Gload and sharing problems about insomnia and a similar farming background.  An unusual bond develops between killer and the deputy; a bond that Val is at a loss to understand, but certainly recognizes.  Despite the insomnia and years on a family farm that both share, the two men couldn't be more different.  Gload's career of murder began at 14 and has continued for more than a sixty years.  Val and his dog Tom are at the other end of the spectrum, a search and rescue team; but his rescue missions have been locating only the dead lately, adding to his depression over his troubled marriage.

It is a novel of gradual revelations about the lives of both prisoner and deputy.   The novel patiently and dispassionately provides important glimpses into the lives of both men, and Gload, despite his horrific career, is a fascinating and strangely sympathetic character.  

The night shift and insomnia, however, begin to take a toll on Val--he is lonely and despairing as his marriage disintegrates, his rescue missions are leading only to the recovery of the dead, even the nightly conversations with Gload are a two-edged sword, both adding to his despondency and somehow keeping him engaged.  

While the crux of the novel involves the killer and the deputy and their journeys, I was also fascinated by three minor characters:  the women who felt constrained by their lives. The three women take up little physical space in the novel, but their influence is huge.  All three women are circumscribed in a kind of emotional prison, separated by the emotional distance of their men and the isolation of their homes.  (Montana is "4th in size, but 44th in population and 48th in population density of the 50 United States"  according to Wikipedia). 

But the men, too, are bound by circumstances-- defined and confined by their early life experiences.  

The Ploughmen is an impressive novel, and I'm surprised it hasn't garnered more attention. It is not a novel that everyone will enjoy, but one that everyone should appreciate.

Highly recommended for its prose, characterization, and its lingering impact.

Literary Fiction.  Sept. 30, 2014.  272 pages.

Legacy of the Claw (Book 1 of the Animas series) by C.R. Grey

Animas is the first book in this series by C.R. Grey.  The Animas bond links humans to animal, a mutual sympathy and understanding.

Bailey Walker, however, is one of those rare and unfortunate humans with an Absence.  He has not found his kin yet; not having awakened to his bond at his age means he is mostly an outsider, an object of ridicule, and a human with a tremendous sense of emptiness.

When Bailey is accepted to the prestigious Fairmount Academy, he has high hopes that one of the teachers, known for his skill in awakening and strengthening bonds, will be able to help him.

At Fairmount, Bailey makes connections with some true friends, something he has lacked before, but his hope that his bond will awaken has still not been fulfilled, and he senses something dark in the forest surrounding the campus.  At the same time, revolution is brewing in the city, as the leader of the Dominae's propaganda is inflaming the populace and encouraging humans to enslave their animal kin.

Things are getting dangerous, and Bailey and his friends are uneasy about the unrest.  Is there anything they can do to prevent this horrific threat?

I did not expect to enjoy this one as much as I did.  Written for a younger, middle-school audience, it nevertheless kept me interested.  One for the grandkids?  Very likely, but I will also eagerly anticipate the next in the series.

Read in June.  Blog post scheduled for Oct. 8, 2014.

NetGalley/Disney Hyperion      

Fantasy/Juv.  Oct.  28, 2014.  Print length:  324 pages.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Catch-up Reviews

The Thirteenth Tower by Sara C. Snider 

Book Description:  Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn's life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

This is a fantasy novel that was OK; there were parts that were interesting and parts that were slow.  For the most part, none of the characters captured any deep interest.  

In a way, I guess it is something like a traditional fairy tale in which the characters have little depth or personality.  Emelyn tried to come off the page, but even she could not maintain a strong presence.  It isn't listed as YA, but should be.  Some YA books, the very best of them, appeal to all ages, but this one didn't truly satisfy me.  Not bad, but not completely engaging.

As usual, please note that my reviews are not literary criticism, but merely my opinion of a book.  I notice at Goodreads, several people gave it 5 stars.  

NetGalley/Double Beast Publishing

Fantasy/YA.  2014.  Print length:  251 pages.  

The Nightingale Bones by Ariel Swan.

Book Description:
Someone has been waiting a long time for Alice Towne to arrive in Hawthorne. Two hundred years, in fact. Trying to accept her mother’s belief that the women of the Towne family are blessed, not cursed, with supernatural abilities, twenty-seven-year old Alice leaves a disapproving Boston husband to house-sit for the summer in tiny Hawthorne, a historic village famous in the 1800s for its peppermint farms and the large, herbal-essence distilleries that flourished around the Massachusetts township. 

Oh, doesn't that blurb sound interesting?  I was sucked in by the idea of some waiting for two hundred years for Alice, and the beginning of the book seemed promising.

But for me, the novel quickly degenerated into an insta-love romance .

The paranormal element degenerated as the romance element increased.  

NetGalley/Belle Books

Paranormal.  Sept. 30, 2014.  Print length:  258 pages.

Cipher by Aileen Erin

Cipher started off well with a hacker trying to find information that could help make her life normal.

But this one, too, went from interesting to trite pretty quickly.

From the book description:

Hacking into the Citadel mainframe is a huge risk, but it pays off when she finds a database on red helixes. Before she can copy it, she loses control of her power, charring her last processor, and the only person in the Arizona Voids that can get her back online is her oldest friend, Knightly. She hasn’t seen him in person since she started running, and Knightly 2.0 is fully upgraded with a six-pack and knee-melting smile.

