Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

I became a great fan of Tami Hoag when I read The Ninth Girl and quickly read and reviewed every other book in the Kovac and Liska series.  The Bitter Season is the fifth in the series.

One reason this series works for me is that in some books detectives Kovac and Liska take center stage while in others, they are in the chorus line--so to speak.  

In The Bitter Season both Kovac and Liska are featured, but Hoag splits them up.  Nikki Liska has gone to the cold case squad so she can spend more time with her young sons, while Sam Kovac must break in a new partner in homicide.  Each misses the comfortable relationship they have had in the past, but must adjust to their new situations.

Katherine Quinn makes a token appearance in this one, as do members of the homicide squad that are familiar from the previous novels.  Hoag keeps the series fresh with the change-ups, but gives us the sense of familiarity any series reader appreciates.  I like Sam's new partner and hope to see more of him in future books.  And I hate having to wait for the next in the series!

Read in November; blog post scheduled for Dec. 29, 2015.

NetGalley/Penguin Group

Police Procedural.  Jan. 12, 2016.  Print length:  416 pages.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Some NetGalley Mysteries

Blood Sisters by Graham Masterton.  The fifth in the Katie Maguire series begins with the murder of horses, but escalates to the murders of quite a few others, but specializing in nuns.  The novel glories in brutal and grotesque murders, and I wasn't too impressed with Katie Maguire, either.  Don't think I'll be going back to pick up the earlier books.

If you are Catholic, you might want to give this one a pass.  

NetGalley.  Feb. 1, 2016.

e-Murderer by Joan C. Curtis.  What would you do if you suddenly began receiving e-mails from an anonymous and untraceable person who described the murder of a young woman?  Jenna Scala begins receiving e-mails at work, but addressed to her specifically, describing the death of a coed.  Unable to trace the source and unsure if the messages are genuine or a nasty prank, Jenna takes the messages to her psychiatrist boss who is disinclined to get the police searching for information concerning his clients.  Then the frightening messages become more personal.

Even though the author continues to throw viable suspects at the reader, I pretty much knew the culprit early on.  All the characters are surprisingly clueless, but the premise, if handled a bit more subtly, is a good one for a mystery.

NetGalley.  Dec. 17, 2015.

The Work of a Narrow Mind by Faith Martin.  Hillary Green is a retired officer now working on cold cases as a civilian.  Although I've not read any other books in this long series,  it did not interfere with the story. Hillary's interns couldn't be more different, but both are intent on learning from Hillary's skill and experience.  A couple of storylines in this one.

NetGalley.  Dec. 15, 2015.

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert

The Children's Home

A strange book.  I'm at a loss about how to describe it and have conflicted feelings about the content or maybe the presentation of the content.

Morgan Fletcher has been hiding on his secluded estate for years, his face destroyed in some unexplained event, unable to face the reaction people have when they see him.  His companion is a housekeeper who is efficient, kindly, and unaffected by Morgan's appearance.

And then a child mysteriously appears and Morgan and his housekeeper take the child in and care for it.  Then more children appear, the ages varying.  None seem at all put off by Morgan's disfigurement, but...the children are strange.

When one of the children is ill, the local doctor is called in and eventually, he and Morgan become good friends.  The three adults are protective of the children, but Morgan and Dr. Crane are gradually more and more puzzled by their behavior.

The author keeps everything indistinct, ambiguous, mysterious, and increasingly sinister.  At some point I formed some suspicions, which proved to be true, but in the most unexpected and bizarre manner.  I'm not at all sure about how to classify The Children's Home:  parable, allegory, magical realism, psychological suspense, horror...?   I'm not even sure that I liked it.
The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.  Source
Read in June, 2015; blog review scheduled for Dec. 28, 2016.


