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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

What a strange, dream-like, and enchanting novel this turned out to be.  I've had mixed feelings about steam punk novels, enjoying some and finding others more concerned about steam punk elements than plot or character.

This strange little novel is a bit confusing at first because the magical and clairvoyant aspects are not immediately clear, and yet the writing and mystery engaged me from the beginning.

The more you read, the more you doubt the various characters.  Well, Thaniel Steepleton seems reliable (if uncertain and with good reason), but Grace Carrow, Matsumoto, and Keito Mori are enigmatic.  Good or bad or caught up in circumstances...hard to tell.

Mori, the watchmaker, is the most interesting.  He has the ability to--not "remember" the future, but to "remember" future possibilities that may or may not come to pass.  In some cases, he is able to manipulate the possibilities to his own preferred outcomes.  But not always.

Pulley leads the reader down several twisting paths, keeping the reader always a bit uncertain about who to trust, but always intrigued and curious.

 I thoroughly enjoyed being misled, confused, and always engaged with the quirky characters and uncanny elements of Pulley's debut novel!

Read in April.  Blog post scheduled for June 30, 2015.

NetGalley/Bloomsbury USA

Steampunk/Fantasy.  July 14, 2015.  Print length:  336 pages.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Speaking in Bones

Speaking in Bones

Along with many others, I've found Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan series a bit hit or miss in the last few years.  Speaking in Bones was somewhere in between for me--I enjoyed it, but not as much as many of the earlier books.

Most interesting to me in this latest installment is the idea of web sleuths--something I'd never heard of before.  Web sleuthing is a fascinating phenomenon, and sure enough, there are plenty of articles on line about these web detectives. From Websleuths:  Dozens of experts, including doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, teachers and prison officers, have joined Websleuths. They can post as such if their credentials are verified by site owner Tricia Griffith, who bought it in 2004 for $US1500. "We're seeing an influx of professionals," she tells Fairfax via Skype.

And there is much more online about web sleuthing--articles, podcasts, a Facebook page, and different forums.  

Even if I find Reichs' novels sometimes more, sometimes less fascinating, I don't think there has been a single one in which I didn't learn something new.  Past books have been based on the archaeological excavation on Masada,   the leper colony in New Brunswick,  endangered wildlife, the importance of board qualifications for forensic pathologists/anthropologists, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, just to name a few interesting and informative themes taken from real life developments.  

Another reader of the Temperance Brennan series mentioned that she preferred those set in Montreal.  I had not thought of it that way, but on consideration, I agree.  While I like the fact that the books always have an educational element (even though I have to do some research to find out more), it does seem the best-developed mysteries are set in Canada.

read in April; blog post scheduled for June 29, 2015

NetGalley/Random House

Mystery.  July 21, 2015.  Print length:  320 pages.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ghost Fleet

Ghost Fleet

Not much in character development, but a very scary novel of possibilities.  We are all so dependent on technology--from the individual shopping online to big banks and financial institutions to...the military.  

What happens when something cuts the communication? Can you imagine?

It isn't that we aren't aware of the dangers, but I doubt many of us have truly considered all of the ramifications involving an attack on the U.S. that impaired or destroyed our ability to use the computer technology that is a major part of our defense system.

How possible is this scenario?  Could a country actually invade our military computers with viruses?  Destroy the communication satellites?   Let's just say that the military is aware of the possibilities.

The Navy bought fake microchips according to this 2011 article in Business Insider.  The problems were discovered, but it does leave a creepy feeling about how hyper-alert the military must be since computers are involved in almost every phase of our defense system. 

 I will admit to being terrified by the scenario the authors described.  It sounded so plausible.  As it turns out, it is much more than plausible even if some of the technology is not yet available.

P.W. Singer and August Cole are uniquely qualified to make the predictions of what might occur in a third world war.  Singer is a specialist in 21st century warfare and has worked for the Defense Department.  Cole also specializes in national security issues.  Check the above links to get an idea of expertise each man offers.  

Is it a great novel?  No, and I wish it had been; but it did scare the bejeezus out of me.  :) It is a chilling look at the precarious nature of our dependence on technology--our strength and our weakness.

read in april; review scheduled for June 15.  

NetGalley/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Suspense/Tech thriller.  June 30, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Rhyme of the Magpie

The Rhyme of the Magpie  is a cozy mystery by Marty Wingate.

Julia Lanchester, unhappy with her father's remarriage too soon after her mother's death, quits her job on his popular BBC program, A Bird in the Hand.  She retreats to a small village, taking a job in tourist management.

Then her father goes missing, a man is murdered, and Julia reluctantly joins forces with her father's new assistant to discover just what is going on.

Marty (Martha) Wingate has another cozy series about gardening:  The Potting Shed Mysteries.  In addition to her mysteries, Wingate has written four books on gardening, writes for various gardening publications, and gives garden tours.  