Descriptions that involve impressive abs should be stricken from all books.  Can't authors come up with less stereotypical descriptions?  I'm not impressed with female characters drooling over male bodies, yet this seems to be the approach too many YA authors employ.  Story?  Character development?  Are they unnecessary if there are enough cheesy descriptions about appearance?  Sometimes books sound as if they high-jacked their characters from shower commercials with beautiful models--male or female. 

 A disappointment.

NetGalley/Ink Monster

Science Fiction.  Oct. 14, 2014.  Print length:  210 pages.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes (Oct. 28)

The Ship of Brides 

I've only read one other book by Moyes--the deftly handled Me Before You.

The war bride phenomenon is fascinating. Men and women thrown together in circumstances of heightened emotions. Men far from home and grateful for feminine companionship; women falling in love with men they barely know; rushed weddings;  women waiting and hoping their new husbands would survive the brutality of war.  

The Ship of Brides is the story of four Australian brides who are among the 655 women who leave their homes and families in Australia and depart on a six week voyage to join the men (with whom they have spent very little time) and their families in England.  Whatever their reasons, for these young women to leave behind country, family, and friends required courage.  

Moyes did her research, and the Acknowledgements at the beginning of the novel gives a list of the sources she used, including unpublished journals.  The fact that Moyes' grandmother was one of the Australian war brides that embarked on the aircraft carrier the HMS Victorious in 1946 (the same aircraft carrier as the fictitious brides) gives a greater sense of verisimilitude.

The prologue, set in contemporary times, was slow and a bit confusing, and I wondered how it would fit into the book's plot.  However, when the story moved to 1946 and settled down to the individual women, my interest picked up.  

At first, it seems that Maggie is the main protagonist, but that is misleading. Jean and Avice each have an important purpose, but Frances is the key character, a quiet, unassuming nurse whose service in the Pacific theater has shown her the horrors of war.   She also has secrets that she wants to keep hidden.  

The plot moves back and forth in time (but still within the war years), giving up a little about the situations that led the brides to their current situations, yet keeping back all but the whispers of circumstances still undisclosed.  Paul Simon's phrase "hints and allegations" just swept through my head....

I did enjoy the book and the extracts from non-fictional sources even if The Ship of Brides didn't feel as polished or as compelling as Me Before You.   

Read in Aug.;  blog post scheduled for Oct. 6

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Historic Fiction.  2004 (original publ.); Oct. 28, 2014.  Print length:  496 pages.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage is the first in Carriger's Finishing School series  for young readers.

"It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School."

This series is geared toward the lower end of the YA series and takes place about twenty-five years before the Parasol Protectorate series.

The first book started out really well.  Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminick is a trial to her mother, and after a messy incident with a dumbwaiter and a trifle, Sophronia is packed off to Mademoiselle  Geraldine's Finishing School for Young Ladies of Qualities.  The school, however, is not the typical finishing school that young ladies of quality attend.  First, the school is on a dirigible floating over the moors, and second it is a school for intelligencers.  Despite Sophronia's initial vexation at being shipped of to finishing school, she finds both teachers and subjects much more interesting than expected and much more in line with her own abilities.  Sophronia may struggle with a proper curtsy, but she has an inborn aptitude for espionage.

She makes friends with a few students, studies with a vampire and a werewolf, encounters flywaymen and Pickle Men, associates with the boys from the boiler room and from the school's partner school for boys (that caters to developing Evil Geniuses).  

The first book fills in the background for much of what will evolve in the next novels. Initially, I was disappointed that the book was for younger readers (I was expecting something more like Carriger's Souless), but then I realized that my granddaughter might really like it, and I began to enjoy it. 

 I ordered a copy for Mila, and decided to continue the series as they were all NetGalley offerings.

An ALSC Notable Book for Children
A YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick
A Horn Book Summer Reading List Selection

NetGalley/Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Steampunk/Ya.  Feb., 2013.  Print length:  327 pages.

Curtsies & Conspiracies spices things up a bit.  Sophronia is eager to remain at the school, and although her etiquette may still need work, she is quite adept at recognizing conspiracy and applies what she learns with aplomb.  While still a book for the younger end of the spectrum, there is more action and the plot threads seem to be connecting to a bigger picture.

There is a love triangle developing as well that speaks a little to the class distinctions of the day.

NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Steampunk/YA.  Nov., 2013.  Print length:  329 pages.

Waistcoats & Weaponry is the third of the four books planned for the series.  The pace increases with each book, and by now, the reader is pretty well acquainted with all of the main characters. (I do wish Lord Akeldama played a larger role, though.)  Sophronia and her friends Sidheag Maccon and Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott are now sixteen. Complications come with age--especially when dealing with boys. 

Not only do the possible threats to "the world as we know it" have to be addressed, but difficult decisions about the opposite sex must be made.  Soap or Felix?  Felix or Soap?

The books are recommended for seventh grade and up.  Light reading and plenty of humor to counterbalance all of the serious goings on that Sophronia and her friends must deal with.  

I find the steampunk elements a bit distracting, but I think the age group the novel is written for will find them amusing.  I was also happy that the series became more involving with each book.

NetGalley/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Steampunk/YA.  Nov. 4, 2014.  Print length:  304pages.

Read all three in September; blog post scheduled for Oct. 3.