Psychological/Fantasy? Jan. 5, 2016.  Print version: 224 pages.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Medieval Mysteries--Owen Archer series by Candace Robb

The Nun's Tale is the third in the series, and the only one that has given me pause.  It is a dark tale, but the inspiration came from a real incident.  Chaucer makes a brief appearance which, given the title, is entirely appropriate.  A lot of interesting historical information and the introduction of some new minor characters who will show up later--but the nun's role bothered me.

The King's Bishop begins with the suspicious death of a page and an accusation against Owen's friend Ned.  Ned has fallen in love with one of Alice Perrer's maids, and Alice gives Ned an alibi by admitting that Ned was with her servant at the time of the murder.  Ned is removed from the scene when assigned to a delegation to a Cistercian abbey in hopes of gaining support for the king's nomination for a bishop.  More murder and political maneuvering ensue.  I felt like the books were back on track with this one.

The Riddle of St. Leonard's is particularly interesting because of two factors:  the return of the plague and a mystery involving the deaths of several corrodians.  Corrodians made donations of money, land, or housing to an abbey or monastery, and in return, received care and accommodation for the rest of their lives.  St. Leonard's provided housing, food, and medical care for its carrodians in the city of York.  Some of the corrodians, however, lived beyond the worth of their endowments and instead of making a profit, the church had to absorb the loss. The practice was being curtailed at the time of the novel.  Lots of twists in this one.

 The Gift of Sanctuary  finds Owen returning to Wales on a mission for the Duke of Lancaster.  Traveling with him are his father-in-law (on pilgrimage), Geoffrey Chaucer (to report on the fortifications in Wales), and the temperamental Brother Michaelo, who has made some drastic changes since the first book.  Again, the characters have depth and unique personalities, but of course, there is a murder and some political deceit as well.

I really like this series of medieval mysteries.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher is a re-imagining of the old Blue Beard tale.

Plot Description: Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords—no matter how sinister they may seem—Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.
Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”
With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

The style is similar to fairy tales in maintaining a distance, a kind of disconnect,  from the characters and their situations.  I like Kate Bernheimer's description of character "flatness" (Fairy Tale Is Form, Form Is Fairy Tale) as a way of explaining that distance. 

But as much as I love original tales, one reason I enjoy re-tellings and modern versions is that there is a much more personal take on the characters.  The Seventh Bride somehow manages a little more rounding of characters while still keeping that disconnect.  In the grim, dark elements of this tale there is a feeling of remote observation of events, even though much of the book is first person as related by Rhea.  As a result, I couldn't place the story in either the traditional, abstract camp or the modern, psychological/personal camp.

In attempting a new twist on the traditional Bluebeard tale, the book seems to be trying to hard--especially in the descriptions of the previous wives.  Since I was unable to really identify with Rhea, the protagonist, or find much interest in the previous wives other than their oddity, the book failed to really satisfy me. 

Note:  I am in the minority in my opinion.  Reviews are very favorable.  

"T. Kingfisher is the vaguely absurd pen-name of an author from North Carolina. In another life, as Ursula Vernon, she writes children’s books and weird comics, and has won the Hugo, Sequoyah, Mythopoeic, Nebula and Ursa Major awards, as well as a half-dozen Junior Library Guild selections."
 (via T.

Fairy Tale/YA.  2014; 2015.  Print length:  236 pages.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Two Medieval Mysteries: The Apothecary Rose and The Lady Chapel

After reading several good NetGalley offerings, I started and discarded several more.  Since Medieval mysteries are a sub-genre I relish, I decided to try a new series.  Candace Robb writes the Owen Archer series set in the late 1300's, and having read some good things about the series, I decided to give it a try.

It was, fortunately or unfortunately, a reminder of the potato chip commercial:  "Bet you can't eat just one."  

Candace Robb did PhD studies in  Medieval and Anglo-Saxon literature (ABD, all-but-dissertation) and has continued to research the fields thoroughly for each book.  

I love Beowulf , Chaucer, and medieval history.  I still have my Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, although I was required to do very little translation of it for that course in Old English. My copy is a college text edition, nothing like the beautiful original manuscript (which is fortunate, since the cover has teeth marks where our dog Emily decided to taste Old English many years ago).