"She is a member of the Arboretum Foundation, Northwest Horticultural Society, the Royal Horticultural Society, Sisters in Crime, and the Mystery Writers of America."  (via The Garden Show Blog)

Read in February.  Blog post scheduled for June 13, 2015.

NetGalley/Random House/Alibi

Cozy Mystery.  June 22, 2015.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Manifesto and a Mystery

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Micheal Pollan is exactly that--a defense of real food, but it is also an indictment of the over-processed and "edible food-like substances" we consume because they are fast or easy, of the way food is grown (and in the case of meat, the way animals are fed with the food that is grown), of additives and GMOs.   Nothing new in that, but Pollan does gives some interesting history of food science and the food industry and some statistics and examples that are startling.  

His philosophy is distilled into very few words:

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

 Or...real food, smaller portions, vegetables.  

Not as easy to do in today's world, at least here in the U.S.  Is it worth the effort?  For a society raised on quick and easy, huge portions, snacks, and GMO modified heavily promoted "food-like substances," it may not be that simple.  Since I'm already checking labels, Pollan's advice to be cautious about anything with over 5 ingredients or unpronounceable additives is an easy task, but finding items that meet that qualification will not be that easy.  Right now, it is time for Farmer's Markets, which are fun and provide locally grown produce rather than what has been shipped for thousands of miles.

Our food has been altered and over-processed for at least 40 years, and our eating habits and traditions have change almost without our realizing it.  But more and more people are growing indignant about the fact that processes banned in other countries are the norm here, and most people would like our government to be more responsive to the health of its citizens.


Nonfiction.  2008.  Print length:  268 pages.

The Evidence Room by Cameron Harvey is set in Cooper's Bayou, a little back-water town in Florida.  Two young people have recently returned to Cooper's Bayou after long absences.  

Josh Hudson is a cop who has an obsession with finding his older sister.  Aurora Atchison has just returned to settle her grandfather's estate.  When Aurora discovers that perhaps her father was not guilty of her mother's murder, she begins digging into some old secrets that several Cooper's Bayou citizens would rather be left alone.  Josh and Aurora have sad pasts in common, and Josh, who has been placed on administrative leave and "sentenced" to working the evidence room, is inclined to help.

Both characters have tragic and depressing pasts.  It is a bit too coincidental that they both have a murdered family member, a missing family member, and more questions than answers.  The repeated assurances from many different individuals that Josh is a "good man"  got on my nerves.   Aurora doesn't need to be told more than once and having so many characters make the same remark is redundant.  

The Evidence Room is unexceptional.  I wasn't tempted to put it in the DNF pile, but neither did I find it compelling.

ARC from Minotaur Books.

Crime/Mystery.  2015.  306 pages.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Simon, a young librarian who lives in a house threatened by the encroaching sea, receives an old book in the mail.  Sent by a bookseller named Martin Churchwarry, a note included with the book says that Churchwarry bought the book on speculation at an auction and tracked one of the names inside, leading him to Simon's family.

So--an old book (very 0ld)--about a traveling carnival in the 1700's, a book connected to Simon's family.  The partially damaged book tells of women in the family with careers as carnival mermaids; women who drowned young on July 24th, from generation to generation.

July 24th is approaching, a kind of due date for our hapless librarian; Simon's sister is coming home.  Already rattled by his crumbling house and losing his job at the library, now Simon must confront the possibility that his sister is in danger.

A book that has been half drowned in a flood. A house on the verge of drowning.  Women in the same family who drown on the exact same date.  A young man drowning in complications and the secrets he uncovers.  Intriguing?  Add Tarot cards, supernatural/magical realism elements, the odd match of carnival characters and librarians, a curse, two time frames, odd and intricate connections...

A book full of potential, but that sometimes seemed to fall a bit off the mark.  I can't explain exactly why without spoilers, but one reason (for me) was that the characters were a little remote and strangely impersonal for a story that purported  The pacing was also slow and sometimes repetitive.

As usual, my favorite character was the a secondary one.  Doyle, the tattooed man.  He was (tongue-in-cheek--Tentacular!) and had the most likable personality.  

This is a debut novel, and an enjoyable one with a distinctive flair.  I look forward to more from Erika Swyler.

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press

Literary fiction.  June 23, 2015.  Print length:  352 pages.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

After the Fire by Jane Casey

As compelling as her previous novels, I was unable to put After the Fire down and finished it the day I started it.  It is easy to get caught up in Casey's plots and characters. 

Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent  (somewhat to their surprise) are once again partnered by their superior officer and sent to the scene of a fire in which one of the bodies may have political repercussions.

There were three fatalities in the fire that ravaged the 11th floor of a London tower block, but more secrets are involved than just those concerning the individuals who didn't survive.

While one of the fatalities was high profile and mysteriously out of place, two other unidentified victims were locked in a flat, unable to escape.  Among the survivors: a young mother suffering injuries from an attack, an elderly woman who may have information she doesn't consider important, a seven-year-old whose burns are horrifically severe,  and a young boy who can't find his mother.

Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent  (somewhat to their surprise) are once again partnered by their superior officer.  Once the fire is determined to have been arson, the police begin investigating whether or not one of the victims was specifically targeted.  While their boss favors one theory, Derwent has another one that he wants to pursue, and both theories have some twists.  But those two theories are not the only ones that might have an impact on the investigation.

In addition to the arson case, Maeve is still being stalked by Chris Swain.  

My only regret is that I missed book 5, and without realizing it, went ahead and read After the Fire.  To make up for my carelessness, I now have The Kill  (#5 in the series) heading this way.

NetGalley/Random House UK

Police Procedural/Crime.  June 18, 2015.  Print version:  464 pages.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle

George's Grand Tour by Caroline Vermalle (trans. by Anna Aitken) is a delightful and heartwarming little gem of a novel.  An ARC that arrived in the mail, Georges's Grand Tour turned out to be one of those books that I will long remember for its touching account of what actually makes up the fullness of life. 

George Nicoleau is 83, widowed, and subject to some health issues, but he and his slightly younger neighbor Charles have planned an exciting journey, driving (not cycling) the route of the Tour de France.  The two have dreamed and planned for months, but just when they are about to set off complications arise when George's granddaughter Adele calls, saying that her mother (George's over-protective daughter, who is incommunicado in Peru) has insisted she check on George frequently.

Since George will not be home, this unlooked for complication could derail the trip.  The problem is resolved with the help of Charles' son-in-law. The calls are diverted from the landline to a cell phone much to the astonishment of both George and Charles, and the two take off as planned.

For both men, this is a trip of a lifetime for many reasons. Neither of them have traveled much, both are elderly, and neither have much familiarity with technology.  George must learn to text in order to communicate with Adele, and his experience in learning "the language" is both funny and endearing.  His fear and frustration echo the same feelings that older people (including myself) often feel when confronted with new technology, but when he finally "gets" it, George is captivated with his new form of communication.

A gentle story that deals with aging, relationships, and the willingness to take risks regardless of one's age, George's Grand Tour is itself a tour de force-- in a very tender and refreshing way.  Vermalle's characters are charming and genuine, and her obvious delight in George and his grand tour is half the fun.  

Winner of the Prix Nouveau Talent and The Prix Chronos

My thanks to Meryl Zegarek and Rachel Hundert for this lovely little book.

Contemporary Fiction.  2009; English trans.  2015.  224 pages.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

From the Studio

All of my fidget quilts have been donated to Brook Dale's Alzheimer's/Dementia unit or to Holy Angels.  Well, the ones to Holy Angels have gone to Amelia, who will deliver them.

fidget quilts help soothe  

Dementia quilts  - "A dementia quilt is a small lap quilt that includes things that might trigger something from a dementia patient's senses. Sometimes they are called "Fidget Quilts" because they inspire the patient to interact and fidget with the quilt."  (excerpt from post)


Above is one I haven't posted here, although it is on my other blog.  

I do have one more in progress, but my attention has been elsewhere lately.  Everything goes in cycles, and this cycle has run its course for a while.  I will finish the one I'm working on knowing the compulsion to make these little lap quilts will return later.  

Right now, however, I'm feeling the urge to work on my Eccentrics--the strange little figures that have their own cycle of compulsion.  

About 10 of the Eccentrics have made their ways to new homes in the last month.  That leaves room for more to take their places.  Also, this is the time of year that Halloween figures begin haunting me.  Some of my favorites little figures to make are ghosts, goblins, black cats, pumpkin folk, and witches, and I'm jotting down ideas for these October babies.

At the moment, I want to complete a few stick figures.  Yard debris and trimmings are fodder for my twig and branch collection.  Below is my first completed Twiggy:

Deer Diva
Practices Her Arabesque

 I used the eco dyed fabrics 
from a few years ago to dress her.
(raw silk, muslin, and cheese cloth--
all eco dyed and embroidered)

Deer Diva isn't camera shy.
In fact, she was so busy practicing,
she hardly noticed me.

Chilling Effect by Melissa F. Miller

The first in this series featuring Aroostine Higgins is Critical Vulnerability, but I haven't read it.  Aroostine, a native American,  is an assistant U.S. Attorney, who has made appearances in another series by Miller.  Chilling Effect is the second book in which Aroostine is the protagonist.

Aroostine and her husband Joe are supposed to be on a romantic get-away, but her boss calls and wants her to interview a witness about an embezzlement scheme at an Indian casino.  When Aroostine arrives at the informant's home, she finds him murdered.

I'm afraid this is one of the books that I found just OK; neither characters nor plot intrigued me, but neither did I feel the urge to add it to the DNF pile.

NetGalley/Thomas & Mercer

Mystery/Crime.  June 16, 2015.  Print length:  258 pages.