In the Author's Note at the conclusion of The Apothecary Rose (first in the Owen Archer series), Robb includes quite a bit of interesting information about the use of longbows (6-foot bows that "were capable of penetrating chain mail and had a range of about 275 yards,"  a proficient bowman could shoot 10 or 12 arrows per minute, as opposed to a crossbow's two per minute); the 14th c. city of York, including its importance as an ecclesiastical center;  the long war in France and its consequences; politics of church and state; medical and herbal treatments, etc.  

Some of this was familiar due to my interest in both medieval history and medieval mysteries, but there is always new information and new perspectives on familiar topics.

Robb also has some intriguing comments on the three hats a writer of historical mysteries must wear.  Not all writers of historical mysteries manage all three as well as Robb.  She creates well-developed novels with dynamic characters; gets the chronology right (or explains why some changes are included); makes sure that the places she mentions in the city of York are well-researched and accurate; and avoids superfluous historical detail that doesn't develop the story.  Some of that detail can be found in the Author Notes, and you can easily skip those if you choose.

The Apothecary Rose is set in 1363 in the city of York.  The main character Owen Archer had been the Captain of the Archers under Henry of Lancaster, until losing an eye.  The old Duke found a use for Owen as a spy, but when the old Duke died, Owen found himself having to choose between John Thoresby, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England, and the new Duke, John of Gaunt.  Thinking that the Archbishop would be a better choice, Owen discovers that politics and self-service trump religion more often than not.  Owen is a little naive, thinks more like a soldier, and does not admire Thoresby's worldliness and easy moral stance.  

When two suspicious deaths occur in the infirmary of St. Mary's Abbey, Thoresby sends Owen in to determine if the deaths are connected and if murder was done.  Although Owen is not aware, the reader knows who is responsible--the mystery is not who, but why. (And I have to admit the why wasn't a complete satisfaction for me.)

An intricate story set in a world of both fact and fiction, with historical detail that aids rather than distracts from the compelling plot and characters.  From the infirmary to the apothecary shop to the machinations of some of the church figures, Robb gripped my imagination and allowed me to immerse myself in another time and place with characters that engaged my interest.  

Purchased.  Read in Nov., 2015.  Blog review scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015.

Medieval Mystery.  1993; 2015.  Print length:  340 pages.  

I immediately ordered the next in the series.

The Lady Chapel takes the title from a thread running through the novels about the real John Thoresby and his determination to complete the Lady Chapel for his tomb.  

A man is murdered and his body left on the steps of York Minster--missing a hand.  The Archbishop once again recruits Owen Archer to solve the mystery, but the body count rises.  An orphan is in danger, the complicated reasons behind the murders involve the wool industry and the financing of a war, and Alice Perrers, mistress of King Edward III, makes an appearance.

Of interest to me:  

--the Town Waits, musicians employed by the city and provided with livery, salary, and silver chains of office.  They were common in every English town up until the beginning of the 19th c., according to Wikipedia.  I'd never heard the term before, but guess they were similar to city sponsored orchestras in the present.  Cool.

--the wool industry and the smuggling and the way Edward III tried to make money for his war in France.  And frequently, went back on his word.

--the fact that the novel began when Robb read an account of the Goldbetter lawsuit and "false monies" from Edward III

All of these things and more are responsible for instigating the plot, yet don't require thorough knowledge.  Robb doesn't bog the story down with unnecessary detail, but I always get a bit sidetracked with history and find Robb's Author Notes fascinating!

Purchased.  Read in Nov., 2015.  Blog review scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015.

Medieval Mystery.  1994; 2015.  Print length:  402 pages.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Musings and Reviews

What happens when you take unintended breaks, even though short, from blogging?  For me, it is a feeling of being overwhelmed...and divided about what to do next.  I have been reading--but not reviewing and not crafting--and still getting behind on most of the mundane things we must to do to keep life in a semblance of order.  

Spent the past week in the country with a changing array of family and friends and, of course, the usual overabundance of good food.  Came home apathetic.  

Too long out of my routine, with no desire to think about the upcoming Christmas holiday and decorations and barely interested in keeping up with laundry.  Others have their trees up, gifts bought and wrapped, and are planning menus for Christmas parties.  Well, I'm never there, but usually I'm at least thinking about getting the tree out and considering what needs to be done to make ready for the decorations before actually getting into motion.

This year, I'm stuck with my nose in a book trying to avoid all of the practicalities and necessities that require thinking or effort!  I'm giving it one more day, then hope to get back to a more energetic, active life.

Some quick reviews of neglected November books:

Dragon Trials by Ava Richardson.  A quick read that will appeal to the younger end of YA readers.  Enjoyable, but with nothing that lifts it above the ordinary YA fantasy.  Might make a good gift for a young reader who likes dragons, adventure, and a slow-growing friendship. Dragon Trials may be one of those books that sets the stage for a series that grows in depth and interest.


YA Fantasy.  Nov. 7, 2015.  Print length:  203 pages.

Amberwell by D. E. Stevenson is a quiet story of the Ayrton family, especially of the five siblings, in the years between the world wars.  The beginning is a bit slow as the history of the Ayrton family and Amberwell is recounted, but with a deft hand, Stevenson creates the world of an upper class family, the small dramas, the conflicts, and the connection of the children.  There is never a great deal of action; small incidents are important for most of the book. Stevenson concentrates on the characters, life on a beloved family estate in Scotland, on a time and place where a way of life is still undergoing changes from the first world war, then must face even more as WWII approaches.

I liked it, but the slow pace and lack of action will put some readers off.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Family Saga.  First published in 1955; 2015.  Print length:  248 pages.

The Silence of Stones:  A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir by Jeri Westerson is set in 1388 during the reign of King Richard II.  So, naturally, there is going to be some peripheral association with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Richard's uncle.  Gaunt is going to be a part of any English history during the late 1300's, but it is Katherine Swynford (Gaunt's mistress, and eventually, his wife) who plays an important role in Westerson's novel.

I read the first Crispin Guest novel in 2011 and enjoyed it, but I did think it a bit dark, so I found it interesting that the series is now considered medieval noir.  I read the first novel, and The Silence of Stones is the 8th in the series--so much for keeping up.

Brief plot outline:  The Stone of Destiny is stolen, King Richard enlists Guest's services to find and recover it.  The King, who justifiably, hates Guest has imprisoned Jack Tucker.  If Guest does not recover the Stone in 3 days, Jack Tucker will be executed.

I like medieval mysteries, and I enjoy seeing the way different authors view the powerful characters of the times, their views of events and political maneuvering.  The 1300's are particularly popular among medieval mystery authors, and each one gives his or her own imaginative take on kings, archbishops, regents, wives, mistresses.  

My view of Katherine Swynford was formed years ago by Anya Seton's Katherine, so having Westerson give Katherine an important role in the novel appealed to me.  

NetGalley/Severn House

Medieval Mystery.  Feb. 1, 2016.  Print length:  240 pages.
The above books are all ARCs from NetGalley, but the next one came in the mail.

I've read and enjoyed several books by Juliet Marillier, but I've not read The Dreamer's Pool which is the book that precedes Tower of Thorns.  Although I was curious about some of the details in the first in the series, Tower of Thorns works as a stand-alone.

Skillfully written with a kind of amalgamating of myths and fairy tales, the book follows Blackthorn the healer and her companion Grim on a quest to aid the Lady Geileis, who seeks to end the curse of the monster in the tower of thorns.  A monster who is trapped moaning and wailing all day each day in a way that disturbs the entire countryside in dreadful ways.  Everyone feels his agony and finds both their physical lives and mental health threatened.

But just as Lady Geileis keeps secrets and refuses to reveal all the information Blackthorn might require to end the curse, Marillier makes use of the partial reveal--over and over. While I liked Blackthorn, I never felt completely engaged by her character.  Grim, on the other hand, gained my sympathy and respect.  

I had no trouble sticking with book, but found myself feeling manipulated by the oft hinted threats and a lack of attachment to Geileis and Ash.  The elements that kept me from enjoying this as much as Marillier's other books would be spoilers.

Fantasy.  Nov., 2013. 439 pages.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This and That

A friend sent me a link to this New Yorker article  Can Reading Make You Happier?.  Very interesting look at bibliotherapy.

 I've gotten quite a few books in the mail recently.  Some of them I've read and will review...eventually.  A few I doubt I'll read.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Two More Mysteries

Gwen Moffat's series about Melinda Pink is a new one to me.  The series began in the 1970's, and The Lost Girls was first published in 1998.  Miss Melinda Pink is aging, but still fit and sharp of intellect.  She has in the past been a justice of the peace and the director of an adventure center.  She is also a crime writer; her experiences echo that of the author.

The story centers on a  village flooded for a reservoir.  I always find the idea of towns and villages flooded for this purpose interesting.  Entire towns abandoned and then existing under water can't help but inspire the imagination.  In the Lakeland dale, one such village was flooded, but 45 years later, after a prolonged drought, the waters have receded.  

When a young runaway and her dog discover bones, an old mystery and disappearance is revived.  One that many locals would rather not have revisited.  Fortunately, Miss Pink is visiting friends and is able to unravel the decades old mystery of a missing husband and a missing child.  Miss Pink is a formidable force.

Although I received this from NetGalley, it is available free from Kindle Unlimited.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Mystery.  1998 and Oct. 2015.  Print length:  360 pages.

The Point Between by M.A. Demers is an unusual mystery populated by a dead novelist, one of her characters, and a dead detective.  

Lilly Harrington, a well-loved author for her mystery/romance novels, is discovered hanging in what looks like a suicide.  A very confused Lily finds herself at the crime scene unable to communicate with the detective and deputy who are present.  Marcus Mantova, the detective protagonist in her novels suddenly appears and offers his help.  Lily is just trying to make sense of Marcus' appearance when Penelope shows up. Penelope, a real detective murdered on the job, has a lot to say about Marcus--none of it pleasant.

The three ghosts (?) team up to solve Lily's murder.  A dark comedy.

I love the cover, but I'm not altogether sure of the book.  I was very hesitant after the first few pages, then grew intrigued.  It was kind of a see-saw with like and dislike--now, I do; now, I don't.

The idea of ghost detectives appeals to me, though.   

NetGalley/Egghead Books

Mystery/Supernatural.  Nov. 1, 2015.  Print length:  230 pages.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lights Out by Ted Koppel and a Fiction Pairing

Lights Out:  A Cyber Attack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath is a cautionary tale. 

Ted Koppel's intensely researched book presents a scenario that trumps dystopian novels about zombies and plague--because this threat is real.

I've been pondering this review for over a week.  If a cyber attack on the electric grid resulted in widespread, lengthy outages, the consequences  would be catastrophic.  Koppel's interviews with experts in many fields, governmental and private industry, make this clear.  Many believe it is a when, not an if, possibility.

I was impressed at how readable the book is.  The first section gives a lot of technical information that was sometimes a little slow, but related some of the problems in enough detail to make things clear--like the aging transformers, the expense of obtaining new ones and/or backups, how long it takes for an order for a new transformer to be built and delivered, the problems with transporting them. 

A few of the consequences of extended power outages (a week, a month, or more):  communication is difficult, if not impossible, as cell phones run down and can't be recharged; no computers will be working--and what government agency or private business doesn't run on computer today; no running water and the concurrent problem of sanitation; food supplies and pharmacy stock can't be re-supplied; medical machines down; fuel runs out.  Our society depends on this infrastructure. 

More than one review of the book has commented on the lack of solutions to the problem of a lengthy power outages.  True.  For most of us as individuals, there is not a lot that we can do to prepare for a really lengthy black out.  Hopefully, the book will stimulate more thought and more action on the part of governments--local, state, and national.  

I enjoy dystopian novels, but Lights Out is not a novel and is  thoroughly documented.  I found it both interesting and informative.  
Since November is nonfiction month, Lights Out might be a good nonfiction choice.  A lot of blogs have been pairing fiction and nonfiction books.  An interesting fiction pairing for Lights Out is One Second After by  William R. Fortschen.  While the book is about the consequences of an EMP attack and Lights Out is about a cyber attack on the electric grid--the effect is the same, loss of every technology that depends on electricity.  

 I read it in 2013, and it gave me a lot to think about.  Here is an excerpt from the book description of One Second After:  

"Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read, a book already being discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a truly realistic look at a weapon and its awesome power to destroy the entire United States, literally within one second. It is a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. In the tradition of On the BeachFail Safe and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future...and our end."

If One Second After was "cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read,"  maybe Lights Out will result in some action.

Sidebar:  One of the consequences of a lengthy outage in a city like New York is that there is no way to evacuate that many people.  Yet there will be movement of millions of people, refugees leaving heavily populated areas.  To get an idea of what that might be like, think of the Syrian refugees flooding small European towns and the challenges of caring for them.

Links to Interviews/Articles about Lights Out:

Chicago Tonight    The Washington Post   PBS    CBS News

NetGalley/Crown Publishing

Nonfiction.  Oct. 2015.  Print length:  290 pages.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ashes to Ashes and Family Ties

Ashes to Ashes by Mel Starr is the latest in a series about medieval surgeon Hugh de Singleton.  I have not read any of the previous books in the series, but enjoyed this one.

Set in the 14th century, Hugh studied at Oxford and in Paris; for his time, Hugh has a most advanced medical education. 

In 1349 and again in the 1360's outbreaks of the Black Death devastated the population, creating a shortage of labor and social upheaval.  This post-plague setting adds to the interest of the novel.  

Labor is now a valuable commodity and there is more mobility as peasants/serfs/villeins move to find work, leaving behind land they had been bound to for generations. Feudal tradition is still strong, the hierarchy is still firm and powerful, but great changes are in progress.

 Some of the previous books cover how Hugh came to settle in the village of Bampton, which is a real village not far from Oxford.  Surgeon and bailiff to Lord Gilbert of Bampton Castle, Hugh is an intelligent and mild-mannered man with a young family.

When charred bones are found in the remains of a bonfire, Hugh must discover the identity of the body and whether or not murder was done.  The book gives wonderful historic detail about medieval law and justice, the social hierarchy, the way the church and religion affected people's lives, details of "croft and toft," and medical treatment in the late 1300's.  The details are woven in to give the reader a feeling of the dynamics of the time.

Just a sidebar--Hugh uses lettuce seed to induce sleep.  So did real medieval surgeons.    

Character development could be better--especially as there are some interesting minor characters who deserved more depth--but an engaging mystery with great historical detail.

(The title brings to mind the nursery rhyme associated (though inaccurately) with the plague and the bonfire (bone fire) to create allusive references to the effects of the plague.)

NetGalley/Lion Fiction

Medieval Mystery.  2015.  Print version:  256 pages.

Family Ties by Nicholas Rhea, originally published in 1994, had a new release in October.   

Hmmm.  I found Detective Mark Pembleton a little annoying.  A nice guy, dedicated, etc., but at times he got on my nerves.

An American Vice President is to visit England in search of his ancestors, and Pembleton is in charge of the British security detail.  Doing a little advanced research, Pembleton discovers that one of the VP's ancestors was murdered in 1916.  

That part of the mystery was intriguing, and I enjoyed the untangling of the details.

Nicholas Rhea is best known for his Constable book series which led to the Heartbeat British television series that ran from 1992-2010.

NetGalley/Endeavor Press

Police Procedural.  1994/Oct. 2015.  Print length:  201 pages.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

Splinter the Silence

Val McDermid's series featuring psychological profiler Tony Hill and Carol Jordan is one of my favorites.  The last couple of novels in this series have been setting up the situation for this one.

Carol's drinking has been a part of previous novels, but she has always been able to function.  Now that she is no longer part of the police force and has become more isolated, her drinking will have a devastating effect.

As Carol has continued to seclude herself, Tony feels her loss more than anyone and attempts to re-establish Carol's connections with the old team and to force Carol to realize the consequences of her drinking.  

When Tony sees a pattern among some high profile suicides of outspoken women, he tries to involve Carol in his investigation.  Despite herself, Carol's curiosity begins to get the better of her as the possibility that the deaths of three women were not suicides, but cleverly disguised murders, becomes clear.  

Even as she must confront the results of her own destructive behavior, she finds circumstances offer a way back up.  Despite the enemies who delight in her difficulties, Carol has some enthusiastic supporters, not only within her former team, but among some powerful individuals. Yea, John Brandon!

McDermid proves once again that she can keep a reader enthralled with her characters and their situations, book after book.  I have to admit that my images of Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are based on the British series Wire in the Blood--those are the faces I see when I read the books.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Crime/Police Procedural.  Dec. 1, 2015.  Print version:  416 pages.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

I'm finally going to discuss How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  This one was mentioned in Failing Our Brightest Kids which I reviewed a while back; then my friend Teresa mentioned she was reading it.  

From the book description:  "Drawing on groundbreaking research in neuroscience, economics, and psychology, Tough shows that the qualities that matter most have less to do with IQ and more to do with character: skills like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism."

We have relied extensively on standardized testing to determine which children have the best chance at academic success.  All of the testing from elementary school through high school and scores on the ACT or SAT exams are hugely important in the evaluation of kids.  But we all know individuals who have not performed particularly well, and in some cases performed abysmally, on standardized tests and yet have been quite successful in college and in life.

Most people have a common sense realization that hard work pays off and that certain character traits are more important than IQ when it comes to achievement.  The question is how are character traits  like grit, curiosity, self-control, and optimism instilled?  What can schools and teachers do to reinforce them?

Tough's research focuses on children who are disadvantaged by poverty, violence, and/or abuse.  Why and how do some of these kids overcome these circumstances?  The most important element (again, common sense) is that the kids who succeed have at least one person truly invested in their care.  Despite poverty and violence, if a child has one person who values and nurtures him, the chance of  success in school and in life increases exponentially.  

Tough interviews students and educators and provides some interesting glimpses at some ways of intervening by innovative educators, methods that have helped trump the inauspicious beginnings many of our children experience.  Those children who have been nurtured have more self-control and can better utilize other positive traits.  

What I took away from this on the simplest level is that, especially among the disadvantaged children of this country, the emphasis put on cognitive development before they attend school is less important than learning self-control and persistence and developing an optimistic approach to circumstances.  

In other words--yes, children from disadvantaged backgrounds may have smaller vocabularies and fewer learning opportunities at home, but what enables them to increase vocabulary, learn to read, learn to problem-solve, and ultimately improve their overall skills is largely dependent on developing self-control, being willing to work hard, and believing that they can succeed.  And for that, they need at least one person who values them.  Nurture allows Nature?

This is really not much of a book review, more of a disentangling of my thoughts about it.  I think the following is a good summary of why you might want to read it.

When asked how writing the book influenced his behavior as a parent, Tough replied:

"In the end, though, this research had a surprising effect: it made me more relaxed as a parent. When Ellington was born, I was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race--the faster a child develops skills, the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life. Having done this reporting, I’m less concerned about my son’s reading and counting ability. Don’t get me wrong, I still want him to know that stuff. But I think he’ll get there in time. What I’m more concerned about is his character--or whatever the right synonym is for character when you’re talking about a three-year-old. I want him to be able to get over disappointments, to calm himself down, to keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating, to be good at sharing, to feel loved and confident and full of a sense of belonging. Most important, I want him to be able to deal with failure." (the highlighting is mine)

Digression:  another one of those synchronicitous events occurred after reading the book, when I found a couple of related articles.  

The first one is about researchers studying kindergarten kids and giving them a Social Competency Test.  One important factor mentioned was self-control; the study was over a period of nineteen years.

The second one, and more visually dramatic than words, compares the brain scans of children.  The brain of a three-year-old child who has been neglected and/or abused is so shrunken, so visibly different from the brain of a three-year-old who received love and care.

 This really isn't anything new, when we remember what happened to children in orphanages during WWII and again later, with dramatic accounts of Romanian children in institutions.  Somehow, though seeing these images has an even more chilling effect.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Proud Grandmother

Ellie was the top reader in the entire second grade, and Bryce Eleanor was second!  

And I am a proud grandma!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2015


One of those strange happenstances (I hesitate to call this one serendipity--maybe synchronicity is a better choice) occurred when I saw this letter on Letters of Note.   Fair warning:  the letter is a both very positive and immeasurably sad.  After posting my review Monday about The Drowning Ground (and the hints at DCI Downes' background), having this letter show up on Letters of Note the next day was a bit strange.

Yet, not really.  One of the pleasures of reading is discovering how frequently something you read about in a novel connects to the next novel, or an event in the news, or even how a specific location or name will occur in three novels in a row.

 Often for me, it will be because I'm drawn to a particular time period, and logically, there will be repeated references to real persons or events.  

But sometimes, this synchronicity will occur in unusual ways like checking out ten books from the library and three of them mention Nova Scotia when there is no outward indication that would occur.  Or within a week or two, reading several books that use the same quote--in dialogue or as a chapter heading.  

Or in this case, I read a book that mentions something that interests me, and the next day find a letter from an Argentinian grandfather to a missing granddaughter and discover that, against great odds, they have been reunited.  Every reader has experienced these coincidences and appreciates them--even knowing that the more you read, the more likely you are to encounter this kind of coincidence.  

What I'm reading: 

 Lights Out:  A Cyber Attack, A Nation Unprepared,  Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel--a truly frightening, well-researched, and (mostly) easily understood book for the layperson about the vulnerability of the electric grid. Interesting interview with Ted Koppel.  Another interview here.  I'm 37% through with the book and am impressed with its readability.  This was (still is?) a NetGalley offering.

Learned Optimism -- Another nonfiction work that I've been reading (I read nonfiction at a much slower rate and with more frequent breaks) is Martin Seligman's book about how influential our personal narratives are in influencing our behavior.  His initial research into depression led to the discovery of learned helplessness, and eventually, to how to make changes with positive results. 

While I knew I would be interested in this book based on the books about educating our children that mention it, what has surprised and to large degree resulted in denial, then pondering, then accepting --elements concerning my own behavior.  The breaks I'm taking with this book are even longer than the breaks I normally take from nonfiction because digesting the personal elements I confront keep me busy thinking and rethinking. 

My first response was "I love how this clarifies and makes real what is actually common sense."  However, when the book began producing some personal revelations, I have to admit that sometimes  often, I apply common sense much more easily in relation to others than to myself.  

I was reading the book to gain further understanding about why some children succeed and others don't (in relation to the books about education and learning), I did not expect to discover anything really new about myself.  I'm glad I purchased this one and that I can actually turn the pages, and eventually, add it to my nonfiction shelf for future reference.

Anyway, both of these books have required me to put them down and read escapism or work on Halloween Eccentrics while letting information ferment.

You can see some of my Halloween creations over at my other blog.  :) I love Halloween!

Sadie Shadowmend, sits in the classroom learning spells.